The Occupational Health and Safety Act of Ontario statutorily mandates that Ontario employers must take every precaution, reasonable in the circumstances, for the protection of any worker.
This is often referred to, legally, as every employer’s “general duty” in the workplace.
So, what does that mean? In Ontario, what is required is interpretative, ultimately; namely, the “circumstances of the case” must be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Each case must be considered and assessed for what is a reasonable precaution in the specific workplace [Reference: R. v. Quinton Steel, 2017 ONCA 1006, para. 29].
This general duty does not necessarily apply only to avoiding physical injury in the workplace but could also apply to mental and emotional harm or injury, too, such as resulting from harassment, intimidation or being exposed to a toxic work environment.
As a result of this general duty:
- every Ontario employer should conduct workplace risk assessments, at least annually, to satisfy this general duty, including with respect to providing a harassment-free workplace, as is required by Ontario law, and to promote and ensure a healthy workplace for everyone;
- every Ontario employer is required to assess the circumstances of the workplace when doing a workplace risk assessment; and
- even if an employer's safety policy complies with the applicable regulation, it may not be in legal compliance if the circumstances of the workplace require a higher standard of safety to protect workers.