An employer’s guide to workplace inspections

In Ontario, the Ministry of Labour conducts investigations of businesses to determine whether they comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). During the inspection, if you are found to be violating the Act, you can face fines and penalties, which can be damaging to your business. To be prepared for these inspections if and when they do occur, you must make sure you:

  • Comply with the OHSA. 
  • Have a thorough health and safety program in place. 
  • Fulfill your responsibilities as an employer throughout the inspection process.

Reasons for workplace inspections

The Ministry of Labour often selects businesses for inspection based on industry. Industries with a history of poor compliance or high work-related injuries are more likely to receive a visit from a Ministry of Labour inspector. Construction and mining businesses are often selected for inspection.

Reactive & proactive inspections

Ontario has two types of workplace inspections: proactive and reactive visits.  A proactive visit is an unplanned visit for which you will receive no warning. A reactive visit is planned, often in response to a report of injury or illness in the workplace.

Some reasons for a proactive visit include:

  • To inform of known workplace hazards. 
  • Make sure that workplaces are complying with the OHSA. 
  • Advise employers and employees of their rights, duties and responsibilities. 
  • Promote the Internal Responsibility System (IRS). 

Some reasons for a reactive visit include:

  • A complaint has been filed. 
  • An employee has exercised their right to refuse work. 
  • A critical injury or fatality has been reported as taking place in your workplace.
  • There has been a reported case of occupational illness in the workplace. 

The proactive visit process

In the event of a proactive visit, a Ministry of Labour inspector will visit your workplace and introduce themselves. The inspector must show identification and ask to speak with a member of management and your workspaces health and safety contact person. The inspector may also ask to speak with a member of your health and safety committee or your health and safety representative.

Throughout the process, the inspector will or may: 

  • Walk through your workplace to ensure you are complying with OHSA regulations.
  • Test equipment and tools in your workplace. 
  • Take samples, measurements, and photographs.

Ensure that you appoint an employee rep to take notes throughout the process. Following your inspection, your inspector will send you a written field report. This report will include their conclusions. You are required to place a copy of the report in your workplace, as well you must forward a copy to your health and safety commitee or health and safety rep.

The reactive visit process

A reactive visit typically occurs in response to an injury or accident reported to the Ministry of Labour. You are required to immediately report serious injuries and fatalities that have taken place in your workplace to the Ministry of Labour. An inspector will visit your workplace who may issue remedial orders, and in the worst-case scenario, you could be subject to charges if you are found to violate the OHSA.

Employer responsibility in the event of a notice

Inspectors will issue written orders to employers when they are found not to comply with the law. The notice may include assistance, resources or recommendations, and/or requirements for the employer to bring them into compliance. 

Employers are required to: 

  • Ensure they post a copy of the order in the workplace where it can be easily viewed. 
  • Provide the health and safety committee or the health and safety representative with a copy of the notice.
  • Follow the order and remedy the existing health and safety issues. 
  • Once the employer believes they have remedied the issues, they must notify the Ministry of Labour within three (3) days that the issue has been resolved. 

Potential fines or penalties for violations

In severe cases, employers can be charged with failure to comply with the OHSA and/or its regulations. If convicted, the employer could face a maximum fine of $100,000 and one year in prison. 

An inspector can also order a stop work order or ask that workers leave the area immediately if they think a hazard is an immediate danger to their health and safety. 

Still need help?

Have a workplace inspection coming up? Do you just want to ensure you are prepared when the time comes? A Health & Safety Help expert will be happy to help ensure you are prepared come inspection time. Call today at 1-888-951-8865.