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Step 3: The Supervisor's Toolkit

Note: This document does not constitute legal advice. To determine your rights and obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA or the Act) and its regulations, please contact your legal counsel or refer to the legislation.

Know the hazards in your workplace

One of your jobs as a supervisor is to help plan and organize the work. This is a big job. To do it well, you need to understand the work and the hazards associated with it. You also need to know how to eliminate or control those hazards and to make sure the health and safety program implemented in your workplace is effective in doing so.

At the root of every work-related death, injury or sickness is a hazard of some kind. Hazards can take many forms. Sometimes more than one hazard can combine to make an even bigger hazard. Here are some of the most common hazards in Ontario workplaces:

  • Repeating the same movements over and over, especially if you are in an awkward position or you use a lot of force. Think of someone who bends down all day, or someone who lifts heavy things over and over again.
  • Slipping, tripping or falling. Think of something as simple as spilled coffee on the floor, a cluttered work area or a raised platform with no guardrails.
  • Motorized vehicles. Think of being hit by a dump truck that is backing up on a construction site, or someone getting hit by a forklift truck in a warehouse or on a loading dock.
  • Using or working near machinery. Many workers have been killed or seriously injured by the equipment they were operating.
  • Workplace violence. It can happen to workers in many situations, such as a retail employee working alone at night, or a health care worker in a hospital or in the community.

Can you think of other common workplace hazards – especially ones in your own workplace? 2 possible examples are loud noise and no lighting. Try to name a few others.

Other common workplace hazards include things such as:

  • electricity and other energy sources
  • an object that could fall from a height
  • confined spaces
  • a high-temperature material or process
  • sharp objects or equipment

You also need to think about less apparent hazards – things like chemicals, fumes, toxic dust or germs and viruses in workplaces such as schools, labs and healthcare facilities. Some of these hazards can make a worker very sick. Sometimes the worker gets sick right away; other times, the worker doesn't know he or she is sick until months or even years later. That’s why it’s important that you know about these hazards now.

One of the employer’s duties is to make sure that the supervisor knows enough and has the experience and necessary training to keep workers safe. One of a supervisor’s duties is to inform workers of health and safety hazards. If a worker sees a hazard or practice that goes against the OHSA or workplace health and safety policies or procedures, that worker has a duty to tell their supervisor or employer. This should be done as soon as possible so that the hazard can be fixed. That's how employers, supervisors and workers come together to make the workplace safer. This is an example of the Internal Responsibility System in action.

Dealing with Hazards

RACE is a commonly used process for dealing with hazards. RACE stands for Recognize, Assess, Control and Evaluate. These steps, when done in order, help the workplace identify and control hazards. Supervisors are encouraged to communicate with workers, the employer, and the joint health and safety committee/health and safety representative throughout this type of process.

RECOGNIZE where there are potential hazards in the workplace. Here's how you do that:

  • Watch the work as it’s being done.
  • Talk to workers about the work and the areas where work happens.
  • Participate in workplace inspections.
  • Look at reports and records that your workplace has about the work.
  • Listen to the concerns workers have about the work they’re doing.

ASSESS the hazard. You need to understand how likely it is that a worker will get hurt or made sick by the hazard. To assess the hazard, you ask these questions:

  • How does the hazard compare to legislation, standards and guidelines?
  • How can the worker get hurt or sick?
  • How likely is the hazard to affect worker health and safety?
  • How badly could the worker get hurt or sick?

CONTROL the hazards by looking for ways to get rid of the hazard or to make the job safer:

  • The safest thing to do is to remove the hazard.
  • If removing the hazard is not possible, look for ways to prevent workers from coming in contact with the hazard, such as separating the hazard from the worker.

If neither of the above solutions protects the worker, workers can use protective equipment, devices and other materials to help keep them safe. It’s your obligation as a supervisor to make sure workers use this equipment where required by the OHSA and Regulations or by the employer.

EVALUATE the hazards by looking for ways to get rid of the hazard or to make the job safer:

  • Talk about the work to the workers who report to you.
  • Watch them do their work.
  • Listen to what they say and look for ways to improve health and safety.

The RACE process is one good way to get a close look at the work and the hazards associated with it. You are always keeping your eyes and ears open for hazards; you pay attention to the way people are doing their work; and you listen to their concerns.

If you find a hazard, you know that you need to do something about it. You use your experience and the information and training you got from your employer to help you make decisions on what to do. If you don’t know how to deal with the hazard, talk to your employer. You can also involve the health and safety representative or JHSC if there is one. And you can refer to external sources such as legislation, standards, codes or expert consultants to help you solve the problem. If necessary, you can stop the work until you know it's safe.

Handling problems as they arise

The RACE process is a way to help you deal with hazards, but it isn't everything. You also need to monitor the work. This means that you need to take steps to make sure the workers understood the information you gave them and are following the workplace safety procedures AND are using or wearing their protective equipment. If you see a worker exposed to a hazard, it’s your job to talk to them about it. You have to make sure the OHSA, any applicable regulations and the workplace safety procedures are being followed, and you have to enforce those procedures.

If someone comes to you with a health and safety concern or to report a close call, you need to listen to them, because these are warning signs of potentially serious problems ahead. You also need to inform your employer of these concerns. If you can solve a problem on your own or with the worker, you should do that. If you need help, you should ask your employer. Your health and safety representative or JHSC are also there to provide information. Reports from workplace inspections by health and safety representatives or JHSCs, along with incident investigations done internally or by the Ministry of Labour, are important tools in your supervisor's toolkit. When they are used effectively, they help to control hazards and prevent injuries.

Sometimes things go wrong. When that happens, you need to be clear on what steps you have to take. Let's say someone you supervise has been injured. What are the steps you think you should take?

  1. Make sure the injured worker gets the necessary first aid and/or professional medical attention.
  2. Inform the employer of the incident so that the Ministry of Labour and other relevant parties can be notified.
  3. Secure the incident scene to prevent any further injuries and to help with the investigation of the incident.
  4. Participate with the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative in the investigation of the incident.

As you can see, there is definitely a lot to know when you’re a supervisor. It's an important role, and if you don’t carry out the duties that are assigned to you by the Occupational Health and Safety Act, you can face consequences. For example, a Ministry of Labour inspector could issue an order against you. Also, you could be charged with an offence.

This is serious work and it may seem overwhelming at first. But you don’t have to do it alone.

Step 3 Quiz

Before we move on to Step 4, here's a short true-or-false quiz on the material we have just covered.

TRUE or FALSE?

  1. To help you plan and organize work, you need to understand the hazards associated with it. You also need to know how to eliminate or control those hazards.
  2. Some workplace hazards, such as chemicals, dust and germs, can cause sickness in a worker months or even years after being exposed to the hazard.
  3. If you recognize and assess the hazards in your workplace, you have done everything you need to do as a supervisor to keep the workers safe.
  4. If you find a hazard or a worker reports one to you, you are the one person in the workplace who is responsible for fixing it.
  5. If someone you supervise has been injured, the first thing you need to do is to inform the employer so that the necessary authorities can be notified.

Answers to Step 3 Quiz

  1. True.
  2. True. That's why it's important to know about those hazards now.
  3. False. The RACE process involves recognizing, assessing and controlling hazards, then evaluating the hazard controls to make sure they are effective.
  4. False. Your employer has the same responsibility as you to protect workers, and so you need to inform them when concerns are brought to you. If you can solve a problem on your own or with the worker, you should do that. But if you need advice or help, you should talk to your employer. You can also involve the health and safety representative or joint health and safety committee if you have one.
  5. False. Your first priority is to make sure the injured worker gets the necessary first aid and/or professional medical attention. Then you inform the employer.

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