Last week the provincial government announced the extension of the lockdown in Ontario. The declaration of emergency and the Stay-at-Home order have been extended for another two weeks. It is likely if the numbers do not go down, that it could be extended again. Some of the new restrictions include that outdoor gatherings and organized public events were prohibited. In regards to employers, all non-essential workplaces in the construction sector have been closed. Further, the provincial government is aiming to increase workplace inspections across various industries.

Ontario Hired 100 Additional Health and Safety Inspectors

The government of Ontario announced in March that it was hiring more inspectors to facilitate business inspection blitzes. These new inspectors will undergo a condensed training program and start making field visits soon after. The new inspectors are expected to be fully trained and deployed by July 1, 2021. These additional inspectors will bring the number of total inspectors in Ontario to over 500.

The government’s state purpose for the increase is not just to ramp up workplace inspections. The government has increased the number of inspectors to encourage businesses to adhere to public health measures. Furthermore, these inspectors are expected to help educate business owners on COVID-19 health measures and how to keep their employees and workplaces safe during this pandemic.

Since the beginning of 2021, provincial offences officers have been able to conduct over 13,000 COVID-related inspections. They have reported issuing 9,480 orders and 373 tickets, and 15 unsafe work stoppages.

How are Workplace Inspections Conducted?

These inspections are conducted in two stages:

  1. The first stage is comprised of educating and guiding small businesses.
  2. The second stage involves more enforcement-oriented inspections during follow-up visits. The inspectors are currently concentrating on educating smaller businesses across the province.

However, the province is not just focusing on smaller businesses. Inspection blitzes of big-box stores are also included, as well as the farming sector. In addition, Ontario’s “Stay Safe All Day” campaign is also focusing on localized areas of high transmissions in workplaces, such as breakrooms. Recently, the province conducted a two-week campaign in Peel region, during which officers visited over 200 warehouses, and issued 26 tickets. These officers found that the most common areas of non-compliance were related to safety plans, screening, and masking.

Inspections of Workplaces in COVID-19 Hotspots in Ontario

On April 8, 2021, the Ontario government announced that it was launching “zero-tolerance workplace safety inspections”. The province decided to focus on areas hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes Halton and Peel Regions. The compliance checks will be conducted under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Reopening Ontario Act (ROA). These inspections are to be conducted to ensure compliance with safety and health measures including masking, screening, and physical distancing.

Furthermore, as the province has hired more inspectors, the province announced that it would conduct more inspections, as well as increase enforcement efforts. To that end, these increased inspections are expected to include:

  • Continued risk-based inspections of farms employing temporary foreign workers, including working closely with Service Canada and local public health units to coordinate inspections and share information; and
  • Enhanced education and outreach to the construction sector, a robust and expanding program for rapid antigen screening for COVID-19 in construction, along with a zero-tolerance approach to enforcement of COVID-19 safety requirements on construction projects.

The province is making new announcements on a relatively frequent basis with respect to COVID-19 safety protocols. Employers should be aware of ongoing changes, and their respective responsibilities.

Ontario Announced Workplace Inspectors to Visit 1,300 Construction Sites

On April 15, the government stated its intention to begin provincewide inspections of construction sites. To that end, the province is deploying 200 inspection officers to construction sites in order to enforce safety requirements. Among other things, inspectors will ensure that workers are wearing the proper personal protective equipment and confirm that employees are able to practice safe work habits, such as physical distancing. Inspectors will check whether employers understand the risks in connection to COVID-19. This includes making sure that measures are in place to keep workers safe and reduce the spread in the workplace.

Additionally, provincial offence officers will also visit over 500 workplaces. Those workplaces will include food processors, big box stores, warehouses, and manufacturers. Inspections will occur in hot spots, such as Toronto, Ottawa, and York Region.

The bottom line is that Ontario employers should be prepared for a workplace inspection by the provincial government.

For advice on employee rights, employer liability and other employment or labour law matters, contact the offices of Toronto employment lawyers Grosman Gale Fletcher Hopkins LLP. We regularly advise workplace parties on a wide range of legal workplace issues. Contact us online or by phone at 416-364-9599 to schedule a consultation.