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For those of us in Ontario, Quebec, the Prairies and Atlantic Canada, 2015 has so far been a never-ending story of winter.
Work, however, must nevertheless carry on despite snow, ice, slush, and record breaking cold temperatures.
However, with these plunging temperatures and slippery conditions comes an increased potential for twisted ankles, broken bones and other injuries resulting from slipping and falling in and around the workplace. The Ministry of Labour’s Winter Safety Blitz from February 2 to March 15, 2015 targeting workplace slips, trips and falls presents a timely reminder for employers to ensure that hazards are being assessed and addressed.
Inspectors are targeting hazards involving slips, trips and falls, and are visiting a variety of workplaces across the province, including restaurants, stores, vehicle sales and service, arborists/landscapers, and manufacturers of food, beverage and tobacco products, and wood and metal products.
In particular, Inspectors will check that:
- employers have established and implemented policies, programs and safe work practices to protect workers from slips, trips and falls;
- employers are providing safe and appropriate access and egress to work areas;
- employers have assessed ladders, stands and platforms for hazards, have properly maintained equipment and placed it on firm footing when in use;
- floors and other work surfaces are kept free of obstructions and other hazards;
- employers have trained workers on the use of appropriate fall protection systems, personal protective equipment and other safety devices when working at heights; and
- employers are ensuring that workers are using safe work practices when working on truck beds, trailers or the top of loads.
If an Inspector discovers infractions, s/he will have the prerogative to issue warnings, compliance orders and tickets, and to escalate the matter for prosecution.
The business cost of slips, trips and falls
Slips, trips and falls are among the leading causes of lost-time injuries in Ontario workplaces.
Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (“WSIB”) statistics show that in 2013, an astounding 11,814 lost time injury claims (i.e. 32 claims per day!) resulted from falls in Ontario workplaces. Falls on the same level (i.e. as opposed to falls from a height) account for 70% of those claims.
An average WSIB claim carries a cost of $11,771 to employers; however, when factoring in lost productivity and staff replacement, the cost to employers can be as much as four times more, at approximately $59,000 per injury.
Preparing for the blitz
The following recommendations can assist employers in preparing for the Ministry’s winter safety blitz.
- Assess slip/fall hazards, including by:
- conducting detailed and regular inspections of parking lots, hallways, and other potentially hazardous areas; and
- reviewing records of prior slips and falls (e.g. first-aid reports and minutes of joint health and safety committee meetings).
- Control hazards by eliminating or reducing risk, including by:
- ensuring that steps, ramps, parking lots, walkways, entrances, and exits stay clear of water, slush, snow and ice;
- when hiring a snow removal contractor, applying the same conditions you would apply to any on-site contractor, including ensuring that the contractor has the proper qualifications, general liability insurance, and a valid Workplace Safety and Prevention Service certificate;
- monitoring weather reports for advance warning of slippery conditions;
- ensuring standards for year-round grounds-keeping, lighting and visibility are met;
- clearly identifying (i.e. with appropriate signage) steps, ramps and other elevation changes;
- providing grounds-keeping staff with appropriate hazard control equipment, materials and training; and
- keeping sewer grates clear of obstructions so that water can drain quickly.
- Involve and engage employees in preventing injuries, including by:
- setting and communicating an expectation that all employees share the responsibility for preventing slips, trips and falls;
- creating and communicating a simple hazard reporting process; and
- educating workers on how to avoid slips, trips and falls. Some of the ways workers can protect themselves include: wearing suitable footwear (low heels, shoes with traction), taking special care when entering or exiting buildings and vehicles, and walking around rather than over snow banks or other obstacles.
Finally, during a blitz inspection, employers should ensure that all required documentation, as well as a supervisor and a Health and Safety Representative, are available to the Inspector.
About the Author: Toronto Employment Lawyer Phanath Im practices in all areas of employment law. She is a former Ministry of Labour prosecutor with special expertise in occupational health and safety (OHS) matters. Phanath’s OHS practice includes defending workplace accident-related regulatory charges, accident response, reporting and investigation, and managing OHS inspections.