NEWS

The Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act applies to churches

A favourite line of parish councils, boards of management and occasionally clergy is, “we don’t have to worry about that, because churches are exempt”. Well I am sorry to burst your bubble, but churches are not exempt, and contravening the regulations can have serious consequences.

Just to get your attention, the penalties for contravening the regulations are potentially fines and/or prison, so please read on.

The penalties for contravening the regulations are potentially fines and/or prison.

There are a number of aspects of this Act that wardens in particular should be aware of, if not familiar with. In this article we are going to deal with the regulations around designated hazardous substances.

There are eleven designated hazardous substances which may be found in buildings and workplaces and four of them are typically found in our church buildings. These are asbestos, lead, mercury and silica.  The regulations require us to know what and where these substances are in our buildings, and there are good reasons for this.

If you have a Day Care using your buildings, and some of your paint is lead based, you have a problem.  You have a duty to know the paint is lead based, and you must inform anyone using your building of that fact.

More typically you may run into problems if you hire a contractor to do any work on your buildings, as you are required under the Act to inform them of the presence of any and all of the designated hazardous substances they may encounter.

That is not as difficult as it sounds. There are specialist companies who will come in and inspect your buildings and provide you with a report detailing all of the designated hazardous substances.  Once you have that report and you have shown it to any person or company that may be impacted, then you have complied with the requirements of the Act.

Such a report may cost as little as $1,500, or perhaps as much as $5,000 for a large building complex. While you may complain of the additional cost to your project, the price is small compared to the trouble you could land yourself in if you ignore it.

You may be concerned that the presence of hazardous materials may increase the cost of your project. In most cases there will not be an increase in cost, or any increase will be minimal.  Occasionally you may run into circumstances where the increase in cost is significant.

An example could be the removal of friable asbestos (Friable means asbestos particles can become airborne simply by touching it), but if that is what must be done, then you really need to know before you start your project or you are liable to serious charges under the Act, as well as for the potential of civil litigation.

Why are you telling us this now?

The Diocesan Land and Property Committee has been inviting experts in various fields to come to our meetings to inform us on issues that are of concern. These regulations have been in existence for decades, but the Ministry of Labour inspectors are enforcing the regulations more vigorously.

We now have a number of professionals on the Diocesan Land and Property Committee who have raised the issue and because ignorance of the law is not a viable defense, we feel it is important for all congregations and wardens in particular to be aware of this Act and how it applies to us.

The Land and Property Committee exists to assist you, and we welcome questions and will be happy to provide advice if you are not sure what you should do. Also please look for more articles as there are other aspects of this Act that can impact us.  For any major project you should be retaining professional help, and your architect or engineer should be advising you.

(For mor info check “Parish Buildging Guidelines on diocesan website: diohuron.org/resources. Go to: Parish Resources) 

Diocesan Land and Property Committee – May 2019.