The Competent Supervisor

Supervisor Blitz

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.

 

Legislation

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 qualified because of knowledge, training and experience to organize the work and its performance;
  • Performance here relates only to safety and health, since the OHSA does not regulate how quickly work is completed or how profitable the project is
  • Knowledge is gained through a combination of training and experience
  • Training here means formal health and safety training that is specific to the work
  • Experience means a proven background in dealing with the health and safety aspects of the work
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  • is familiar with this Act and the 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.
 

Responsibilities

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.

 
  • ensuring workers work in compliance with required protective devices, measures and procedures [OHSA Section 27(1)(a)]
  • ensuring workers use or wear any equipment, protective device or clothing required by the employer [OHSA Section 27(1)(b)]
  • advising workers of any potential or actual health or safety danger known by the supervisor [OHSA Section 27(2)(a)]
  • providing workers, when required, with written instructions on any measures and procedures to be taken for the workers' protection [OHSA Section 27(2)(b)]
Supervisor Blitz
 
  • 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)]
 

Hazards

Inadequate supervision can lead to hazards such as

  • Poor maintenance of personal protective equipment
  • Lack of warning signs for workers about hazards in the workplace
  • Unsanitary wash up and toilet facilities
  • Accumulation of debris
  • Poor access and egress to work areas
  • Lack of information, instruction and supervision to new and young workers on the job.
 

What does it take to be a good supervisor?

Supervisor Blitz

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?

 

Training

For supervisors who work on smaller projects, IHSA recommends taking Basics of Supervising and Communication Skills for Supervising Health and Safety. For supervisors who work on larger projects, IHSA recommends adding JHSC Certification Part One and Part Two (Construction) (Aggregates) (Transportation) (Utilities).

For more details about IHSA's Basics of Supervising training, visit The Role of a Supervisor web page.

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.

 

Products

IHSA offers the following products that would be helpful to supervisors.

 

Articles

 

Resources

Download the following chapters from IHSA’s Health and Safety Manuals:

 

Safety Talks

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.

 

MOL Resources

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