Reality Check

WCTA-WorkSafe-logo200A visit from WorkSafeBC can be a welcome opportunity to make sure your safety practices are up to standard. By Gail Johnson / Reprinted From WorkSafe Magazine

When WorkSafeBC came calling recently, Bill Lewis got a little more than he’d bargained for. The production manager of Century Glass in Kamloops might have been a little nervous about the routine visit from a WorkSafeBC occupational safety officer, and the company did receive orders to fix a few problems on site.

But, overall, he would call the visit a positive one.

“Worksite inspections benefit everyone: employees, as well as employers,” Lewis says. “As an employer, you keep your rates down by making sure everything’s okay. And, most of all, you don’t want any of your people ever getting hurt.”

Some of the items safety officer Chuck McKenzie noticed were a stairway with one railing, instead of the required two, and a guardrail missing from a piece of machinery. To address this, Lewis ensured another railing was installed on the staircase and he put a proper guard in place on the machine.

 12.02.07-TL12-04-Reality Check_copyWorkSafeBC occupational hygiene officer Lisa Phillips shares a friendly greeting with Bill Lewis, production manager for Century Glass. - Image Courtesy WorkSafe Magazine

McKenzie also pointed out electrical cords running across the floor, just waiting for someone to go flying. Lewis quickly arranged for the cords to be secured along the ceiling instead. “They point out things that can save accidents and help you avoid mishaps; some of them can be rectified in a matter of minutes,” Lewis says. “Everyone comes out better in the end.”

Your regulatory responsibilities

If the very notion of having your workplace inspected brings on a sense of dread, relax: As Lewis attests, it doesn’t have to be a negative experience.

One of WorkSafeBC’s goals is to help employers establish and maintain a hazard-free environment. Inspections are a key factor in accomplishing that aim, and WorkSafeBC has a unique legal mandate to conduct them.

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, virtually all employers are subject to WorkSafeBC inspections — no matter the size or scope of the worksite. From cozy restaurants to large health care facilities, sawmills to construction sites, no industry is exempt.

WorkSafeBC regional prevention manager Peter Gilmour says that companies who receive a corrective order shouldn’t necessarily consider it a black mark against them. Instead, he says, consider it constructive criticism. The purpose is to educate employers and their staff members, raise awareness of hazards, and ensure that swift action is taken to correct deficiencies and make sure nothing goes wrong.

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Employers who receive repeat orders or more serious citations, however, are sending the wrong signal to WorkSafeBC and workers alike — one indicating serious safety concerns.

Take inspections seriously

Unfortunately, not all inspections go as smoothly as the one at Century Glass, or result in the same degree of employer compliance.

Gilmour recalls a terrible loss at a construction company recently as an example. Orders were issued at a residential construction site citing the use of unsafe scaffolding. Despite the orders, the employer continued to allow the erection of improper scaffolding.

“The scaffolding collapsed, and one worker died the day after,” he says. “A second worker was injured. A third worker saw the scaffolding and said, ‘There’s no way I’m going up there.’

“When you see these kinds of tragic situations, it explains why we get aggressive about following up on orders,” he adds. “We expect compliance so that we don’t see these extreme consequences.”

Inspections take place regularly — both pre-planned and on-the-spot — either as a routine visit or as a result of complaints, injuries, or other incidents.

Granted, inspectors consider different factors, depending on the nature of the industry; an office environment doesn’t have the same hazards as a construction site, film set, or dairy farm. But regardless of the sector, everything at your worksite will be taken into account: buildings, structures, grounds, tools, equipment, machinery, storage areas, and hazardous materials, as well as work methods and practices. Then there are your operating standards relating to personal protective equipment, emergency procedures, first-aid supplies, and more. Just as integral to maintaining a safe workplace is ensuring you keep proper records of everything you’ll need, all the way from records of worker training to first aid treatment.

Work toward a common goal

Ideally, the inspection process is a collaborative effort.

“The employer or a senior manager has the right to participate, and a worker representative has the right to participate,” Gilmour explains. “It works best when employers and workers are involved. They can see firsthand what the officer is talking about, and they can make sure that the officer has all the facts. Nothing is left to interpretation, and the officer can discuss avenues to deal with various problems.

“No employers want to injure their employees or worse. We’re there to help them make sure that doesn’t happen. The purpose is to ensure compliance with the Act and regulations.”

As B.C.’s economy has diversified and grown, so has WorkSafeBC’s focus on inspections. In 1950, only about 8,000 inspections took place; now, around 30,000 happen annually. Inspections play an especially important role in WorkSafeBC’s high-risk strategy, which targets industries with historically high numbers of fatalities and injuries, such as construction.

Besides being a primary prevention activity, inspections are a main mode of contact between workplaces and WorkSafeBC. Having that regular communication builds relationships.

As Lewis can attest, inspections make good workplaces even better ones. He says it helped that Chuck McKenzie was as professional as he was friendly.

“He was nice about it; we talked about things as we went along,” Lewis says. “There’s no need to be confrontational.”

Gilmour notes that officers conduct inspections with a clear objective in mind.

“One-hundred percent of this work is to correct unsafe conditions so that no one gets hurt,” Gilmour says. “We’re not there to try to find fault or impose penalties. We’re there to point out hazards and help make workplaces safe. WorkSafeBC and employers have mutual goals.”

Take charge

Employers need not await an inspection to put their own safety plan in place. For more information on keeping your workplace a safe and healthy one, don’t hesitate to contact your prevention officer directly anytime.

You can also call the Prevention Information Line at 604 276-3100 or 1 888 621-7233. Plus, check out the Safety at Work section on, which provides prevention information and resources to help you comply with WorkSafeBC requirements.

When a problem pops up....

After an inspection, WorkSafeBC can take the following steps to remedy unsafe practices or situations: 

• Issue a corrective order to be carried out immediately or within a specific time frame.

• Order a company to stop using or supplying unsafe equipment. 

• Order a company to stop work at a workplace or in a specific area of the workplace.

• Impose an administrative penalty or commence a prosecution (these are never imposed simultaneously).