The province is stepping up enforcement of COVID-19 requirements in Ontario's workplaces with the training of 100 new occupational health and safety inspectors, says Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development. "will be in the field in the weeks ahead."
McNaughton made this announcement on March 3, noting that over 11,800 workplace inspections have been conducted this year alone, with over 9,400 orders and 370 tickets issued. While the minister emphasizes that most workplaces are in compliance, some employers still lack the basics, such as compulsory safety plans and employee screening.
WSPS Account Manager Nicole Hopkins is enthusiastic about the variety of free online information resources available to help employers. With safety plans now mandatory for all Ontario businesses and more inspections on the horizon, employers who are not in compliance need to act fast. The consequences are serious: greater transmission of the COVID-19 virus, and a risk of fines and imprisonment.
What you need to know
Compliance failures often reflect a failure of the Internal Responsibility System, says Nicole. Under the IRS, everyone in the workplace has health and safety responsibilities. For example, employer responsibilities include having a COVID-19 safety plan in place. The absence of a safety plan may indicate the employer needs to better understand and fulfil its pandemic-related health and safety obligations.
Upcoming inspections will continue to focus on retail stores, including big box stores, warehousing and distribution centres, and will also target restaurants, essential service sector establishments, and farming operations. For small businesses, the province has launched an inspection/education campaign, which includes no cost access to a comprehensive suite of resources.
Penalties for non-compliance with COVID-19 requirements include:
- $750 fine for not following the rules
- $1,000 fine for preventing others (including employees or other workers) from following the rules
- a maximum fine of up to $100,000 for individuals and $10 million for a corporation
- prosecution or even a year in jail
6 tips to stay in compliance
Here's what Nicole suggests.
- Develop a COVID-19 safety plan. Follow a safety plan guide and template developed by the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development. WSPS offers sample sector-specific safety plans to help you populate your plan.
- Screen workers and visitors for illness. Implement a daily screening protocol for all incoming workers, contractors, suppliers, and other visitors. Encourage workers and visitors to self-screen before arriving at the workplace - COVID-19 Screening Tool for Businesses and Organizations (Screening Workers).
- Assign an employee to serve as a pandemic advisor responsible for determining what's required now, facilitating implementation, and tracking progress.
- Communicate changes in legal requirements and workplace controls to employees, and reinforce everyone's responsibilities under the IRS.
- Follow the enforcement activities of provincial and local police, by-law officers and provincial inspectors. Enforcement results may indicate opportunities for improvement in your workplace.
- If you receive an order from an inspector, post a copy in the workplace, give a copy to the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative, and get to work on fixing the problem. "If you receive feedback from an inspection, cascade it down through the organization so everybody knows where the system is falling short, and from there work together on solutions," says Nicole.
How WSPS can help
- Explore WSPS' COVID-19 Hub. It offers essential information and tools to help your workplace and employees thrive during the pandemic. Resources include:
- 8 ways for employers to "take every reasonable precaution" during a pandemic (article)
- Post Pandemic Business Playbook, which provides information and tools to help businesses meet the challenges of this new operating environment.
- Bookmark WSPS' Legislative Tracker to stay up to date and informed on changes to federal and Ontario legislation.
This information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.