Ministry of Labour blitz on construction in active workplaces could affect you

Nov 13, 2013

ConstructionIf your workplace has scheduled construction or renovation work - including the installation of any machinery - for early this winter, you may be subject to a compliance inspection.

The Ministry of Labour's inspection blitz will take place in January 2014. Manufacturing firms in particular could be on the inspection list, warns Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS) consultant Lois Weeks. "Very few manufacturing firms don't do construction activities at one point or another," says Weeks. "They just don't recognize they do. For instance, there isn't a single manufacturing plant that doesn't install machinery, which is always considered a construction activity."

Other common construction activities taking place in active manufacturing, service or agricultural operations include:

  • repaving a parking lot
  • roof repairs
  • building renovations.

What you need to do

If your business has construction work taking place or planned while the business is operating, Lois Weeks urges you to get informed. Determine if

  • the construction work meets the act's definition of "construction"
  • the employer is considered a constructor and, if so, what responsibilities come with it.

This information will help you understand what's required to comply with health and safety obligations involving construction work in active workplaces, and prepare for a possible inspection under the blitz. "The workplace will always be affected in some way," says Weeks, "especially if the employer is the constructor. The specific requirements for the project will depend on the type of construction work, duration, and number of people involved."

Definitions of construction and constructor

The Occupational Health and Safety Act defines

  • construction as "erection, alteration, repair, dismantling, demolition, structural maintenance, painting, land clearing, earth moving, grading, excavating, trenching, digging, boring, drilling, blasting or concreting, the installation of any machinery or plant, and any work or undertaking in connection with a project but does not include any work or undertaking underground in a mine"

  • a constructor as "a person who undertakes a project for an owner and includes an owner who undertakes all or part of a project by himself or by more than one employer."

"Some employers think that because they've hired a general contractor they're absolved of any responsibility," says Weeks. In other words, the general contractor is the constructor. But that's not necessarily the case.

For example, if the business owner or any of the owner’s workers participate in the construction work, then the business owner is considered a constructor and is responsible for his or her employees, as well as the general contractor’s. Conversely, if the business owner assigns full control for the construction work and the work area to a general contractor, then the general contractor is considered the constructor.

"What it comes down to," says Weeks, "is that everyone involved in a construction project needs to be clear on who is undertaking the project, who the constructor is, and what each of the parties associated with the project are responsible for."

"It's not simple," acknowledges Weeks, "but we can help. Between our construction and contractor safety courses, we cover just about everything a business would need to know." (For more information, see "How WSPS can help.")

Why it's important

"Knowing who's responsible for what and making sure they fulfill their responsibilities keeps everybody safe," says Weeks, "whether they work for the business owner or a general contractor.

"It also keeps the work in compliance. This is important to the health of your business. Failing to follow the applicable requirements is a finable offence, just like any other offence under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. If the ministry finds indications of non-compliance, then you could be shut down."

How we can help

WSPS offers related training in two formats: courses delivered in public classrooms and/or on site, and e-courses. Listings appear below.

  • Construction Projects in Industrial Facilities (1/2 day, delivered in a public classroom setting and on site). Participants learn which tasks performed regularly at an industrial facility are construction in nature. They also come to understand the definition of "constructor" and constructor responsibilities, and its implications for their workplaces.

  • Hiring Outside Contractors (1/2 day public classroom or on site). Through various activities and checklists, participants learn about the basic elements that must be in place before hiring a contractor. A companion course to "Managing Safety of On-site Contractors."

  • Managing Safety of On-Site Contractors (1/2 day public classroom or on site). Understand and learn how to manage the key elements of on-site contractor safety. Through case studies and a contractor safety workbook, participants will walk away with sample documentation, checklists and tools required for your company to effectively manage on-site contractors.

  • Contractor Health and Safety in Ontario (1 hour e-course). Also available in French.

Check the website for updates on timing and locations.

Available from the Ministry of Labour is Constructor Guideline: Health and Safety, which contains definitions of constructor and owner, identifies a constructor’s key duties, and reviews constructors’ relationships with other parties.

Alternatively, call or email WSPS's Customer Care Centre and ask to speak with a consultant:
T  905-614-1400
TF  1-877-494-WSPS (9777)
customercare@wsps.ca.