There are many reasons contractors may be on your dairy. This can range from general maintenance, such as an electrician doing some electrical repairs, to a major renovation or a general contractor building a brand-new barn. Whatever reason the contractor or subcontractor is working on your dairy, you must understand your responsibilities as they pertain to the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and regulations.

Decooman cheryl
President / People Management Group
Cheryl DeCooman, CHRL, can also be reached at (519) 532-2508 or @udderlySAFE on X and Instagram.

Consider safety as you build your new barn for robotic milking

Building a new barn, especially one with robotic milking, is an exciting and expensive undertaking. There are a lot of things to plan for your new barn. Location, size, weather conditions, required utilities, building materials, permits, selecting the best brand of milking robots and selecting the right building contractor. But what about safety? You must also think about the safety of your employees, as well as the contractors and subcontractors working on your farm.

Who is responsible if there is an injury or incident?

OHSA intends to have one person with overall authority for health and safety matters on a project. This person is the constructor of the project.

Health and safety at a project are a shared responsibility. Although each employer at a project has significant responsibilities for their workers, the constructor is the party with the greatest degree of control over health and safety at the project and is ultimately responsible for the safety of all workers. The constructor may be a general contractor or the owner of the dairy. Even when the constructor is a general contractor that does not mean that the owner or manager of the dairy does not have any responsibilities at all.

So, who is the constructor? When an owner hires one contractor to do all the work on a project, then that contractor is the constructor. This contractor is often referred to as the general contractor. The general contractor may have employees or may hire subcontractors. When an owner undertakes a project by contracting with more than one contractor, the owner could become the constructor if no general contractor has been retained and the separate contractors work simultaneously.


Contractor safety procedures

Whether you are working with one or several contractors, it is important to ensure their employees are protected and ensure you have taken all necessary steps to satisfy your responsibility as an employer. For this reason, you should have a documented contractor safety procedure. This will ensure you are thorough and consistent when planning for contractors on your property. The health and safety items listed in the contractor safety checklist below should be discussed before signing any contracts on any work being performed.

Contractor safety checklist

  • Check the contractor’s health and safety record.
  • Confirm you have a current WSIB clearance certificate and proof of liability insurance.
    • A clearance protects the principal from a payment liability the contractor or subcontractor may incur during the validity period of a certificate. It also confirms a contractor or subcontractor is registered with the WSIB and that their account is in good standing.
  • Ensure the contractor has a health and safety policy and ask for copies.
  • Ensure the contractor, employees and subcontractors have received all required health and safety training. This includes the mandatory minimum training as well as task-specific training.
    • For example, if the employees will be working on a roof, do they have Ministry of Labour (MOL) “Working at Heights” training, and is it current?
  • Determine who will be responsible for supervising the employees and subcontractors. The contractor should provide an onsite supervisor, along with a clear outline of whether the dairy owner or manager has any responsibility for supervising the employees or subcontractors.
  • Ensure the contractor or supervisor will be providing the workers with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), tools and other equipment to do the job. They must make sure PPE, tools and equipment are in good condition and used properly.
  • Ensure the contractor has informed the employees and subcontractors what to do in the event of an incident or injury.
  • Ensure everyone understands their responsibilities under OHSA.

Critical injury reporting and investigation

Under OHSA, employers must notify the MOL when a critical injury or fatality occurs in their workplace. The MOL will investigate, and an inspector will be immediately sent to the scene. When a contractor or subcontractor is involved in an injury or fatality, the owner or manager of the dairy still has specific responsibilities. You must cooperate fully with investigations.

Demonstrating to the MOL that the employer recognizes the serious nature of an investigation, is cooperative and is committed to ensuring their workplace is compliant with workplace regulations is critical to receiving a more favourable outcome to the investigation. No one should change or disturb the accident scene before an inspector permits it.

The investigator may:

  • View the incident location
  • Take photographs and measurements
  • Interview witnesses or anyone who may have relevant information
  • Examine the equipment involved

If there has been a violation of OHSA that resulted in injury or fatality, the investigator may recommend charges be laid to applicable parties. This can include subcontractors, the general contractor and, in some cases, the owner or manager of the dairy. At the very least, they will identify hazards and issue orders that the workplace must address to prevent a repeat occurrence.

References omitted but are available upon request by sending an email to the editor.

Scenario: A fall occurs at ABC Dairy Farm

The barn is coming along nicely; the trusses arrived yesterday, and the contractors arrived this morning to start installing them. But, as the farm owner walks up to the barn, they notice one of the contractor’s employees is installing the trusses and see they are not using any fall protection. This is an immediate red flag, so they go and talk to the onsite supervisor right away. The owner informs them they must ensure that their employees and subcontractors follow all OHSA requirements, including the use of fall protection when working at a height. The supervisor addresses the issue right away.

As an extra precaution, the farmer decides to send a quick text to the general contractor to remind them of their responsibility to ensure PPE is used properly.

After leaving for a while, the farmer returns to the site to see an ambulance, police and an Ornge helicopter about to take off. They realize there has been a serious accident. Another one of the contractor’s employees was not wearing fall protection and fell while installing the trusses.

A breaking news statement is released: “Emergency crews were called to the ABC Dairy Farm for an injured worker at 9:20 a.m. The worker was transported to hospital but later succumbed to their injuries. Police have determined the incident was an accident. The Ministry of Labour was contacted and is investigating the incident.”

In the case of this incident, the inspector determined that the owner of the dairy had practiced their due diligence in protecting the contractors and subcontractors working on their farm. They worked with the onsite supervisor and the general contractor to ensure the PPE was available for the workers and used when necessary. They had confirmed that the workers had received the proper training. The farm owner had checked to make sure that the contractor was in good standing with the WSIB and acquired a WSIB clearance certificate and liability insurance.

This situation could have been prevented if the general contractor and supervisor had ensured that all employees used the proper PPE and followed their responsibilities outlined in the OHSA. But, because the contractor did not do this, they received a fine of $1.5 million. If the owner had not taken steps to ensure the contractor had provided the right training, PPE and other safety information to their employees, there could have been serious consequences for the owner of the dairy as well.