Supervisory competency: Do you really know what you need to know (and do)

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By Bruce Bolduc

Special to the Barrie Construction Association Report

This fall the Ministry of Labour (MoL) has focused one of their blitzes on supervisor competency. Perhaps rightly so. Every day someone is convicted of failing to protect a worker.

Who is a supervisor and what are his or her responsibilities?

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and regulations, a supervisor is someone who has care and control of a worker. This could mean that the foreman, lead hand or shop steward, could all be considered a supervisor depending on the circumstances.

What does this mean? It means that many people are acting in a supervisory capacity without knowledge of the possible consequences.

Supervisors have many responsibilities under the OHSA. As a supervisor, however, they are the eyes and ears of the employer at the workplace. As such that person may well find himself or herself being held accountable for the actions or lack of actions by their employer.

First of all let’s look at how we become a supervisor.

In a unionized environment there is a clearly defined protocol as to what a person must accomplish to rise within the ranks.

In a non-union environment, it’s not as clear cut. A person may be promoted over the years by demonstrating to their employer a skill in managing a job or tasks. They may be a supervisor because they have demonstrated a superior knowledge at another company.

Or perhaps they are simply the son or daughter of the owner, or perhaps just the last man standing. Being a very knowledgeable carpenter, for example, does not automatically translate into good supervisory skills.

Finally, of course, would be taking formalized training in supervisory skills.

Many of the downfalls of supervisor competency come down to some perceptions.

  • First a supervisor just has to run the job; it’s not that much work. (Sic)
  • Secondly, the schedule is everything. If you have that, the rest will fall into place.

It’s been said that a supervisor’s job is 50 to 90 per cent communication.

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A supervisor in construction has to deal with many forces coming from all directions. There is the company that he or she works for and their budget, timeline and expectations. There may be a project manager above the supervisor bringing ongoing issues and changes. The architect, building inspector, the union(s), sub-trades, utilities, MoL, Ministry of Environment, the neighbours, permits, suppliers, storage facilities, waste disposal, security and of course….the customer. And that’s a slow day.

This list doesn’t touch on all the paperwork that’s involved from the N.O.P. to the final inspection.

So on top of having excellent communication skills, a good supervisor, must have a thorough knowledge of structure, skill sets, trade timelines and requirements, order and process as well as interaction of all of these and of course budget considerations. Not to mention more than a passing knowledge of the OHSA and regulations.

So how does the Ministry of Labour  judge “competency” of a supervisor.

Simply put, the ministry will first assess the jobsite; this may include a history of the company with the MoL or WSIB. Every inspector I talk with says that housekeeping on a project is the leading indicator on how the super is running the job. That in turn indicates competency. Secondly, they like the easy route. Show me a ROT or “Record of Training.”

Competency is defined in the OHSA in two ways, competent worker and the competent person.

For our point today is that of the competent person.

“Competent Person” means a person who:

a)      Is qualified because of knowledge, training and experience to organize the work and its performance;

b)      Is familiar with this act and the regulations that apply to the work, and

c)      Has knowledge of any actual or potential danger to health or safety in the workplace.

So suffice to say, it is not as clear cut as people may believe and of course in drawing conclusions, this is the realm of lawyers.

Let me conclude by laying out a few simple facts.

The employer must by law appoint a competent supervisor, see the OHSA section 25(2) (a) (c).

As a supervisor you MUST know the act and various regulations as they apply to your workplace, and enforce them. Taking no action is condoning the actions that are occurring.

Ask yourself these simple questions:

  • Do ensure that all workers use or wear the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) both required by OHSA and by the employer? Have I documented this? Where?
  • Do I remind workers about the hazards of the workplace? Have I documented this? Where?
  • Do I plan for the work to be as safe as possible, or do I encourage short cuts (by actions or inaction.)
  • Do communicate with the joint health and safety committee or safety rep regularly? Did I document this? (You might see a theme here.)
  • Am I familiar with the Internal Responsibility System?
  • Do I have an emergency response plan? Have we documented this (same theme), and have I made sure everyone knows it?
  • Have made use of the right (competent) people to assist me in accomplishing this?
  • Can I go home at night knowing me and everyone at work, has done everything reasonable in the circumstances to ensure a safe work place?

In case you missed it, document, document, and document! Your log may be your only defence in case somebody ignores everything you did.

This is a very high overview of being a supervisor and is not intended as an all encompassing document. Hopefully it gave you something to think about.

            Bruce Bolduc is a consultant and owner of Construction Workplace Safety Training Ltd.  He can be reached at info@buildwithsafey.com, or by phone at (705) 812-1656.