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Beer may create a workplace hazard, even if it isn’t consumed

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Alcohol use in the workplace has been the subject of significant discussion by employment lawyers and Canadian jurists in recent years. In 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada held, in Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, Local 30 v. Irving Pulp & Paper, Ltd., that employers do not have an automatic right to impose mandatory random alcohol testing on unionized workers in a dangerous workplace. In early 2014, an Alberta Labour Arbitrator held, in Unifor Local 707A v. Suncor Energy Inc., that the employer’s random alcohol testing policy constituted an unreasonable exercise of management rights. And, in late 2014, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice – Divisional Court confirmed, in Mechanical Contractors Association Sarnia v. United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing & Pipefitting Industry, that the employer’s testing of employees was, among other things, contrary to the Ontario Human Rights Code.

In each of those cases, employer representatives emphasized the potentially serious consequences that can result from being under the influence of alcohol while working.

However, it is not only the consumption of alcohol that can create a risk to worker safety. In its recent Information Bulletin, entitled “Manual Handling of Beer Kegs”, Ontario’s Ministry of Labour warns that the handling of alcohol (specifically, beer kegs) creates a risk of physical injury and, in particular, musculoskeletal disorders in the back and shoulders.

In that regard, the Ministry of Labour identifies hazards associated with the handling of beer kegs as follows:

  • Using two workers to lift, lower or carry kegs, on account of high forces/weight, adoption of awkward postures, and/or the risk of one worker bearing most of the weight if the second worker slips or loses grip.
  • Design and layout of storage areas, commonly with low ceilings or limited space, which can result in the double-stacking of kegs.
  • Loading and unloading delivery vehicles and transferring full kegs up or down stairs, or to raised storage surfaces.

To reduce the risks associated with those hazards, the Ministry of Labour recommends the following best practices for employers:

  • Provide mechanical aids when beer kegs need to be moved.
  • Manage stock levels and design or modify keg storage areas so that the lifting, lowering or carrying of beer kegs can be avoided.
  • Develop safe work procedures on the techniques, tools and processes implemented by the employer to safely handle kegs.
  • If mechanical aids are not able to be provided, develop work practices in which kegs are rolled, pushed, pulled or slid in order to reduce physical demands.

Of course, as with any hazard, it is incumbent upon the employer and supervisors to continuously evaluate the effectiveness of the controls that have been implemented, to satisfy themselves that they have taken “every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker.”

Although the Ministry of Labour’s Information Bulletin may not directly apply to all workplaces, it serves as a reminder to employers and supervisors that there may be hazards in your workplace  – whether it be kegs of beer, staplers, or the ergonomic properties of an employee workstation – that sometimes go unnoticed and, therefore, go uncontrolled.

Ryan D. Campbell

About the Author: Toronto Employment Lawyer Ryan D. Campbell assists both employers and employees in all facets of employment law, workers’ compensation law, and occupational health and safety law. Ryan also has experience assisting Ontario employers in complying with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and advising on the use of social media and technology in the workplace.