Occupational Health and Safety Act Overview
The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) came into force on October 1, 1979. The OHSA sets out minimum health and safety standards to protect workers against hazards on the job. The Ontario Ministry of Labour is responsible for administering the OHSA.
The OHSA applies to almost every worker, supervisor, employer and workplace in Ontario, including constructors, workplace owners, and suppliers of equipment or materials to workplaces covered by the Act. The OHSA does not, however, apply to works under federal labour jurisdiction, such as telecommunications, banking and inter-provincial transportation, or to work performed on or in a private residence by the owner or occupant.
How is the OHSA enforced
The workers and employers share the responsibility for ensuring health and safety. Each workplace must have a joint health and safety committee, or a health and safety representative in smaller workplaces. The committee or representative has the power to identify workplace hazards, get relevant information from the employer, make recommendations to the employer and investigate serious injuries and work refusals.
Inspectors are the enforcement arm of the Ministry of Labour. Their role includes:
- inspecting the workplace
- issuing orders where they see a violation of the OHSA or its regulations
- investigating accidents and work refusals
- resolving disputes, and
- recommending prosecution for serious violations of the OHSA
The maximum penalty for a breach of OHSA or its regulations is:
- A fine of up to $25,000 for an individual person and/or up to 12 months imprisonment;
- A fine of up to $500,000 for a corporation.
OHSA Protects Employees Against Reprisals
Section 50 of the OHSA provides that an employee cannot be dismissed, suspended or disciplined, threatened, intimidated, coerced or penalized in any way because the employee has;
- followed the OHSA,
- asked the employer to follow the OHSA,
- exercised rights under the OHSA,
- provided information to a Ministry of Labour Inspector,
- followed an Inspector’s Order, or
- given evidence relating to the OHSA or a coroner’s inquest.
An employee that believes he/she has been penalized for following the OHSA can file an unlawful reprisal application with the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB). If the OLRB rules in the employee’s favour, it can order a wide range of remedies, including reinstatement, payment of lost wages, removing warning letters from an employee’s file, and payment of any other financial losses the employee may have suffered from the employer’s misconduct.
Role of the Office of the Employer Adviser (OEA)
The OEA can offer education, information, expert legal advice and representation in OHSA unlawful reprisal matters to employers with fewer than 50 employees, all at no fee to the employer. We can represent the employer at the OLRB hearing, and prepare the necessary documents to respond to the application. We can also provide legal advice to an employer considering disciplinary action against an employee who has been involved in health and safety issues, to help avoid a potential complaint. While we can assist employers in any dispute involving a possible reprisal complaint under the OHSA, the OEA is not authorized to offer employers general legal advice and representation concerning other aspects of the OHSA.