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Northern Ont. big-box stores, essential workplaces subject to future COVID-19 inspection blitzes

'Where we find an employer who has been acting in bad faith, we won't hesitate to take action by immediately slapping them with a ticket and a fine.'
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Big-box stores across the province will be inspected in COVID-19 safety blitzes, according to Labour Minister Monte McNaughton.

Big-box stores and workplaces accessible to the public and deemed essential — such as grocery stores — in North Bay, Sudbury, and across Northern Ontario could face targeted government enforcement of COVID-safety requirements, just as their southern counterparts recently have.

Last weekend, the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development (MLTSD) engaged in a workplace inspection blitz in GTHA big-box stores and found only 69 per cent compliance on 240 visits with 23 tickets and 53 orders issued which included violations for failing to screen customers and staff, improper mask-wearing, and unsafe distancing.

"Further blitzes for other regions in the province will be announced in the coming weeks," the ministry tells BayToday.

The Ford government has faced criticism for allowing big-box stores to remain open for in-store shopping while moving small businesses to online or curbside sales only. Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development expressed disappointment about the level of compliance and has said big-box stores will remain a focus of the safety blitzes. Ontario remains under a state of emergency and stay-at-home order.

See related story: Business group slams new Ontario retail rule

See also: Was a northern bubble ever considered?

"We know most businesses are operating responsibly and taking the necessary steps to protect their workers and customers, and I want to thank them for their efforts," said McNaughton last week. "Where we find an employer who has been acting in bad faith, we won't hesitate to take action by immediately slapping them with a ticket and a fine. There will be real consequences for those who break the rules."

Effective last week, workplace inspectors province-wide have new tools to enforce the COVID-safety requirements, including the authority to ticket supervisors, employees, and patrons who do not comply with COVID-19 safety requirements; temporarily close premises; and, disperse groups of more than five people.

The MLTSD advises it responds to inquiries regarding COVID-19 in workplaces and investigates all complaints related to workplace health and safety to provide support, advice, and enforcement. Individuals and businesses who are not following the rules can be fined. The set fines are $750 for not following the rules and $1,000 for preventing others (including employees or other workers) from following the rules. Maximum fines can reach $100,000 for individuals and $10 million for a corporation. Failure to follow the rules could also result in prosecution or even a year in jail.

These measures are included in the Stay Safe All Day campaign and focus workplace inspections on areas of high transmission, including break rooms. It targets workplaces with heightened risks that have been identified using data from local public health units and information reported directly to the province.

Inspectors will focus on workplaces in the following sectors:

  • Workplaces with reported COVID-19 outbreaks
  • Manufacturing
  • Warehousing
  • Distribution centres
  • Food processing
  • Publicly accessible workplaces deemed essential, such as grocery stores

Since the start of the pandemic, the MLTSD has hired an additional 100 health and safety inspectors and conducted over 34,000 COVID-19 related workplace inspections, with more than 34,000 orders issued on those visits, stopping unsafe work 55 times.

Inspectors continue to conduct risk-based proactive inspections at workplaces to check that employers understand the risks associated with COVID-19, including how to reduce spread in their workplace, and that employers are implementing measures to keep workers safe.

Anyone can call the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development's dedicated hotline at 1-877-202-0008 to report health and safety concerns or to ask a question about their rights.




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Stu Campaigne

About the Author: Stu Campaigne

Stu Campaigne is a full-time news reporter for BayToday.ca, focusing on local politics and sharing our community's compelling human interest stories.
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