An Employer’s Guide to Workplace Inspections

Ontario has a rigorous inspection regimen when it comes to enforcing health and safety in the workplace. The Ministry of Labour carries out inspections via health and safety inspectors looking to ensure your workplace is compliant with the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). Their job is to confirm you’re taking workplace health and safety seriously and following OHSA laws and regulations.

In the 2016/2017 year, the Ministry conducted nearly 80,000 visits to 34,756 workplaces in Ontario and issued some 118,000 orders to employers to bring the workplace in compliance with the law.

How do inspectors enforce the OHSA and related regulations?

Inspections can be conducted proactively without notice or a warrant, or they may happen as a result of a workplace complaint or elevation. Depending on the size of the workplace, the employer and/or a health and safety representative or member of the joint health and safety committee must be made available to go on the inspection with the inspector.

Typically, inspectors are appointed as Provincial Offences Officers under the Provincial Offences Act (POA). Their powers include:

  • Inspecting provincially regulated workplaces both proactively and reactively;
  • Issuing orders or requirements to bring the workplace into compliance with the OHSA;
  • Investigating critical injuries, fatalities, refusals of work and other health and safety complaints; and
  • Initiating prosecutions under the POA for offences under the OHSA and/or its regulations.

In the event of a serious hazard or violation, health and safety inspectors can order an employer to stop work on a certain task, machine, or the operation of the workplace entirely. They can also require employees to leave an area until a hazard has been cleared. These are just some of the many powers given to inspectors.

In severe cases, employers can be charged with failure to comply with the OHSA and/or its regulations. If convicted in court, employers (or named defendants) face a maximum fine of $100,000 and/or up to 12 months’ imprisonment.

Employer Responsibility in the Event of a Notice

Inspectors will issue written orders to employers when they are found not to be in compliance with the law. The notice may include assistance, resources or recommendations, and/or requirements for the employer in order to bring them into compliance. This may include ordering the employer to submit to the ministry their plans for how they will remedy the health and safety violation or issue.

Employers must post a copy of the notice in a conspicuous location. The employer must also provide the joint health and safety committee or the health and safety representative with a copy of the notice.

Once the employer believes they have remedied the contravention as per the notice, they are required to provide the Ministry of Labour with written notification within three (3) days. Particular details of the notice can be found under section 59 of the OHSA, including who must sign the notice.

Need help understanding, preventing, accommodating or appealing a workplace inspection?

If you believe a notice has been wrongfully issued, you have the right as an employer to appeal. For advice on how to handle this or other workplace inspection-related issues, please contact our helpline at 1-888-216-2550.