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How Safe is your Contractor?

On December 25th 2009, Ontarians across the province were shocked to read that 4 construction workers had tragically died as a result of a suspended scaffold collapse at a residential high-rise on Christmas Eve. An initial investigation showed the workers who were working 13 storeys above the ground were not secured to lifelines as required by law. The circumstance of this accident begs the question “How safe is your Contractor?”

Worker health and safety is a premier concern of the Ministry of Labour in Ontario. The ministry is actively at work to eliminate all workplace injuries and heavily promotes the fact that workers have the right to return home each day to their families safe and sound. The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) govern the safety of workers in all workplaces. How does this affect a condominium? Chris Linkert Health and Safety Manager of Connoisseur Painting Ltd. explains “A condominium will have responsibilities under the OSHA, either as an employer when a direct hire situation exists or as an owner when an independent contractor has been hired.” The owner/independent relationship will have far less responsibilities for the condominium than that of the employer relationship. The owner/independent contractor relationship allows for some of the OSHA responsibilities to be borne by the contractor. At the bare minimum, a condominium must take all reasonable steps to ensure a safe and healthy workplace and workers must be made aware of any designated substances (including asbestos, mould, lead, mercury, silica, and other contaminants) that may be present on the property. Under the WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System) program workers have the right to know of any hazardous materials that may be on a job site. It is the responsibility of the condominium to inform workers that these products are present. Failure to notify workers of these hazards is a direct violation of the OHSA. Obligations as an employer are much more onerous. Duties of an employer require the proper instruction and supervision of workers, that proper protective equipment, materials, and devices are available and properly used by workers. In short, it is the duty of the employer to ensure every reasonable precaution is taken to ensure the health and safety of the workers. When a contractor is hired, the property manager and condominium must ensure they are qualified to do the work and have WSIB clearance certificates. Workers not covered under a clearance certificate can sue the corporation civilly in the event of an accident. The more dangerous the work the more you need address and plan occupational and health precautions.

The province and the Ministry of Labour do not compromise over issues regarding health and safety and as such, the consequences for failing to protect the safety of workers are sobering indeed. If convicted of an offense under the OHSA and individual can be fined up to $25,000 and/or face imprisonment for up to 12 months. Also under the OSHA, the maximum fine for a corporation is $500,000 per offence and this reflects only the provincial enforcement of the OHSA. Federally, changes to the criminal code under Bill C-45 add additional responsibilities and penalties on condominiums when it comes to health and safety. This bill created rules for establishing liability to organizations for the acts of their representatives and a legal duty for all persons “directing the work of others” to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of workers and the public.

So, how can a contractor help you to not only reduce your liability but also help make your condominium a safer place to work? The simple answer is by hiring a contractor with a comprehensive health and safety plan. “Beginning in early 2009 Connoisseur Painting Ltd. began implementing their detailed health and safety plan.” says Chris Linkert. “Once we finished developing the health and safety policy and manual, we began training all of our painters. “ Chris adds, “in order to ensure that our painters can work safely on any jobsite, we began an intensive training program which included WHMIS and safe operating procedures for everything piece of equipment workers may use on a job site from ladders to power tools.” “In addition, prior to the start of every project we thoroughly review the site and detail the equipment to be used in the completion of the work as well as any hazards that may be present.” “Following the procedures as outlined in Connoisseurs’ Health and Safety Manual we review the hazards and equipment requirements with our crew chief and ensure all workers have been properly trained, prior to the start of the project”. Everyone involved in the project knows upfront what is expected not only in the quality of the work, but also in the necessary health and safety requirements.

Concern for a workers health and safety can also pay dividends in other ways. “The health and safety training has been a real great team builder for our paint crews.” Say John Margaritis Senior Production Manager for Connoisseur Painting Limited. “The increased amount of communication between management and the paint crews and between the paint crews themselves has been fantastic.” “ A real sense of camaraderie grows, when everyone is working to a common goal.” By developing our Health and Safety manual, we stand out from others in the painting business. This makes us more attractive to quality painters looking for work and assists us in retaining the quality workers we currently have. “Morale with the painters has never been higher since we started to implement our Health and Safety initiatives” say John. “The increase in morale can be seen in the attitude of our workers as well as in the quality and efficiency of their work.” A strong culture in health and safety brings many rewards to Connoisseur and to our clients.

With health and safety at the forefront of any project both the contractor and the condominium corporation must ensure they are in compliance in order to reduce their liability. Working with contractors who have a strong health and safety and training policy greatly reduces the chance of an accident on the job. This protects all of us. condominium, contractor, and worker alike. Ask your contractors about their health and safety plan and then ask yourself how safe is my contractor.

Russell Dunlop

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