Supreme Court of Canada Weighs In On Safety Obligations Of Employers
January 24, 2020
In a recent decision from Canada’s highest court, the Supreme Court of Canada has issued a ruling related to an employer’s obligation to inspect workplaces that are outside of its control. The court’s decision held that employers are not responsible for inspecting workplaces over which they do not have control.
Dangerous postal routes
The employer in the case was Canada Post. The case originated when the union representing the mail carriers filed a complaint with Human Resources and Skills Development Canada claiming that the employer’s Local Joint Health and Safety Committee (“the committee”) failed to comply with mandatory health and safety obligations under the Canada Labour Code by limiting its workplace inspections to the physical depots where carriers worked, but not the routes they walked. The complaint stated that inspections should include carrier routes.
A Health and Safety Officer (“the officer”) attended the depot and found that the employer had failed to comply with the code, which requires employers to ensure that every part of the work place is inspected at least once a year. The employer was successful in appealing this finding, and the issue eventually found its way before he Supreme Court.
The court’s analysis
The court found that it was not reasonable to expect the employer to inspect every mail route walked by its employees. Rather, the obligation for the employer to inspect workplaces should only reasonably apply to places where the employer has control over the physical workplace.
The court’s decision quoted the appeals officer, who wrote “If the employer does not control the work place, it is not possible for the employer to ensure that the work place is inspected; no amount of control over the work activity will assist the employer in this regard.”
The court, who had been asked to rule on the “reasonableness” of the appeal officer’s decision, found that the decision was reasonable, bearing the hallmarks of “justification, transparency and intelligibility” adding it fell “within a range of possible, acceptable outcomes which are defensible in respect of the facts and law.”
While the facts in this case originated in Ontario, it will apply to all federally-regulated employees who perform parts of their jobs outside of a location where employers have control of the workplace.
Meanwhile, in Alberta
In related news, changes to Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety legislation are coming at the end of the month. Employers with more than 20 employees had previously been obligated to form joint health and safety committees for every workplace. Under the changes, they will only have to have one committee in total. The only exception is for unionized workplaces with collective agreements calling for multiple committees.
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