Having a competent supervisor on site is one of the keys to reducing fatalities and injuries in Ontario’s construction industry. Inadequate supervision could lead to injury or death and can result in hazards such as not enough guardrails around work surfaces and workers not wearing the required personal protective equipment (e.g., hard hats and fall protection). In 2011, violations involving supervisors were among the top 10 orders issued by MOL inspectors under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
There are generally two types of supervisors on construction projects—those who supervise the entire project (i.e., superintendents) and those who supervise parts of the project or groups of workers (i.e., forepersons). All supervisors must ensure workers are complying with the legislation. They must be able to apply sound management techniques and because they work at a distance from their employer, they must be able to function without day-to-day guidance on legal duties.
According to Section 25 (2) (c) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, a supervisor must be a “competent person”. As legally defined, a competent person is someone who,
- is familiar with the Act and regulations that apply to the work, and
- has knowledge of any potential or actual danger to health or safety in the workplace;
This means knowing what precautions must be taken for different types of work and knowing what measures to take to control or remove hazards.
A supervisor must know the specific hazards related to the work being done and must be able to identify and take the necessary steps to protect workers.
Supervisors are the employer's representative on a construction project. Their responsibilities include monitoring the project's progress and ensuring workers' health and safety. Supervisors plan the project's work and oversee its implementation. They assign tasks to their workers and provide them with advice and direction. Supervisors are the main vehicle of communication for their employer and for the other employers on the project.
Supervisors' responsibilities include the following.
- taking every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for a worker's protection [OHSA Section (2)(c)]
- supervising the work on the project at all times, either personally or by having an assistant who is a competent person do so when the supervisor is unavailable [Construction Regulation Sections 14(2) and 15(2)]
- inspecting or having the supervisor's assistant inspect, at least once a week, all machinery and equipment, including fire extinguishing equipment, magazines (storage for flammables and explosives), electrical installations, communications systems, sanitation and medical facilities, buildings and other structures, temporary supports and means of access and egress at the project to ensure workers are not endangered [Construction Regulation Sections 14(32) and 14(4)]
Inadequate supervision can lead to hazards such as
IHSA posed this question to subject-matter experts representing different viewpoints—from enforcement (MOL) and prevention (IHSA), to the supervisors themselves.
Related article: Do you know what it takes to be a good supervisor?
For supervisors who work on smaller projects, IHSA recommends taking Construction Health and Safety Representative and Basics of Supervising. For supervisors who work on larger projects, IHSA recommends taking Construction Certification (Construction Health and Safety Representative, Sector-Specific Training – Construction, and Simulated Hazard Analysis – Construction) and Basics of Supervising.
Other training programs that would be helpful to supervisors are included below.
*Available in both home-study or classroom-based format. Before taking a home-study course, IHSA recommends taking the Occupational Health and Safety Act course.
IHSA offers the following products that would be helpful to supervisors.
Download the following chapters from IHSA’s Health and Safety Manuals:
Supervisors often conduct on-site safety talks. A five-minute safety talk is hands-on way to remind workers that health and safety are important on the job and can help workers recognize and control hazards. IHSA’s Safety Talks manual (V005) contains over 100 talks. Visit the Safety Talks page or download the sample talks below.