Ministry of Labour Workplace Inspections? What to Expect!

Who are occupational health and safety inspectors?
Occupational health and safety inspectors enforce the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and ensure workplace parties are maintaining an effective Internal Responsibility System (IRS).

The IRS incorporates the underlying philosophy of the OHSA by relying on all workplace parties to maintain workplace health and safety.

In addition to enforcing the OHSA, inspectors are trained in specific regulations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour employs a team of specialists who may accompany an inspector during a workplace inspection or investigation to provide additional expertise. These professionals include: engineers, hygienists, doctors, ergonomists and radiation experts.

Inspector training
All inspectors complete a rigorous nine-month program of classroom training and field experience with a qualified inspector.

New inspectors also receive training on the regulations specific to their respective programs (i.e., construction, mining, health care, industrial and diving).

Policy and procedures
Occupational health and safety inspectors’ enforcement efforts are supported by a comprehensive manual of policies and procedures used in workplace inspections.

Powers of an inspector
Ministry of Labour Occupational Health and Safety Inspectors have broad powers under section 54 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act to monitor employers’ and workers’ compliance with the OHSA.

Inspectors’ powers include:

Power of entry
Under section 54(1)(a) of the OHSA, a Ministry of Labour inspector may enter any workplace without a warrant or notice. By law, you are required to permit an inspector entry to conduct a workplace inspection or investigation.

Obtaining information
Once an inspector has begun a workplace inspection or investigation, by law, he or she is permitted to:

Question any person [section 54(1)(h)]
Handle, use or test any equipment, machinery, material or agent in the workplace and take away any samples [sections 54(1)(b) and (e)]
Look at any documents or records and take them from the workplace in order to make copies [sections 54(1)(c) and (d)], and
Take photographs [section 54(1)(g)].
To review all the powers of an inspector, please see Part VIII of the Guide to the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

What to expect from a Ministry of Labour visit
Workplace visits by an inspector are typically unannounced and, by law, an inspector must be granted access to enter and access all areas of the workplace. When a ministry occupational health and safety inspector arrives at your workplace, he or she will introduce himself or herself and ask to speak with the most senior member of management available and/or the workplace’s health and safety contact. The inspector may also ask for a worker safety representative. If the required parties are not available, the inspector may continue with a limited inspection based on available information or may arrange a follow-up visit later that day or on the following day.

When all workplace parties have been assembled, the inspector will check that all documentation required under the OHSA is in place: the employer’s written occupational health and safety policy, the workplace violence and harassment policy and the health and safety awareness poster. These must be displayed in an area accessible by all employees. Any other required documentation that shows workers have been provided information and instruction on tasks they are required to do may also be requested. Finally, the inspector may ask to see where the documents are posted and verify that a copy of the act and regulations is also displayed.

Following the documentation review, the inspector will inspect the workplace to determine if workplace parties are maintaining a safe work environment and complying with the OHSA and its regulations.

Inspectors will apply and enforce the OHSA and its regulations based on the facts as they may find them in the workplace. The Ministry of Labour has produced a number of short videos describing what inspectors look for when inspecting for specific hazards.

Enforcement tools
The OHSA provides inspectors with enforcement tools to obtain compliance with health and safety requirements. Compliance orders describe actions the employer is obliged to take in order to comply with specific legal requirements. Where there is immediate risk of injury to a worker, a “stop work” order is issued to prevent work from continuing until compliance is achieved. Inspectors also can issue tickets under the Provincial Offences Act or initiate prosecution for non-compliance.

Compliance orders may be:

Time based – a time frame is set to comply.
Time unknown – an amount of time to comply is not specified. This type of order will result in a “Stop work” or “Plan.” The inspector will explain the requirements for compliance with these types of orders.
Forthwith – the contravention is complied with during the inspector’s visit.
Along with any orders, the inspector will also provide a Notice of Compliance. This form is to be completed and signed by the employer and health and safety representative or a joint health and safety committee member. The worker representative must check a box beside the order to indicate agreement or disagreement that compliance has been achieved for the order(s).

Once the Notice of Compliance form has been sent to the inspector, a copy of the field visit report must be posted in the workplace and a copy provided to the worker representative and joint health and safety committee.

Disputing an inspector’s decision
If you do not agree with how an inspector has treated a situation or do not agree with an order, contact the inspector’s manager to discuss the concern. The inspector’s office information can be found at the bottom of the workplace visit report.

Appealing an inspector’s order
Under the OHSA, anyone who is affected by the decision of an inspector (including a worker or a union) may appeal to the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) within 30 days.

During the appeal, the OLRB has the power to suspend the order pending a decision. In making a decision, the OLRB has all the powers of an inspector and can uphold the order, rescind it, or issue a new order. The decision of the OLRB is final.