A few summers ago, Ontario employers were surprised by a monthlong young worker safety inspection blitz. During the blitz, Ontario Ministry of Labour inspectors visited 2,024 workplaces across Ontario and issued 5,862 orders. Of those, 105 were stop-work orders, forcing workplaces to stop production until they complied with the listed requirements.
On May 1, 2014, the Ontario Ministry of Labour began yet another blitz — this time for four months and again focused on new and young worker safety. While this blitz is an Ontario initiative, many provinces across Canada are taking similar proactive measures to improve safety in the workplace for this group of vulnerable workers.
According to government of Canada statistics, in 2006, 97 young workers across Canada were killed in work-related accidents. In Ontario, an average of 42 young workers are injured, made ill, or killed on the job daily, according to the government of Ontario’s Young Worker Awareness Program. With these statistics in mind, it’s worth taking a moment to consider your company’s hiring habits. To improve these statistics for your company, you may wish to consider the following:
- What are your company’s existing policies and procedures for health and safety?
- Does your company have an orientation and training program specifically for new and young workers?
- Have hazard assessments specific to your workplace been adequately considered with young and new workers in mind?
- Are staff sufficiently prepared and trained to deal with the unique safety needs of new and young workers?
Employer and worker obligations
Popular misconceptions are that young workers incur more workplace injuries because of their risk-taking behavior and sense of invincibility. This may not be true. Current Canadian research suggests that the real factors for injuries among young workers are instead a lack of experience, a higher number of inherent workplace hazards, greater frequency in engaging in more physical work, and inadequate or insufficient safety training and orientation.
By law, employers in all provinces across Canada have a legal duty to create a safe and healthy workplace for young and new workers. They also have a legal duty to properly train them to work safely. Further, employers are required to do the following:
- Provide a safe and healthy workplace through consistent and committed safety efforts.
- Train workers on potential hazards and ensure workers have the required certifications/qualifications.
- Correct unsafe actions and conditions.
- Ensure protective equipment is available, is in good condition, and is being used.
- Report and investigate all accidents and incidents.
- Know the hazards inherent to the workplace, have a hazard assessment completed, update the hazard assessment, and teach and train to the hazard assessment to protect workers.
- Explain the right to refuse unsafe work and demonstrate support for this right.
Rightfully, the law does not impose all safety obligations on the employer and its supervisors. Canadian workers, including new or young workers, also have legal obligations and responsibilities such as the following:
- Know and comply with occupational health and safety laws.
- Wear protective gear required by the employer.
- Recognize and refuse to do unsafe work.
- Report unsafe action and conditions to the employer.
Health and safety inspectors in most provinces have the authority to arrive unannounced at your workplace. During a blitz this is even more likely. They have the authority to inspect the workplace even if there has been no report or call made requesting their presence. During their inspections, they can require your company to produce myriad pertinent documents, make copies, and remove the copies from the workplace. Best case scenario, this is all that they do.
But if an inspector sees something he or she doesn’t like, you may receive an order. These can range from time-consuming orders, often requiring document production and witness statements from workers during work hours, to stop-work orders that cease your company’s production until the order is complied with. Worst case, your company and/or supervisors could be charged.
How can you help?
So how can you reduce the likelihood of inspections and/or orders?
- Discuss what hazards might be specific to new and young workers with your joint health and safety committee/worker representative. Remove or control those hazards.
- E-mail (or text or Instagram) workers links to your online health and safety literature before they begin work.
- Provide new and young workers a comprehensive site orientation immediately upon arriving at the workplace. Where possible, tailor it to their specific needs. Consider ways in which you could use social media to reach your new and young workers.
- No equipment should be used until and unless proper training has been discussed, hazards have been identified, and supervision has been made available. Supervision should be provided until such time as the new or young worker is confident and competent to perform the requested task.
In short, continue to put all your occupational health and safety procedures and policies in place, with a special emphasis on the new and young worker.