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Dealing With Inspectors: What to do When You Get a Stop Work Order

Date First Published on OHS Insider: May 11th, 2011
Topics: Inspections |

The OHS laws give safety inspectors the power to make companies take specific steps to address potential threats to workers’ health and safety. For example, inspectors may stop work at a workplace until the company takes certain steps to correct a serious health and safety problem. Stop work orders can be extremely disruptive and complying with them can be expensive. The right response to a stop work order can minimize disruption; the wrong response can make a bad situation worse. Here are six steps to take when an inspector issues a stop work order for your workplace.

Defining Our Terms

Some jurisdictions distinguish between orders to stop performing work or a certain kind of work activity (“stop work” orders) and orders to stop using a particular tool, machine, substance or piece of equipment (“stop use” orders). Because your response should be the same for either kind of order, we’ll use the term “stop work order” to refer to both types.

6 STEPS FOR RESPONDING TO STOP WORK ORDERS

The chart at the end of the article explains what each jurisdiction’s OHS law says about stop work orders. In general, inspectors can issue stop work orders, which are typically in writing, if they believe that workers’ health or safety is at immediate risk. If an inspector issues a stop work order to your company, take the following steps in response:

Step #1: Stay Calm

Yes, getting a stop work order is inconvenient and a hassle. But stay calm if an inspector issues your company one and respond professionally. Overreacting and throwing a fit can only lead to more problems for you and the company—including obstruction charges.

Example: An MOL inspector issued a stop work order at a construction site. While he was finishing the paperwork in his van, a supervisor approached and threw a three-ring binder through the van’s open window. It flew past the inspector and out the opposite window. The supervisor pleaded guilty to hindering, obstructing, molesting or interfering with an inspector. The court fined him $1,800 [Mario Piacente, ON Govt. News Release, Feb. 11, 2009].

Step #2: Confirm Scope of Order

Stop work orders can apply to a particular machine, tool, process, activity—or, in extreme cases, the entire workplace. So make sure that you confirm with the inspector the exact scope of the order. For example, if the inspector orders you to stop using a particular tool for a job, find out whether workers can continue to do that job using a different tool.

Step #3: Stop the Work Covered by the Order

Even if you think the order is baseless and plan to challenge it, you must comply with the order in the meantime, at least as to the stop work aspect of it. (You may be able to get the order’s compliance requirements suspended during the appeal.) Deliberately disobeying or ignoring a stop work order is itself an OHS violation—and a very serious one. So blatantly disregarding the order and continuing to let workers do the prohibited activity or use the banned machine may lead to additional safety violations on top of any violations based on the hazard that led to the order in the first place.

Example: After a worker was injured, an inspector issued a stop work order and attached a stop work tag to a grinder. A few weeks later, he returned to see if the necessary compliance measures had been completed so he could lift the order. Instead, he found that the stop work tag had been removed and reattached. A worker told the inspector that a manager had removed the tag and authorized use of the grinder. When questioned, the manager lied to the inspector about the tag’s removal. The company was fined $60,000 for a safety violation related to the worker’s injury. The manager pleaded guilty to a safety offence and was fined $5,000 [Stayana International Trading and Leonid Kofman, ON Govt. News Release, March 30, 2009].

Step #4: Decide Whether to Appeal the Order

Safety officials aren’t perfect and not every order they issue is justified or reasonable. The OHS laws let companies challenge orders. But your company can’t take the law into its own hands and unilaterally decide that orders are invalid and can be ignored. What the company can do is appeal the order to get an official ruling that it doesn’t have to comply.

If the company decides to challenge the stop work order, it may be able to get the order suspended until the appeal is decided but the burden you must meet to get an order suspended is very high. For example, in Ontario, the Labour Relations Board must consider three factors when determining whether to suspend an inspector’s order pending appeal:

  1. Whether suspending the order would endanger workers;
  2. Whether suspending the order would prejudice the employer or prosecutor; and
  3. Whether the employer has a good chance of winning the appeal.

Insider Says: For more information on appealing orders, see “Dealing with Inspectors: How Do You Appeal an Order from a Safety Official?

Step #5: Comply with Order

If the company decides not to appeal the order or can’t get it suspended while the appeal is being decided, you must comply with it. That is, you must make sure that the company takes whatever steps the order requires it to take to address the hazard that led to the order. For example, the order may require you to install a guard on a pinchpoint on a piece of equipment, develop safe work procedures for a particular job or replace PPE that’s damaged and no longer effective.

Step #6: Notify Government of Compliance

Once you’ve complied with the order, the OHS law requires you to notify the government or the inspector who issued it that you’ve complied. Then the inspector can confirm compliance and lift the order.

BOTTOM LINE

In a perfect world, your company’s OHS system would prevent any safety violations and you’d never have to deal with a stop work order. But nothing’s perfect. So it’s likely that at some point you will be faced with such an order. By following the above steps, you can minimize any disruption to the company’s operations and avoid additional violations.




Company Owners & Officers Often Fined for Stop Work Order Violations

Failing to comply with a stop work order can be costly. In fact, the government tends to treat these violations harshly—and often holds company owners, officers and directors personally responsible:

  • An MOL inspector issued a stop work order to a steel fabrication company that was using isocyanates, a designated substance under the OHS Act, without conducting a risk assessment or putting proper controls in place. But the company ignored the order and continued using the substance. The company and a director pleaded guilty to failing to comply with an inspector’s order. The court fined the company $28,000 and the director $8,000 [Smith Steel & Fabrication Inc. and Leonard Eagle, ON Govt. News Release, Dec. 10, 2009];
  • OHS inspectors found evidence of possible asbestos violations at a demolition site. They issued a stop work order until the threat could be assessed and precautions taken. But work continued at the site, so the government charged the company with failing to comply with the order. The company’s owner pleaded guilty and was fined $5,000 [Ted Penney, NL Govt. News Release, May 30, 2006]; and
  • An inspector issued a stop work order against a painting company that barred work in a painting room until certain safety modifications were made. The company didn’t make the modifications. And the company’s director ordered painting to continue. The company was convicted of disobeying an MOL order and fined $25,000. The director was convicted of failing to ensure that the company complied with the order and was fined $10,000 [McKinley Equipment Ltd. and James McKinley, ON Govt. News Release, Dec. 6, 2007].




KNOW THE LAWS OF YOUR PROVINCE

KNOW THE LAWS OF YOUR PROVINCE

Here’s what your jurisdiction says about the issuance of stop work orders:

RELEVANT SEC. OF THE OHS LAW

FED

If a health and safety officer considers the use or operation of a machine or thing, a condition in a place or the performance of an activity to constitute a danger to a worker and doesn’t believe the danger can be corrected, altered or protected against immediately, he may issue a written direction to the employer directing that the place, machine, thing or activity not be used, operated or performed, as the case may be, until the employer complied with his directions.

Canada Labour Code, Sec. 145(2)

AB

1) When an officer believes that a danger to the health or safety of a worker exists as to that worker’s employment, he may at any time enter into or on any work site and order the work or any part of it that’s taking place to be stopped immediately [Sec. 10(1)(a)].

 

2) When an officer believes that a tool, appliance or equipment being used or that may be used by a worker isn’t in safe operating condition or doesn’t comply with the OHS Code, he may issue a written order that the worker stop using or refrain from using that tool, appliance or equipment [Sec. 11(1)].

OHS Act

BC

1) If the Board has reasonable grounds to believe that a thing that’s being used or may be used by a worker isn’t in safe operating condition or doesn’t comply with OHS law, it may order that the thing not be used until it cancels the order [Sec. 190(1)].

 

2) If the Board has reasonable grounds to believe that an immediate danger exists that would likely result in serious injury, serious illness or death to a worker, it may order:

a) work at the workplace or any part of the workplace to stop until it cancels the stop work order [Sec. 191(1)(a)]; and

b) the workplace or any part of the workplace to be cleared of persons and isolated by barricades, fencing or any other means suitable to prevent access until the danger is removed [Sec. 191(1)(b)].

Workers’ Compensation Act

MB

When a safety and health officer believes that any activities which are being, or are about to be, carried on in a workplace, involve or are likely to involve an imminent risk of serious physical or health injury, or where a contravention specified in an improvement order wasn’t remedied and a stop work warning was given, the officer may issue a stop work order providing for any one or more of the following:

1) the halting of those activities;

2) that all or part of the workplace be vacated; and

3) that the employer not permit resumption of those activities.

Workplace Safety and Health Act, Sec. 36(1)

NB

When an officer believes that unsafe or unhealthy working conditions may exist at a workplace or that there may be a source of danger to the health or safety of persons employed at or having access to the workplace, he may make a written order to the owner of the place of employment, the employer, contracting employer, contractor, sub-contractor, employee or a supplier directing him immediately or within such time as is specified in the order to, among other things, suspend all work, or any portion of the work, where there exist unsafe or unhealthy working conditions or where the work contributes to the source of danger.

OHS Act, Sec. 32(1)

NL

When the assistant deputy minister or an officer believes that work’s being carried out in a way that the conditions at the workplace pose an immediate risk to the health and safety of workers engaged in the workplace or other persons at or near the workplace, he must, in writing, order the person at the workplace responsible for the work being carried out to immediately stop all or a portion of the work and to vacate all or a portion of the workplace.

OHS Act, Sec. 27(1)(a)

NT/

NU

1) A safety officer who’s satisfied that any place, matter or thing that’s the subject of a direction that he intends to give is likely to constitute a source of potential danger to the health or safety of persons in an establishment if the direction isn’t carried out may give notice that a stop work order may be given [Sec. 12(2)].

 

2) When an employer or a person charged with carrying out a safety officer’s direction has been given notice of a possible stop work order and fails to carry out the direction, the safety officer may give a direction that the place, matter or thing not be used until the employer complies with the original direction [Sec. 12(3)].

Safety Act

NS

When an officer makes an order and finds that the matter or thing referred to in it is a source of danger or a hazard to the health or safety of a person at the workplace, he may order that:

1) any place, device, equipment, machine, material or thing not be used until the order’s complied with;

2) work at the workplace or any part of the workplace stop until the stop work order is withdrawn or cancelled by an officer; or

3) the workplace or any part of the workplace be cleared of persons and isolated by barricades, fencing or any other means suitable to prevent access thereto until the danger or hazard is removed.

OHS Act, Sec. 55(4)

ON

When an inspector makes an order and finds that the violation of the Act or regulations is a danger or hazard to the health or safety of a worker, he may order:

1) that any place, equipment, machine, device, article or thing or any process or material not be used until the order is complied with;

2) stoppage of the work at the workplace as indicated in the order until the order to stop work is withdrawn or cancelled by an inspector after an inspection; or

3) that the workplace be cleared of workers and isolated by barricades, fencing or any other means suitable to prevent access to it by a worker until the danger or hazard to the health or safety of a worker is removed.

OHS Act, Sec. 57(6)

PE

When an officer makes an order and finds that the violation is a danger or hazard to the occupational health or safety of a worker, he may order that:

1) the area, item, place, device, material, process, equipment or machinery not be used until the order is complied with;

2) work stop at the workplace named in the order until the order is cancelled by an officer; or

3) the workplace be cleared of workers and isolated by barricades, fencing or any other means suitable to prevent access by a worker until the danger or hazard to the occupational health or safety of a worker is removed.

OHS Act, Sec. 8(4)

QC

1) An inspector may order the suspension of work or the complete or partial shut-down of a workplace and, if necessary, affix seals, if he considers a worker’s health, safety or physical well-being to be endangered [Sec. 186].

 

2) When an inspector finds that a workplace or a tool, device or machine in use doesn’t comply with the regulations, the prevention program, if any, or any other safety standard, and that it endangers the health, safety or physical well-being of a construction worker as a result, he may order a device or machine that he designates be stopped and even the complete stoppage of work [Sec. 218].

An Act respecting occupational health and safety

SK

1) When an occupational health officer believes that a violation of

the Act or the regulations involves or may involve a risk to the health or safety of a worker, he may direct in the order that any activity to which the order relates not be carried on after the period specified in the order or until the specified violation has been remedied, whichever occurs first [Sec. 32].

 

2) When an occupational health officer believes that a violation of the Act or the regulations involves or may involve a serious risk to the health or safety of a worker, he must, in the order, require the cessation of work that involves a serious risk to workers arising from that violation until the requirement to cease work has been withdrawn by an

occupational health officer [Sec. 33(1)].

OHS Act

YT

If a safety officer determines that any place, matter, or thing, or any part thereof, in a workplace constitutes a source of imminent danger to the health or safety of persons employed there or in connection with it and the imminent danger can’t otherwise be protected against immediately, he may order that the place, matter, or thing shall not be used until the employer complies with the order.

OHS Act, Sec. 40(1)

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