By Jeff Weber
Labour inspectors can ticket fire service for OH&S offences
By Jeff Weber
The Ministry of Labour in Ontario has committed to reducing the number of workplace injuries in Ontario by 20 per cent over the next four years. The ministry’s efforts will concentrate on several areas. Part of this effort will focus on the employment of 200 new inspectors. An additional spearhead to the effort will be the additional power afforded to inspectors, who will now have the ability to ticket on the spot for offences under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, and this will have an impact on the fire service in this province.
Ministry of Labour inspectors have had this ability in the construction, mining and diving sectors for quite some time already. The major change is the new ability to ticket employers, supervisors and employees in the industrial sector, including the fire service, for certain offences.
In Ontario, the industrial sector accounts for a greater percentage of workers than any other work sector. It is also the most varied, including workplaces as diverse as manufacturing, restaurants and fitness clubs. Most of the other sectors are quite defined in their individuality and specific workplace focus.
The industrial sector includes such a variety of workplaces that a high level of dependency is placed on the internal responsibility system and the ability of a joint occupational health and safety committee and the employer to use due diligence. This has worked for the most part, but workplace injuries continue to happen.
The fire hall workplace
The fire hall as a workplace would fall under the industrial sector. The regular duties that occur there would fall under the scrutiny of the industrial regulations. For example, a firefighter checking the hydraulic extrication equipment in the compartment of a pump as part of regular truck check duties is responsible under the act to wear the appropriate protective eyewear. Not that a firefighter wouldn’t be wearing protective eyewear in the first place.
The new ability to ticket doesn’t limit or change an inspector’s other powers under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Inspectors still have all of their previous powers. An inspector can still issue orders under the act as well as issue a work stoppage in the case that unsafe conditions exist. The ability to issue tickets ultimately adds to the powers of inspectors and allows them the ability to immediately ticket offences, on the spot. The tickets carry a fine from $200 to $300, with court costs included, depending on the offence.
What type of offences are ministry inspectors able to ticket? There is a list of 81 offences the ministry can now target with regard to the Occupational Health and Safety Act and provincial industrial regulations. Usually they are an easily observable offence that poses an immediate and potentially serious hazard to a worker. The offences do not usually present legal or factual issues. Some typical tickets might be for:
• Failure to wear appropriate fall protection, such as a harness or lifeline.
• Failure to wear appropriate head, eye, ear or foot protection for the situation.
Effect on the fire service
How does this change affect the fire service in Ontario? The workplace of the fire service can be as varied as the industrial sector. As you know, we could be called into any workplace whether it be a restaurant or a manufacturing facility. Our duties can be as varied as any sector including working in an IDLH (Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health) atmosphere, to entering a confined space. We could be asked to dispense our duties outside of a facility on a roadside or highway. Any square foot of the municipality we serve can become our workplace.
The public expects the fire service to operate at a higher level of safety even though we dispense our duties in some of the most hostile environment and work conditions on the planet. We are, as an employment sector, still expected to comply with the OH&S Act. The fire service may also be held to any of the regulations under the act that apply to a particular situation.
The Ontario fire service, with the assistance of the Ministry of Labour has created its own Section 21 committee. One of the purposes of the committee is to offer guidance to the fire service regarding safety-related issues. One of the ways the Section 21 committee helps to increase safety is to release guidelines which are enforceable under section 25 (2)h of the act, which is basically “reasonable precaution for the protection of a worker.”
Unlike before, however, a firefighter can now be issued a $200 fine on the spot for not wearing a helmet if it is deemed by the inspector to be necessary for protection. A $200 fine for not wearing protective eyewear can be levied if the inspector deems it necessary for the situation. This doesn’t just affect the firefighter (worker); it can affect the supervisor in charge as well as the employer. Fines are similar for the supervisor, but are typically more for the employer. For failing to ensure a worker wears the proper protective equipment like a helmet or eyewear the supervisor can be fined $200 in addition to the fine levied on the firefighter (worker).
The silver lining
With the bad news there is also a silver lining. The fire service does work safely while operating at emergency incidents, usually because there is already cause for us to do so. The reason we are there in most cases is due to an unsafe or unpredictable condition. We are, in most cases, already wearing our personal protective equipment when we arrive. Where we may encounter a situation, potentially, is when we are not expecting it. This could be, for example, an entry into an industrial establishment for another reason such as the following:
• Fire inspections in an industrial setting.
• Station duties in the fire hall.
• Medical calls in industrial establishments requiring protective eyewear.
Wear your PPE, even when you are checking the hydraulic oil in a tool during vehicle checks. If not to save yourself $200 to $300, then do it for your own safety. It is provided for a reason. All of the excuses have been heard both in the workplace and in the hospital emergency department. “It won’t happen to me”, “I will only be looking at it for a second”, “I always do this without”, “I’ve never been hurt before.”
It only takes a second to have an accident happen. It only takes a few more seconds to don our PPE to make it a safer operation. The ministry is looking toward ticketing as another enforcement tool. It would really be too bad to have to pay a fine for such a “reasonable precaution.”
Capt. Jeff Weber is a 13-year veteran with the Kitchener (Ont.) Fire Dept.. Promoted captain in 1999, in 2003 he moved from the suppression division to the training division. Weber was involved with the inception, development and delivery of the Pre-Entry and Pre-Service Program at Conestoga College between 1997 and 2000, and was the program co-ordinator for its initial two years. He is an active member of Kitchener’s high/low angle rope rescue committee, water rescue committee, hazardous materials committee, and confined space committee and has served on the joint occupational health and safety committee as an association member since January 1995. He holds a teacher/trainer of adults certificate from Conestoga College.