Health and Safety Responsibilities in Long Term Care: What Does it Mean for Supervisors?
May 14, 2014 | News
Under British Columbia’s Workers Compensation Act (“the Act”) and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation (“the Regulation”), supervisors play an important role in promoting and maintaining a healthy and safe workplace. But who qualifies as a supervisor, and what are their responsibilities?
To better answer these questions, we need to understand employers’ obligations. Key employer responsibilities include,2:
- Ensuring the health and safety of all workers either employed by the employer or working onsite.
- Establishing occupational health and safety policies and programs.
- Eliminating hazards, or where elimination is not possible, implementing strategies to minimize them.
- Providing and maintaining appropriate personal protective equipment.
- Providing workers with information, training, and supervision about safe work practices. This includes conducting new worker orientations.
- In multi-employer environments, coordinating with other employers to promote safe workplaces.
- Consulting with the joint occupational health and safety committee on preventative measures.
- Ensuring workers have access to the Act and Regulation while at work.
From the perspective of the Act and the Regulation, supervisors act as representatives of the employer. In this sense, the supervisor is the “eyes and ears” on the ground to ensure the workplace is safe. Therefore, many of the supervisor’s responsibilities echo those of the employer’s. A supervisor’s responsibilities include1,:
- Ensuring the health and safety of all workers under their direct supervision.
- Knowing the work-related hazards and the applicable regulations.
- Ensuring workers under their direct supervision understand the hazards, know how to protect themselves, and adhere to safe work practices.
- Ensuring workers have personal protective equipment and know how to use it.
- Consulting with the joint occupational health and safety committee.
- Correcting and investigating unsafe acts and conditions that they observe or are reported to them.
The question then remains, who qualifies as a supervisor? In health care, supervisors tend to have titles like “case manager”, “charge nurse”, “team leader”, or “director of care”. To determine whether or not you would qualify as a supervisor in a particular situation, ask yourself three questions2:
- Do you instruct other staff in the work they do?
- Do you provide instruction on what work staff are to perform?
- Do you have control over how staff do their work?
If you answer “yes” to all three of these questions, you are a supervisor. As a supervisor, you are legally responsible for the health and safety of those you are supervising.
When acting as a supervisor, you have several concrete ways in which you can ensure you are meeting your legal obligations1,2:
1. Ensure your staff are informed, equipped, and competent.
Ensuring staff are informed means they understand the tasks, the associated hazards, and how to control risk where it can’t be eliminated. It also means communicating information among staff that is relevant to their health and safety (e.g. “Mr. Jones hasn’t been able to transfer independently today – make sure you use a lift.”). Ensuring staff are equipped means they have the proper equipment and resources to do their tasks. Finally, ensuring staff are competent means they have the necessary orientation and training to be safe in the workplace. Practically, this can be achieved in a number of ways:
- Use safety huddles to inform staff of changes in resident status, review a key safety practice, or discuss safety concerns.
- Communicate safe work procedures through multiple mediums, including bulletins, posters, emails, orientations, staff meetings, etc.
- Perform and keep a record of orientations with new workers.
- Conduct regular training sessions (both formal and informal).
- Post up-to-date safe work practices in a visible, staff-accessible place.
- Ensure assistive devices (e.g. lifts, slider sheets, step stools) are accessible to staff.
2. Identify hazards, and take remedial action where necessary.
Monitoring working conditions and staff work practices, and conducting inspections are all ways to identify hazards. Correcting unsafe conditions and work practices, and ensuring hazard control measures are implemented and maintained are actions taken in response to an identified hazard. Conducting walkabouts, reviewing safe work procedures, and providing on-the-job feedback are examples of different actions you can take to fulfill these obligations.
3. Conduct incident investigations.
An employer or supervisor (as well as a worker representative, wherever possible) is responsible for conducting incident investigations. If an incident occurs where the worker needed to seek medical treatment, the incident did not result in injuries but could have had serious consequences, or involves a specific scenario identified in the Act, then an investigation is required. Those conducting the investigation are responsible for identifying the root cause/contributing factors, and recommending remedial action.
There are a few resources available for employers and supervisors who want to learn more about their legal responsibilities, and how they can meet them. The following resources have been developed with the health care sector specifically in mind:
The Workers Compensation Act and Occupational Health and Safety Regulation are available online at www.worksafebc.com.