• Minimizing Workplace Accidents and Reducing Employer Liability
  • December 20, 2011 | Authors: Barbara Cornish; Debra Rusnak
  • Law Firm: Singleton Urquhart LLP - Vancouver Office
  • Reviewing a local newspaper on almost any day shows how common workplace accidents are. It is an unfortunate reality that many workplace accidents could have been prevented if the employer or the worker had taken reasonable precautionary steps. However, accidents happen even in the most safety conscious workplace. When they do, employers who can show WorkSafeBC that they acted diligently to prevent workplace accidents and minimize hazards may avoid liability.

    Employers’ Duties Under Worker Compensation Law

    British Columbia’s Workers Compensation Act places general duties on employers to ensure the health and safety of all workers in their employ. Employers are required to inform workers of safety risks and hazards that they may be exposed to while completing their work and to establish health and safety policies and programs that comply with the more detailed safety requirements found in the Act’s regulations.

    Employers that fail to abide by these legislated requirements may face significant fines and, in the most serious cases, incarceration. There are steps an employer can take, however, to minimize their liability and risk of fines in the event that an accident does happen.

    Due Diligence A Defence Following A Workplace Accident

    Due diligence is a legal defence under the Act that an employer can rely on when an accident happens. The Act provides that: “A person is not guilty of an offence if the person proves that the person exercised due diligence to prevent the commission of an offence.” An employer that shows it was diligent in its compliance with the Act and its Regulations can avoid administrative fines and potential prosecution.

    An employer can claim it exercised due diligence by showing it took reasonable care in attempting to make its workplace safe. Reasonable care can include: identifying and eliminating safety hazards; implementing policies, procedures and systems to control or minimize hazards that cannot be eliminated; and, perhaps most importantly, being able to show steps were taken to ensure that the implemented systems were working. A defence of due diligence is more likely to succeed if an employer has been monitoring its safety policies to ensure they are performing their intended function and that employees consistently adhere to them at the worksite.

    How An Employer Can Show It Has Exercised Due Diligence

    Some steps an employer can take that might aid in establishing it took reasonable care to comply with the Act include:

    • regularly self-auditing health and safety policies and procedures to ensure they are effective and complied with
    • implementing and consistently using appropriate training programs for employees
    • investigating all workplace safety-related incidents and making necessary changes to health-and-safety policies and procedures
    • proactively responding to “near-miss” incidents
    • creating a “culture of safety” at the workplace so that employees know that safety is a fundamental part of the job function and is not optional
    • document all steps taken to minimize the risk of workplace accidents

    Even when employers strive to create a workplace that is safe for all of its employees, accidents may still occur. By taking care to implement policies to address safety issues, to comply with those policies, and to update them when required, employers may limit their liability when an accident happens. In addition, these steps may result in a drop in workplace accidents—which benefits everyone in the workplace.