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7 tips for meeting your OHS legal duties for contract workers

7 tips for meeting your OHS legal duties for contract workers

The shortage of skilled labour is prompting more employers to seek out contractors for services such as cleaning, sanitation, general labour (temp agencies), electrical, plumbing and deliveries. But before signing the dotted line, make sure you have a clear understanding of your health and safety responsibilities for contract workers on your site, warns WSPS Consultant Kellie Harrison. 

  •  “This is where a lot of employers have misunderstood and gotten themselves in trouble.” Trouble, in this case, means penalties or prosecutions under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).

  • “Often, the employer thinks, ‘I contracted this out to Bill’s Plumber, so that company is responsible for their workers’ health and safety.’ But that’s not the way it’s looked at under the OHSA.” 

The OHSA defines an employer as someone ‘who employs or contracts for the services of one or more workers,’ which indicates the contract employer and the host employer have shared responsibility for the health and safety of the contract workers. When the work is being done onsite, the employer who hires for contracted services has the lion’s share of the responsibility, says Kellie.  

How do you work with the contract employer to ensure workers are safe from injury? And what steps must you take to reduce your own liability? Kellie provides 7 tips. 

Develop a contractor safety program  

Whether you are working with one - or several - contract employers, you need to take a thorough and consistent approach by developing a contractor safety program. Elements of your program should include: 

  • the scope of the project  
  • the employer’s health and safety record 
  • training of contract workers 
  • personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements and who will provide it 
  • how occupational health and safety duties will be shared between you and the contract employer  
  • who will supervise the contract workers  
  • what happens if an incident or an accident occurs 

“All these matters will be discussed during pre-contract planning,” says Kellie, “and then included in the signed contract to ensure that everyone is on the same page.” 

7 essential tips for keeping everyone safe 

Follow Kellie’s 7 tips for ensuring you and the contract employer are doing everything required by law to protect contract workers.  

  1. Check out the contractor's safety record. Use the WSIB's Safety Check tool. Just enter a company name and you can see their accident performance. 

  2.  Ensure the contractor has a written health and safety policy and program in place. Ask for copies. 

  3. Confirm that the contract workers have received general health and safety training and have been advised that site specific training will also be needed when they begin the work.  A sign in sheet is not sufficient proof of training, says Kellie. “Ask the contract employer for an evaluation sheet or formal record of training.”  In addition, make sure the training received meets your standards. Review the contract employer’s training programs and/or provide your own training. Consider all potential work, tools and equipment that will be involved in the project, and pay special attention to high-risk tasks, such as working at heights and machine lockout, says Kellie, where the consequences of an injury can be severe. Kellie remembers an incident where a sanitation worker was injured after a failed lockout. The employer of the site was prosecuted, and fined $60,000, plus legal costs. 

  4. Determine who will provide workplace-specific training. Is it you or the contract employer? For example, contract workers may have received general WHMIS training, but not workplace specific training. They need to know the chemicals they will be working with at your workplace and related handling, storage and emergency procedures.  Likewise, contract delivery people need to know the rules and procedures around driving trucks in the yard and unloading. “This could change at every workplace. And if they enter the workplace, they need to know where they can safely walk.  

  5. Spell out who will be supervising the contract workers. If it’s the contract employer, it’s still good practice from a due diligence standpoint for your supervisors to monitor the health and safety aspects of the work. “Your joint health and safety committee should also keep an eye out during inspections to ensure contact employees are following safe work procedures.” 

  6. Clearly communicate your health and safety expectations and standards to the contractor and to their employees. Provide orientation training to the workers. Discuss your culture, your hazards, your safety programs, tools, reporting requirements, fire safety and emergency plans, and more.  

  7. Ensure the contractor, contact employees and your employees understand their responsibilities under the OHSA. 

How WSPS can help 

Contact a consultant to find out how WSPS’s Contractor Safety Management Program can help your workplace manage the onsite health and safety of contract employees.   



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