Like many companies, you probably have a fully developed workplace safety policy to protect your workers. But does that policy extend to visitors and temporary workers (which, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll refer to collectively as “visitors”) who come to your workplace? Failure to address visitor health and safety can be a huge blind spot in your safety program. It can lead not only to injuries but also liability, including criminal liability under C-45. Even if you have a visitor safety policy, it may be ineffective to protect your workers, visitors, company and executives.
Here’s a look at the visitor safety problem and how to deal with it. Here’s a Model Visitor Safety Policy based on the actual forms used by leading companies across Canada:
Three Reasons You Need a Visitor Safety Policy
Implementing a policy to protect visitors seems like the kind of common sense measure that all companies would adopt. Apparently, however, that’s not the case. Several safety managers told the Insider that their executives don’t want to put in place a visitor safety policy because it’s “unmanageable.” If you encounter such resistance, here are three arguments you can use to overcome it:
1. Visitors Are at Risk
The people who work at your site every day can be trained to recognize dangers and take appropriate precautions. This isn’t true of visitors who are at your workplace for only a short time. As a result, visitors are especially vulnerable to injuries and need to be carefully protected. “Keeping your workers safe is tough enough,” notes health and safety advisor Sara Murphy.” Protecting the visitors who walk around your worksite without having the same knowledge and appreciation of the hazards
can be even trickier,” she adds.
2. Visitors May Endanger Others
Visitors can also put the health and safety of others in the workplace at risk. For example, visitors may tinker with machines or safety systems, light up cigarettes around flammable vapours or distract workers performing vital safety functions, such astraffic control. And, of course, visitors maypose security risks or threats of violence.
3. C-45 Requires Protection of Visitors
The most effective way to overcome objections is to show company executives that a visitor safety policy is necessary to protect the company and the executives themselves against liability for criminal negligence under C-45.
Explanation: Everybody knows that C-45 requires companies to protect workers from work-related injury. But what tends to get overlooked is that C-45 also requires protection of any other member of the general public who might get hurt by work. According to new Section 217.1 of the Canadian Criminal Code, “every one who undertakes, or has the authority, to direct how another person does work or performs a task” must take “reasonable steps” to protect the person who does the work or another person against bodily injury arising out of the work “Another person” includes visitors to the worksite. This goes farther than most provinces’ OHS laws. Provincial OHS laws typically require companies to protect workers against work-related injuries and don’t say anything about members of the general public. So, while protecting visitors has always been a key part of safety, it wasn’t necessarily required by OHS law. As a result, not all companies have a visitor safety policy. But C-45 extends workplace safety protections to any person, regardless of whether they’re actually workers. This means that under C-45, a company that doesn’t have a visitor safety policy runs the risk of being found guilty of violating the duty to take reasonable steps under Section 217.1. And, since criminal penalties under
C-45 include unlimited fines and potential imprisonment, it’s imperative for all companies to adopt visitor safety policies if they haven’t done so already.
The Right and Wrong Way to Implement a Visitor Safety Policy
Once you sell your company on the idea of a visitor safety policy, you need to decide what kind of policy to implement.
The Wrong Way: Some companies try to disclaim liability and make visitors responsible for their own safety. For example, they’ll make all visitors sign a waiver like the following:
Although it may sound impressive, lawyers say that a waiver or disclaimer like this isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. “Simply requiring a visitor to sign a piece of paper like this won’t absolve you of your legal duty to protect them against workplacehazards,” according to an Ontario OHS lawyer. “Companies can’t unilaterally disclaim their liabilities under C-45 or any other criminal law,” adds an Alberta lawyer.
The Right Way: Once you accept that visitor safety is your responsibility, you need to come up with a good way to ensure it. As a legal obligation, visitor safety is just like worker safety. You’re not expected to be perfect. All you’re expected to do is show due diligence; that is, take all reasonable precautions to protect your visitors. The specific steps you take depend on the kind of industry you’re in, the design of your workplace, the frequency and kind of visitors you get and other variables. For example, in certain especially dangerous or sensitive industries, you might want to assign a company representative to escort the visitor through the workplace. But, while there’s no such thing as a onesize- fits-all, our Model Policy is a good example of an approach. Like our model, your visitor safety policy should:
- Require all visitors to sign in before entering and leaving the workplace;
- Let visitors know they’ll be notified of hazards and emergency procedures when they log in (or soon afterwards);
- Tell visitors that they must use appropriate personal protective equipment and list what that is; and
- List the rules of conduct visitors must follow, e.g., no touching equipment, no smoking, no horseplay, stay out of restricted areas, etc.
And, while you can’t disclaim total responsibility for visitors’ safety, you should be able to disclaim responsibility for any injury visitors suffer as a result of failing to obey your safety policy.
You should also post signs throughout the workplace reminding visitors of your safety policies and develop a system for logging visitors in and out.
Sara Murphy: Health and Safety Advisor, Floodwood Metal Industries, 71 Dover St. Otterville, On N0J 1R0