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Ontario ramps up inspections of construction sites and workplaces provincewide

Friday, April 16, 2021 @ 1:01 PM | By John Schofield

Ontario is mobilizing a team of more than 200 workplace inspectors and provincial offences officers starting April 16 to inspect hundreds of construction sites and workplaces across the province as new COVID-19 cases reach unprecedented levels.

“We’ve inspected these worksites regularly throughout the pandemic,” Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development Monte McNaughton said in an April 15 news release, “but it is more important than ever, with these new variants spreading, that we continue to ensure that construction worksites are following the rules and that workers who still go to work every day are protected.”

According to the news release, the inspectors and officers will enforce COVID-19 safety requirements by visiting 1,300 construction sites and 500 workplaces, including big box stores, food processors, manufacturers and warehouses in the hot spot zones of Toronto, Peel Region, Halton Region, York Region and Ottawa.

Among other things, they will be working to ensure that workers are practising safe work habits while working and during breaks, including physical distancing and wearing appropriate personal protective equipment. Violations may result in fines of up to $750 for individuals and $1,000 for businesses.

With COVID-19 variants out of control, overwhelming hospital ICUs, news reports indicate the government of Ontario Premier Doug Ford will announce additional public health restrictions, including shutting down non-essential construction sites and workplaces.

On April 16, the province reported 4,812 new COVID-19 cases, surpassing the previous record of 4,736 posted on April 15. It also announced that 25 more Ontarians have died of the disease, pushing the average daily death toll to 22, up from 15 on April 9. The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care reached a new high of 701, while the positivity rate for COVID-19 testing increased to 8.2 per cent from 6.3 per cent April 9.

In an April 14 news release, three London, Ont., MPPs with the Official Opposition NDP, Peggy Sattler, Teresa Armstrong and Terence Kernaghan, called for all essential workers to be vaccinated after an COVID-19 outbreak affecting 82 workers forced the closure of a Cargill poultry processing plant in London. The government has considered food processing plants to be essential businesses.

“Essential workers are putting their own health at risk every day to keep food on our tables, and we need to do everything possible to protect them,” said the NDP news release. “Major outbreaks like this once again show the critical importance of paid sick days for every worker in our province.”

In a recent blog post on the workplace inspection drive prompted by the pandemic, Daniel Wong and Max Skrow, Toronto-based employment lawyers with WeirFoulds LLP, pointed out that employers also have obligations under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) — on top of COVID-19 requirements. Those include ensuring that workers and supervisors have completed an occupational health and safety awareness training program, posting a copy of the OHSA in the workplace and preparing a written occupational health and safety policy and a program to implement it.

Serious breaches of the OHSA can result in fines of up to $100,000 and prison terms of up to one year for individuals and fines of up to $1,500,000 for corporations, they noted.

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