Looking Backwards … to Get to the Future

Spring 2019: Another New and Young Workers’ Blitz

Spring is finally here, and businesses in the industrial sector have started to turn, or will soon be turning, their attention to their student hiring processes.

For many students, the jobs they get this summer will be their first introduction to the workforce. As a result, they tend to make up a particularly vulnerable group that needs to be trained and supervised in a meaningful way. If a business forgets this, the Ministry of Labour (MOL) will undoubtedly remind them when it starts running its new and young worker blitz from May 1 to August 30, 2019.

Importantly, this blitz has been conducted annually for at least the past three years, and there are lessons that businesses can learn from the results. We have therefore set out below a summary of some of the key takeaways from these past blitzes, as well as some pointers on how businesses can prepare for this year’s upcoming blitz.

What is a Blitz?

To begin, it’s useful to understand what a new and young worker blitz is. Generally, it involves MOL provincial officers attending, typically unannounced, at industrial sector workplaces, including, but not limited to, retail establishments, restaurants, plants and tourism, hospitality and recreation facilities. Once they are there, the MOL officers inspect the workplace to confirm compliance with the Occupational Health & Safety Act (OHSA) and its regulations. They do that by using the powers that the OHSA gives them such as the authority (i) to require the production of documents, (ii) to require that tests be conducted, or (iii) to interview managers, supervisors and other workers.

The MOL runs these inspections on a zero-tolerance basis. If it identifies concerns or deficiencies, it issues Orders. Orders can make a business do something specific, or they can shut an entire operation down. While an Order can be appealed, a business has to demonstrate that worker safety would not be jeopardized if the Order is suspended pending the appeal. In most cases, this will be an uphill battle. That makes it all the more important that inspections get passed in the first place.

What Are Key Takeaways From Past Blitzes?

In performing the new and young workers’ blitz over the course of the past three years, the MOL has visited an increasing number of workplaces and issued a significant number of Orders. Three years ago, 905 work places were visited and 1144 Orders were issued. Last year, 1901 workplaces were visited and 7675 Orders were issued. It’s of note that it doesn’t look like the upward trend will change any time soon. The MOL recently put out a call to hire 30 new inspectors.

What can a business learn from these past blitzes?

The primary lesson lies in the fact that the types of Orders that have been issued in the past three years have remained relatively consistent. Throughout that time, inspectors have tended to focus on relatively simple housekeeping tasks which help to prevent accidents and injury. Having said that, because they’re relatively simple, if a company fails to address them, it usually sets off alarm bells in inspectors’ minds and helps to undermine any confidence that the MOL may have had in the business. At the end of the day, these types of failures tend to cause inspectors to suspect that there may be bigger problems at the workplace.

To avoid starting off on a wrong foot during an inspection, we recommend that businesses pay particular attention to the relatively straightforward housekeeping matters that we know the MOL will ask about. These include (i) the failure to post copies of explanatory material in the workplace (i.e. copies of the OHSA); (ii) the failure to ensure that workplace violence and harassment policies are reviewed, updated and implemented; (iii) the failure to conduct monthly health and safety inspections; and (iv) the failure to maintain equipment in good condition by performing preventative maintenance or repairs. Each of these deficiencies can be easily addressed by using and following up on checklists. As well, given that these are usually the first things that the MOL looks for during an inspection, if businesses have addressed them, it helps with making a good first impression, which in turn sets a productive tone. To be as blunt as possible, it’s an opportunity that can be seized upon with relative ease, and it’s one that shouldn’t be missed.

What’s New for the 2019 Initiative?

The MOL has made a slight change to the way it will be approaching its new and young workers’ blitz in 2019. Instead of just running straight inspections, the MOL will also be working with health and safety associations to raise awareness and provide resources, training and education to businesses that work with new and young workers. It will be doing this in partnership with Workplace Safety and Prevention Services and Workplace Safety North from May 1 to August 30, 2019.

How Can Businesses Prepare for the 2019 Blitz?

The lessons of the past can help provide us with a window to the future. In the case of new and young workers’ blitzes, businesses should, at the very least, be taking the following five steps to prepare for the upcoming inspections:

1.         Appoint a competent person (the CP) to take charge of the new and young worker program. This person should be familiar with the new workers who are being hired for the season, with the training that they will need, and with the programs and resources that the MOL and its partners are making available that relate to these workers.

2.         The CP should be looking to the past new and young workers’ blitz inspection results to get an idea of what areas they need to focus on, and what lessons they can learn from past infractions.[1] This information should be used to identify any shortcomings that there may be in the company’s practices and to develop any necessary practices, processes or training programs.

3.         The CP should make sure that simple housekeeping points are addressed. For example, if material has to be posted, it should be posted (i.e. see s.25(2)(i) and (k) of the OHSA). If training has to be provided, it should be provided, and the related records should be maintained (i.e. O.Reg 297/13). When facility inspections need to be performed, they should be performed, and the associated records should be kept (i.e. see ss.8(6) and 9(23) OHSA). If equipment maintenance is required (i.e. annual service or repairs), it should be performed so that equipment is kept in a state of good repair (i.e. s. 25(1)(b) OHSA). Finally, Workplace Violence and Harassment Policies should be reviewed, updated and implemented, including the delivery of appropriate training (i.e. ss.32.01-32.0.8 OHSA).

4.         The CP should ensure that responsible supervisors are appointed, and he or she should be liaising with them throughout the summer. These supervisors need to ensure that the new and young workers are following their training, and that if the workers have any concerns or issues, those are communicated back up to the CP for prompt follow up and action.

5.         The CP should also be trained on how to deal with the MOL on inspections. The CP should know what records are available and where they are kept (i.e., training or maintenance records, etc.). He or she should also know with what processes the new and young workers are working, and where the related procedures are kept. If the CP has this information, he or she will be able to answer any questions the MOL inspector is likely to ask during a new and young worker blitz.

As well, the CP should also be acquainted with MOL inspectors’ powers under the OHSA so that he or she can promptly and responsibly address any questions that may be asked and comply with any appropriate directions that may be given.

If these five steps are followed, the business will end up making a strong first impression, both on form and substance. In turn, this will inspire the MOL to have confidence in the company and its operations, which should result in a smooth and successful inspection.