New law makes employers responsible for temp and unpaid worker safety

Jan 12, 2015

Temp and unpaid worker safetyIf you hire temporary or unpaid workers, Ontario's just-proclaimed Bill 18, Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, has expanded your health and safety responsibilities. Some are already in effect. Here’s what you need to know.

The act provides greater protection for these vulnerable workers. For instance:

  • if you hire unpaid workers, such as interns and co-op students, you are now just as responsible for their health and safety as you are for your paid workers. The Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act amends the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) to include temporary and unpaid workers under its definition of workers.
  • If you hire temporary workers, an amendment to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (WSIA) means you and not the workers' temp agency could become responsible for any workplace injury costs the workers incur - for the purposes of experience and merit rating programs under section 83 of the WSIA. Implementing this change would involve proclaiming into force related provisions of the act, and establishing a regulation.

These two groups of workers are particularly vulnerable to injury. In the last year alone, three Ontario co-op students have died in work-related incidents:

  • high school student Adam Keuken was crushed under a front-end loader in the first week of a co-op placement at an auto recycler
  • college student Aaron Murray died in a head-on collision after completing a night shift as part of an unpaid work practicum. He had a 98.5% grade average and had already worked an afternoon shift at a part-time job
  • college student Wayne Affleck was electrocuted while working as an apprentice electrician for a power distribution equipment maker.

Some employers may falsely assume unpaid and temporary workers already have all the skills and experience needed to perform the tasks they were hired for. Consequently, these workers may not receive the necessary training and supervision they need to meet the workplace's health and safety performance standards. For these and other reasons, new workers are three times more likely to be injured on the job during the first month of employment than at any other time. They can also put other workers at risk.

How the OHSA amendment affects employers

Essentially, employers are now expected to protect these workers as they would their permanent workers. For workplaces with a comprehensive and fully compliant heath and safety system in place, the implications may be minimal. For workplaces still building their health and safety system, the changes present an opportunity to enhance the health and safety of all their workers. The outcome for all workplaces: a safer, more productive organization.

How to implement the changes

Here's a sample list of ways to protect these workers and implement the changes:

  1. inform yourself about the contents of Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act
  2. review your health and safety management system for opportunities to improve protection for temporary and unpaid workers. For example:
    • know your duties as an employer under the Occupational Health and Safety Act,
    • ensure all employees understand their roles and responsibilities under the act,
    • provide the same orientation training to unpaid and temporary workers as you would to any new worker,
    • assess the job and hazard-specific training needs of unpaid and temporary workers, fill any identified training gaps, and integrate these workers into ongoing training and educational activities,
    • encourage them to ask questions and express concerns,
    • encourage their supervisors to observe and coach whenever an opportunity arises,
    • create a buddy system that pairs them with seasoned employees.
  3. make your whole organization aware of the changes and their impact.
  4. if you have any doubts, ask an expert. Workplace Safety & Prevention Services consultants can help you assess your existing program and identify opportunities to protect your employees and grow the life of your business.

Ensuring all workplace parties fulfill their duties will go a long way towards keeping everyone safe and on the job.

How WSPS can help

On our website, you’ll find everything you need to know, including free downloads, courses and consulting services, about how to fulfill employer, supervisor and worker responsibilities and protect vulnerable workers.