Written by: David Gardner, Senior OH&S Consultant & National Practice Lead, Pinchin Ltd.
Complying with the “minimum requirements” of the law takes more than a minimal effort. Worse, these minimum requirements are often far from “minimum standards”. Nonetheless, you need to comply with them, but in a manner that makes sense for your workplace. To do this you need to clearly understand what the actual requirements are. As a Senior Occupational Health & Safety Consultant I have competed thousands of workplace assessments, inspections, audits, or whatever you want to call them in my environment, health and safety and quality career. From that experience I offer five things you should know:
1) You need to actually read the Legislation
While this may seem like a logical first step, it has always amazed me what people believe the legislation says and what it actually says. You do not have to necessarily read the whole thing, but at least read the section that an auditor or regulator is citing. While you do that, you may want to check out a few other things:
A. Go to the beginning of the legislation and look for the common section called “Application” and see if the law actually applies to your workplace.
B. Make sure the section itself applies. Noteworthy pieces of legislation in this regard are the various fire codes. They often have “Application” section within the various parts, and there may also be exemptions that need to be understood. Look for the word “despite” as a common section that will contains exemptions.
2) You need to ensure you have the current version
Many people like to have things on their computers for ready access, but being in compliance usually means knowing the current requirements. Legislation changes and only the current online versions should be relied upon. You will see that these online versions with often say “Current to such and such a date”. This is good information. As there may still be old versions floating around the internet.
3) You need to ask one golden question
As a fledgling Ministry of Labour inspector I was taught a simple guiding principle to keep myself (as an inspector) out of hot water, and all those trying to ensure compliance should pay attention too. The principle is a simple question,“Where does it say that?”, or more specifically, where in the legislation does it say that? Not sure someone is giving you the straight goods, then ask that simple question, not sure that a regulator is correct, then ask this simple question.
4) You need to focus your efforts on 3 simple rules
“No one gets hurt, No one gets sick and No one damages the environment” – This is your fail safe if you do not read, understand or comply with the legislation (AKA failure to follow the advice above). If none of these three things happen and a regulator disagrees with your ideas about compliance, you are much less likely to find yourself in court.
5) You need to find someone who understands the legislation
This is, of course, fail safe number two! There are good reasons why people do not read the legislation, its boring and often difficult reading. Most people I know are very busy, and there is a lot of information to understand (Each Act may have 20 or more regulations). Auditing experts know the legislation, how it applies, and what priorities should be put on noncompliance findings.
In closing, there is a reason why ISO standards like 14001, for example, require companies to determine their “Compliance Obligations”. It is the beginning of the risk assessment process that is integral to controlling risks in the workplace. If you understand that many of the requirements in legislation like the fire codes and health & safety regulations were born out of actual events and experiences, you may then recognize that there is guidance in those pages and are worth reading. So, seek the knowledge that is there to ensure that No one gets hurt, No one gets sick and No one damages the environment.
From time to time I host complimentary breakfast seminars and courses across Canada discussing Environmental and Health & Safety related issues. If you’re in the industry or like to stay on top of issues like these, I encourage you to follow Pinchin Ltd. on LinkedIn or sign up to the Pinchin “What’s New” monthly email to receive updates on new courses and seminars in your region.