Toronto

Ontario hires over 100 new inspectors to ensure businesses comply with public health rules

The Ontario government plans to ramp up enforcement to make sure businesses across the province are following COVID-19 safety requirements as restrictions continue to ease.

'There are no shortcuts to safety,' labour minister tells business owners

Labour Minister Monte McNaughton says: 'With a new total of more than 500 inspectors, our government is building the largest team of inspectors in Ontario's history to educate business owners, enforce public health measures and keep workplaces safe now, and for many years to come.' (Richard Lautens/The Canadian Press)

The Ontario government plans to ramp up enforcement to make sure businesses across the province are following COVID-19 safety requirements as restrictions continue to ease.

Labour Minister Monte McNaughton told reporters on Wednesday that the province has hired more than 100 new occupational health and safety inspectors to ensure employees, businesses and the public are protected. 

"As the province continues to reopen, we need businesses of all sizes to do better as there are no shortcuts to safety," McNaughton said in a news release on Wednesday.

"With a new total of more than 500 inspectors, our government is building the largest team of inspectors in Ontario's history to educate business owners, enforce public health measures and keep workplaces safe now, and for many years to come."

The new inspectors have begun a condensed training program and will begin making field visits with a mentor within five weeks of their start date. They are scheduled to be fully trained and deployed by July 1.

Workplace inspections are continuing to focus on educating small businesses across the province to help them reopen from lockdowns safely, he said.

'Learning the ropes'

"On Monday, more than more than 100 new occupational Health and safety inspectors started their training. They are learning the ropes now. They'll be in the field in the weeks ahead," McNaughton said. 

Since the start of this year, more than 13,300 workplace inspections have been completed and more than 9,400 orders and more than 370 tickets have been issued. Unsafe work has been stopped 15 times.

Rocco Rossi, president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, said he supports punishing business owners who are ignoring the guidelines. But with many businesses having just come out of lockdown, or hoping to do so very soon, he said many owners are still not entirely clear on safety requirements.

"This should be about helping those companies get to compliance, and not be a 'got you' exercise," he said.

"There are many who are hearing one thing from public officers of health, other things from some public officials, whether in Barrie or Mississauga, and certainly I don't think they should be penalized if there is confusion as opposed to bad actors."

While McNaughton said business owners should know the guidelines nearly a year into the pandemic, he said there will be a period of grace for small business owners.

"We are here to support the small businesses that are transitioning into reopening, or have recently reopened, and we are there with an educational campaign, and then doing follow up inspections."

In the past week, 110 provincial offences officers in Eastern Ontario, Durham Region and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph visited 1,081 workplaces, the majority of which were small businesses with fewer than 25 employees, the labour ministry said in the release.

The ministry said the inspections provide COVID-19 education and guidance for small businesses in the first round — particularly those that were closed during the provincial shutdown — followed by "more enforcement-oriented inspections" on follow-up visits.

In the coming weeks, officers will return to businesses that have already been visited in Eastern Ontario, Durham Region and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph. The focus will be enforcing COVID-19 safety requirements and issuing orders and tickets, if necessary, the ministry said.

Additional campaigns, focusing on small businesses, are scheduled to take place in York Region on March 5 and 6, Windsor Essex on March 6 and Waterloo Region from March 11 to 16.

With files from Greg Ross

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