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Small business: make Ontario's IRS your BFF

Small business IRS

Ontario's Internal Responsibility System may be small business's secret weapon in getting ahead. Trouble is, a recent Ministry of Labour inspection initiative revealed that many businesses aren't taking advantage of it. "Small businesses inherently want to keep their workers safe," says WSPS Small Business Consultant Kirsi Henry. "But these stats show they don't understand their prescribed duties or how compliance can help them improve their business and avoid penalties."

Ontario's small businesses represent 95% of all employers and employ 28% of workers. Results of the inspection initiative show that new small businesses in particular lack awareness of the Internal Responsibility System and their legal health and safety responsibilities.

From April 1 to March 31, 2018, ministry inspectors visited 3,942 new small businesses (with 50 workers or less), issuing 13,907 orders, including 184 stop work orders. The inspectors focused on these sectors: retail, restaurants, industrial services, food, beverage and tobacco, wholesalers, and wood and metal fabrication.

The goals of the initiative were to check that these businesses were complying with the following aspects of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and regulations:

  • a health and safety policy and program,
  • violence and harassment policy and program,
  • health and safety representative or joint health and safety committee (JHSC),
  • posting requirements,
  • mandatory health and safety awareness training for employees,
  • identifying and controlling hazards.

The most frequently issued orders were for an employer’s failure to meet

  • general requirements of the act, e.g. posting, health and safety policy and program, health and safety rep, monthly inspections, etc. (8,276 orders),
  • workplace violence and harassment requirements, e.g. harassment and violence policies and programs (2,707 orders),
  • Regulation 851: Industrial Establishments requirements, e.g. ensuring a lifting device was examined by a competent person, etc. (2,605 orders),
  • requirements around providing basic health and safety awareness training for workers and supervisors (2,325 orders).

According to the ministry, "The majority of the orders issued reflect employers' failure to support, develop and implement a self-reliant Internal Responsibility System." The ministry plans to work with health and safety partners, including WSPS, to increase small businesses' awareness of health and safety obligations through organizations such as local Chamber of Commerce and industry associations.

"This is great idea," says Kirsi. "We can share information about legal requirements and point small businesses to resources that can help them develop an effective Internal Responsibility System. It's more than a legal requirement. It can help you boost productivity, avoid the consequences of non-compliance, and prevent catastrophic business disruptions."

Proven benefits of an effective health and safety program include:

  • a healthier, happier workforce,
  • more consistent production and customer service,
  • lower WSIB costs.

"Small businesses that have never had a significant lost-time injury may not realize the devastating consequences, not just for the injured worker but for the business," says Kirsi. Neglecting health and safety can lead to:

  • greater risk of injury, illness, business disruption and property damage,
  • ministry orders, tickets, fines or prosecution,
  • time and cost of WSIB claims submission,
  • higher costs (e.g. overtime, training) to make up for lost production.

How WSPS can help

  • Enhance your health and safety program with training, checklists and tools, available to workplaces of any size at WSPSSmall Business Centre