What is a Supervisor’s Responsibilities in Health and Safety?

CONSIDER THIS: An employer spends considerable time and money on a strong health and safety policy and program. It provides workers with health and safety orientation training, regular training updates and hires highly recommended supervisors. However, when a safety inspector visits the workplace for an unscheduled field visit, it is concluded that a worker is working in an unsafe manner and there has been a violation of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Both employer and supervisor are charged with failing to ensure “every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker” was taken.

What if anything could the employer have done differently to protect itself, its supervisor and its worker?

The role of a supervisor

Every employer is required to do what is reasonable to ensure a safe work environment. To satisfy this duty, employers often hire supervisors whose mandate is to monitor and enforce health and safety compliance. However, hiring a supervisor does not relieve an employer of its duty to ensure a safe workplace.

Reasonable supervision is about consistency, deliberate observation detection and correction. Supervisors should be present at a workplace or job site often to detect hazards or unsafe behavior, and where hazards are detected, to take steps to rectify them.

Training: Every supervisor must be sufficiently trained to understand and implement the workplace’s health and safety programs.
Observation: The mandate of a supervisor should be regular, consistent and systemic observation of the health and safety compliance.

Record keeping: Supervisors should keep detailed notes of their observation and any remedial or follow steps taken with workers to ensure compliance.
Communication: Supervisors should regularly and consistently communicate with workers, other supervisors and senior managers to indentify issues and ensure prompt safety.

Enforcement: Supervisors, together with employers, must consistently and transparently enforce all health and safety requirements.

Zero tolerance: While it may seem harsh, supervisors and employers should have a “zero tolerance” policy for health and safety violations.

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