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LEGISLATIVE INTERPRETATIONS

OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY ACT

Effective Supervision

Topic: Effective Supervision Issued by: Director, Compliance and Regulatory Review
Statute: Occupational Health and Safety Act Date Issued: August 1, 2018
Section: 9(2) Date Revised: n/a

Question:

As an employer, how do I know if I am complying with the supervision section in the OHS Act?

9(2) Without limiting the generality of the duties under subsection (1), every employer shall provide the supervision that is necessary to ensure an employee’s health and safety;

Answer:

While ‘supervision’ is not defined in the OHS Act, there are definitions and principles that can guide an employer when assessing their supervisory framework. One of these definitions comes from the Oxford Dictionary.

Having or relating to the role of observing and directing an activity or a person.

The Act is clear that it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure adequate ’supervision.’ However, what that supervision looks like can vary depending on the nature of the work, the workforce’s profile and the workplace hazards.

In every workplace, some persons are given the task of supervision. The Act defines them as: a manager; superintendent; supervisor; overseer; or, any person having authority over an employee. The employer is responsible to ensure that the people tasked with supervision responsibilities are ‘competent supervisors’.

Competent Supervision

Competent is a term used extensively in General Regulation 91-191 to ensure employee safety. It extends from equipment and tool inspection to the knowledge and skill sets required to complete tasks safely. Because the Act does not define “supervision that is necessary” to ensure employee health and safety, “competent” supervisor becomes our measuring stick. The employer must ensure that everyone in the workplace tasked with supervision responsibilities meet the requirements of “competent”.

The General Regulation 91-191 defines competent as:

      (a)

qualified, because of such factors as knowledge, training and experience, to do assigned work in a manner that will ensure the health and safety of persons,

      (b)

knowledgeable about the provisions of the Act and the regulations that apply to the assigned work, and

      (c)

knowledgeable about potential or actual danger to health or safety connected with the assigned work;

When determining “competent supervision”, consider the following:

   1.

The supervisor’s level of authority in the workplace.

   2.

The supervisor’s assigned responsibilities, including their ability to carry out all the tasks assigned to them.

   3.

Complexity of the work assigned to employees being supervised.

   4.

The supervisor’s knowledge of potential and actual hazards and mitigating control measures.

   5.

The profile of the workforce being supervised (number of employees being supervised, seasonal, etc.) and the employee competency (age, training, experience, knowledge of the job, etc.).

   6.

Training the supervisor has received.

   7.

Experience as a supervisor or in the tasks being supervised.

   8.

Knowledge of the Act and regulations as they apply to the work being supervised.

Additional considerations

The employer must also consider that newer employees need closer and more regular supervision than experienced employees, resulting in a “sliding scale” for supervision. At the same time, complacency can become habit in an experienced workforce and appropriate supervision must be provided to those employees as well to ensure the work continues to be carried out safely.

All levels of supervision require quick access to all policies, procedures and necessary resources, as well as proper understanding and implementation of them. Depending on the type of work being supervised, ensuring that policies and procedures are being followed may involve work observation, checklists and job shadowing or other methods. In addition, as part of monitoring their health and safety program, employers should regularly assess the competency of all supervisors (annually at a minimum) and address any gaps.

As with any other management system in an organization (quality assurance, change management, project management) the responsibility to ensure effective and appropriate implementation of the supervisory framework rests with the employer, and then proceeds downward through the organizational structure.

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