The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) applies to police agencies and their workers (police officers) although they are bound by the provisions of the Police Services Act. Both are provincial legislation, but did you know that the OHSA trumps all other provincial legislation (OHSA Section 2(2))? If there are any contradictions between any other provincial legislation and the OHSA, the OHSA prevails.
This leads us to a few misunderstandings when it comes to police officers and how they interact with the OHSA.
All workers in Ontario have three basic rights under the legislation:
1. The right to know about hazards in the workplace
2. The right to participate in health and safety in the workplace
3. The right to refuse unsafe work
Some police officers believe they cannot refuse unsafe work (Section 43(3)) because of the provisions of Section 43(1) and (2) which outline the restricted right to refuse that many workers in Ontario have. The restricted right has two caveats under 43(1) and (2): if the hazard is inherent in the work and if the work refusal puts someone else in danger, then the worker cannot refuse unsafe work. For example, a police officer cannot refuse to attend the scene of a bank robbery because there is someone with a gun, but they could refuse to take out a police vehicle that is known to have faulty brakes. While this is a simplistic example for clarity, certain circumstances may create more challenging scenarios around the right to refuse and the restrictions police officers have.
On the topic of work refusals, police agencies should consider if all supervisors know their responsibilities and duties under the OHSA when it comes to work refusals, work stoppages and providing information, instruction and supervision to workers around hazards in the workplace.
The OHSA sets out very specific duties for supervisors under Sections 27, 43 and 45, to name a few. The OHSA stipulates that a supervisor is anyone who has charge of a workplace or authority over a worker. Supervisors do not need to have “supervisor” in their title to meet this definition, some examples of supervisors could include training officers or officers that take auxiliaries on ride along.
The OHSA is also explicit and the only piece of legislation that speaks to the qualifications of a supervisor and what the employer must consider when appointing a supervisor (25(2)(c)). Employers must appoint a competent person as defined in Section 1(1) which:
- Is qualified because of knowledge, training and experience to organize work and its performance
- Is familiar with the OHSA and the regulations that apply to the work
- Has knowledge of any potential or actual danger to health and safety in the workplace
All too often, we find that supervisors lack knowledge and training around the OHSA and in particular, their responsibilities. The Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development has made supervision - or lack thereof - a priority these last number of years when responding to complaints and incidents in the workplace.
Finally, the OHSA not only applies to what happens inside of your four walls, but also to everything we do out in the great big world of the unknown. Occupational health and safety and officer safety are the same thing. The OHSA defines your workplace as anywhere where your workers perform work. For a police officer, this can be anywhere depending on the nature and location of a call for service.
When it comes to the OHSA, the legislation is very explicit in the requirements, duties and obligations of employers: there are no exemptions as a police employer. This National Police Week, we encourage you to review and familiarize yourself with the basic provisions of the OHSA to determine whether or not your police agency is compliant. Sections 25 and 26 are an excellent place to start, while other sections and regulations will outline more detailed and specific directions for employers.
FirstRespondersFirst | PSHSA
Public Safety Training | PSHSA
Anonymous Peer Support | Boots on the Ground
National Law Enforcement in Occupational Safety & Health (LEOSH)
Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police
Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police
About the Author
Tony is a retired Sergeant of the Peel Regional Police with 30 years of exemplary service. Over his thirty-year career, Tony served in a variety of capacities ranging from uniform patrol, Criminal Investigation Bureau, Homicide, Intelligence, Neighbourhood Policing and Recruiting.
Tony was actively engaged in occupational health and safety (OHS) serving ten years as the co-chair of the Joint Health and Safety Committee. During his tenure, many advancements were made in health and safety, including the formation of a full-time Occupational Health and Safety Unit.
Post-policing, Tony pursued a full-time career in health and safety furthering his education in OHS at Ryerson University and is currently a Health and Safety Consultant with Public Services Health & Safety Association supporting emergency services, a position he has held for the past two years.
Tony is the current Chair of the National Law Enforcement in Occupational Safety & Health (LEOSH) Association and has been involved with the association since 2010.
Find Tony on LinkedIn here.