What to do when an OHS inspector shows up

Don’t panic – create a positive atmosphere and make sure to document everything

It’s Friday morning, you’re trying to get back into your work routine as you sip your coffee and drive into the office. But as you pull in, you are greeted by a government health and safety inspector. This scenario is not out of the ordinary — so what do you do?

No matter what is going through your head, it’s important to remember the inspectors are there to assist your company in being a safer workplace. Make sure you create a positive atmosphere where they feel welcomed.

It’s also important to do your best to work with the inspectors — don’t push them away or they’ll come back with a larger group that might include management members or leading experts such as engineers.

Even if you feel it’s unfair that you had no warning, keep in mind the inspector has the right to show up unannounced. In Ontario, for example, the Occupational Health and Safety Act states: “An inspector may, for the purposes of carrying out his or her duties and powers under this Act and the regulations, (a) subject to subsection (2), enter in or upon any workplace at any time without warrant or notice.”

Be diligent

Throughout the process, take notes to the best of your ability on everything said by the inspectors and your company contacts, along with any photographs. This will be beneficial if charges are laid at a later date because you will have the same information as the inspector.

In order to effectively document all the information, don’t be afraid to have a company representative assigned to each inspector to ensure they are never alone. This way, you’ll know what information they are looking at and you’ll be able to direct them in the right way.

The inspectors will ask many questions as they complete a walk-through of the workplace. It’s important to answer their questions directly without offering a lot of narrative — by giving too many details, you could implicate your company and not realize it.

Be prepared

The best visits from a government inspector are ones that are quick and efficient. For example, one organization received a visit in response to a complaint regarding workplace violence.

As per the inspector’s request, the company provided documentation of its policy and program and training records, and after reviewing the documentation, the inspector left a report of the visit and departed.

All visits from inspectors can be quick and simple, as long as companies have their documentation for due diligence in order and ready to go. This company followed section 25 (2)(h) of Ontario’s health and safety legislation which states: “Take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker.”

Make sure you follow your company’s procedures right down to the letter — the inspectors may try to test your team to see if they’re following the procedures. If there is a no-cellphones-in-the-warehouse policy, make sure the same rule is enforced with the inspector.

As an example, if an inspector enters a work cell to investigate an incident but, on the fencing beside the door, there is a large sign stating anyone entering the cell is required to lock out, then the safety co-ordinator should ensure the inspector applies the lock before entering.

Even if the inspector initially resists or seems annoyed by the request, the safety co-ordinator should insist she follow the rules — it’s quite possible he, and the company, are being tested.

Ways to stay covered

There are a few simple ways an employer can ensure it is in good standing today in case it receives a surprise visit from a government inspector.

For one, it should post the company’s health and safety policy inside the front door, making it the first thing an inspector sees when he comes in. This will immediately set the tone for the inspection and portray the company in a positive light.

And choose an employee who will be the designated person to deal with the inspector. This will eliminate any delays when an inspector shows up at your door — but make sure the employee is trained to be comfortable and strategic when answering questions from the inspector.

The most important, and often forgotten, thing to remember is the inspectors are there to assist your company in being a safer workplace. They want to ensure health and safety policies are being followed and employees can come to work feeling safe and comfortable, and perform their duties on a regular basis.

Anna Aceto-Guerin is president and senior consultant at HR consulting firm Clear Path Employer Services in Cambridge, Ont. She can be reached at [email protected], (519) 624-0800 ext. 106 or (877) 253-2704. For more information, visit www.clearpathemployer.com.

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