Workplace inspections: 4 key questions answered

'Workplace inspections are a proactive tool for identifying workplace hazards'

Workplace inspections: 4 key questions answered
Employers across all 14 jurisdictions are responsible for carrying out regular workplace inspections to proactively identify hazards in the workplace.

With businesses slowly re-opening, the conversation has turned to what employers should be doing to keep workers safe. In recent weeks, there has been a strong focus on measures that should be taken to meet these new demands: physical distancing efforts, increased sanitization, and access to PPE.

This in turn highlights an integral part of occupational health and safety: workplace inspections. Indeed, employers across all 14 jurisdictions are responsible for carrying out regular workplace inspections to proactively identify hazards in the workplace. Lately, business resumption planning means employers are closely examining the controls that will protect against workplace exposure to COVID-19. In addition to the efforts of employers, and workplace health and safety committees and representatives, external regulatory agencies will be making sure that employers are respecting these new guidelines and protecting the health and safety of their employees.

COS recently spoke with Amy Campbell, Occupational Health and Safety Program Manager with the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).

We asked Campbell to shed a light on key questions around workplace inspections.

1. How has COVID-19 impacted regulatory health and safety inspections?

“Overall there’s a greater emphasis placed on planning,” says Campbell, “employers are giving thoughtful considerations to their workplaces.” They may be considering things that could have been overlooked in the past, such as using an elevator or a shared kitchenette which now requires more diligence.

The current pandemic has given workplace inspectors new things to look out for during an inspection. Some regulatory agencies specifically require a COVID-19 Plan and may request to see it during their inspections at workplaces. An inspector may review how businesses are implementing physical distancing measures, if there are suitable hand-washing stations, that workers are properly trained to use the provided PPE, etc.

In highlighting the importance of internal responsibility, Campbell explains that with regards to
COVID-19, it is more important than ever that employers seek valuable input from workers and their representatives to better understand high risk areas or activities in the workplace. This communication is valuable in designing effective controls that make workplaces safer for employees to return to or continue occupying.

2. How do regulatory inspections work?

There are 14 jurisdictions that are responsible for OH&S regulatory matters in Canada, explains Campbell (federal jurisdiction, and the 13 provinces and territories). As such, workplace inspections will differ depending on each statute, “there are specific nuances,” says Campbell.

Across all jurisdictions, regular workplace inspections are intended to promote internal responsibility, proactively identify workplace violations and gain compliance. This is reflected across Canada; however each agency adopts its own procedures and priorities for interventions,

“Typically, the workplace parties aren’t notified in advance of the inspection, which allows the inspector to get a sense of typical work conditions,” explains Campbell. It is also important to note that statutes under which inspectors conduct regulatory inspection activity grant them the power to enter an establishment at any reasonable time. Upon arrival it is customary that an inspector would introduce themselves and explain the purpose of their visit; they may also speak with workers, examine or request copies of documentation, ask to be accompanied around the premise and visually inspect tools, equipment, processes, etc. 

If there are issues that need to be corrected, the employer should receive a report that outlines the area(s) compliance and a timeframe to remedy the situation. In serious circumstances, where there may be a danger, an inspector may issue orders to stop the work immediately.

3. What do inspectors look out for?

What are inspectors looking out for? “During proactive inspections, they’re looking to verify compliance and promote internal responsibility,” says Campbell.

In light of COVID-19, Campbell says that, “across each sector, the emphasis is on assessing the level of risk and implementing controls to prevent the spread.”

For example, some open concept office space environments allow for greater distancing, whereas other configurations have workers closer to one another or directly in contact with the public which can affect the transmission risk. In response to the threat of this virus, “environments may be redesigned or repurposed – procedures around cleaning and disinfecting common touch points will be top of mind,” says Campbell.

With more and more employees working from home, this leads to other questions – are teleworkers subject to ‘workplace’ inspections? Campbell says that in the case where the legal concept of “care and control” can be applied, the home ‘workplace’ may be subject to employer duties. It is important for employers to consult the applicable legislation and seek advice from the regulatory agency or legal counsel when necessary.”

CCOHS notes that even though employees are working from home, arrangements should be made to ensure that teleworkers are in a safe environment, this could include investigating fire protection, emergency procedures and electrical safety.

Outside of a ‘traditional’ workplace and telework, other newer types of workspaces have appeared in the past few years, such as co-working spaces. Campbell says that though it is a newer concept, these physical spaces are under the care and control of one or more employers. Coordinated efforts should be made during the contract negotiation stage, when companies undertake agreements to share spaces with other employers, including provisions for facility maintenance, coordination of emergency response plans, how to address complaints, etc.

4. What kind of training do workplace inspectors receive?

As mentioned previously, there are 14 different jurisdictions in Canada, which operate autonomously from one another. As such education and training can depend from one jurisdiction to another. Broadly, inspectors need a post-secondary degree or diploma and experience in the field. Some areas may call for experience in a specific field, such as mining or healthcare. Sometimes, professional designations are required, such as for industrial hygienists or ergonomists.

Each jurisdiction embarks on its own training and education program. In Ontario for example, an inspector requires nine months of classroom and field training, with a senior inspector.

While Campbell says, “workplace inspections are a proactive tool for identifying workplace hazards,” she emphasizes that “employers and health and safety committee members and representatives must be educated on the regulatory requirements that apply to their workplace and stay up to date on any regulatory changes.”  When workplace parties are equipped with this knowledge, they become less reliant on the regulator to tell them what to do.

Campbell concludes by saying “particularly during COVID-19 pandemic, employers will rely on multiple sources of information for guidance, so they need to be mindful of the quality of their sources. Fortunately, there is an abundance of high-quality resources and material available to support workplaces as they navigate the new realities of working through COVID-19.”

Sample inspection checklists are available on CCOHS’ website, including for manufacturing facilities, offices, outdoor areas and chemical or product inventory.

Additional Resources

Additional Sources