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Have you managed a construction job at work? Here’s what you need to know.

Anyone who has been tasked with managing outside contractors at work can tell you how much is involved. When those outside contractors are working on a large construction project or significant renovation at your workplace, there’s even more to think about. Especially when you consider a recent 4-4 split decision from the Supreme Court of Ontario essentially supporting the responsibility of owners of construction projects to comply with the duties of an employer under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).

The precedent set by this decision is something all workplaces should be aware of because, regardless of what type of business they are in, they will eventually encounter a construction project. Whether it’s a roof needing repairs, fresh paint or new flooring, new equipment being installed, or an addition being built to add space; at some point most workplaces will likely find themselves in a situation where they are the owner of a construction project. 

Is it maintenance or construction?

The first step in understanding your legal responsibilities is being able to identify the difference between maintenance work and a construction activity. “One of the classic examples is lighting,” says Troy Nel, a Health and Safety Consultant with WSPS. “If you have to change a few light bulbs, a maintenance worker would likely do it. However, if you are installing new lighting throughout the entire facility, that’s a construction activity.” 

Troy goes on to explain that when work falls into the category of construction, it’s important to keep it separate and distinct from the company’s regular operations. Following Troy’s lighting example, this means that you would not have your own employees put in the new light fixtures. And you probably would not install the new light fixtures while employees are working. “We often tell clients that a best practice is to separate the work in time and space,” says Troy. Using our example, this means that it would be best to have an outside contractor install the new light fixtures after regular business hours when most employees have left the building.

Focus on the selection process

Even when construction projects are kept completely separate from regular business operations, the company—or owner—of the project is still ultimately responsible for what happens. “When an organization hires a contractor to complete a construction project, they need to show their due diligence regarding health and safety. The most effective way to do that is through the selection process,” says Troy. He offers these tips: 

  • Include health and safety prominently in your bid requirements. Confirm that each company in the running has a valid WSIB Clearance Certificate. Ask for proof of applicable safety and trade certifications based on the type of work that will be done (e.g., working at heights training, confined space training, Certificates of Qualification for certified trades). Also take the time to review their injury claim history (WSIB’s Safety Check tool can help).

    Remember that construction projects in industrial workplaces must follow the Regulations for Construction Projects. To ensure that the firm you hire meets or exceeds the legislative requirements for health and safety, look for firms with safety designations or certifications, such as the Certificate of Recognition (COR) or CSA Z45001.
  • Clearly identify the roles and responsibilities of all involved before work begins. If the floors are getting redone or a part of the facility is being renovated, there will most likely be someone from the organization overseeing the work. Troy recommends clearly outlining how progress or problems, including safety issues, will be communicated between this person and the contractor. “Have a clearly documented process that indicates who is responsible for what and the mechanism for reporting hazards or issues, so that there is no grey area,” says Troy.
  • Review the site safety plan before work begins. This is important because, as the owner, you need to be aware of the processes and procedures that will be used to complete the job. You also must verify that they are being followed. Troy recommends establishing a process to hold the contractor accountable. “Make sure safety processes are reviewed and verified at each regular progress meeting and ensure that these meetings are documented.”   

How WSPS can help


Connect with a WSPS expert to find out if you have gaps in your health and safety program regarding outside contractors.