January 19, 2006
Ontario clamps down on health, safety violations
Construction companies caught violating provincial health and safety regulations in Ontario can expect more than a rap on the knuckles this year as the government toughens its stand on rule breakers.
Fines are steep ($50,000 and up isn’t unusual) and contractors could also face criminal charges as a result of Bill C-45, an amendment to the Criminal Code in Canada last March. Furthermore, the chances of a contractor getting caught breaking the rules are greater than ever since the Ministry of Labour (MOL) hired 100 building inspectors last year and plans to bring on 70 more this year.
Leading safety consultants say the provincial government’s clampdown on offenders is simply a reaction to steadily surging accident rates in an industry that doesn’t take safety seriously enough. It is the industry’s own fault.
“A lot of people had to die and a lot of people had to get hurt in order for this clampdown to happen,” explains Derek Petrie, health and safety instructor for the Interior Systems Contractors Association of Ontario (ISCA).
Petrie says the government has a list of over 5,000 high-risk companies (companies with either a long record of accidents or several severe injuries) in the building industry that it will visit quarterly.
“Unfortunately, once you make the Ministry’s list, they will come looking for you.”
Safety consultant Bob Hopkins says it is still not all that uncommon to see workers without safety boots and hardhats. Hopkins is sales manager of FHS Inc., a major health and safety consultant to the construction industry.
He says accidents can often be traced back to the construction supervisor.
“Too often, they make decisions based on common sense as opposed to the rules and regulations. They are often the most important people in a construction company, but they are also often the weakest link between the field and the office.”
From a legal perspective, the MOL views a supervisor as “the owner of the jobsite”, he adds, noting the province issued more stop work orders in 2005 then ever before.
To prevent becoming one of the MOL’s stats, his advice to contractors is to prepare a sound safety management program that measures up to the Occupational Health & Safety Act.
What is important on every site is that equipment, materials and protective devices as prescribed are provided, maintained and used properly. Training workers and supervisors is essential and a copy of the OH&S Act must be posted on site, adds Petrie.
Particularly easy prey for the MOL site inspectors is the fly-by-night contractor who works for cash, says Hopkins.
“If you want to clean up your industry, stop hiring guys with no GST number. Stop paying cash.”
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