Strata Smart Series: Who’s Responsible for Ensuring Safe Practices on Your Strata Property?

 In Strata Smart Series

The general assumption is that if you hire a contractor, safety is their responsibility.

And generally, that is the case. When you hire a company or a contractor to perform work or service on your property it is your responsibility to ensure they have adequate liability coverage and are registered and in good standing with WorksafeBC.

That last part “in good standing” is a key part of ensuring your contractor is properly covered. I wrote about clearance letters and I highly suggest you read it if you are unfamiliar with WorksafeBC clearance.

WorksafeBC is a provincially legislated organization to mandate and oversee no-fault insurance in the workplace. Every business in the province is required to be registered with WorksafeBC, regardless of whether a company’s workers are employees or subcontractors.

Assuming you have followed those steps and your contractor has provided your strata with a copy of his liability insurance and a clearance letter from WorksafeBC, the strata corporation is protected against liability should a worker be hurt while working on your property.

Not so fast.

Recently the British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld a WorkSafeBC decision to fine logging company, West Fraser Mills Ltd. in relation to a fatal accident of a tree faller working in one of their licensed forest areas.

West Fraser did not employ or subcontract the worker that died. They had hired a contractor, who subsequently hired the tree faller. However, after the accident WorksafeBC conducted an investigation. They found the work done by the tree faller to be substandard and noted numerous unsafe practices. The contractor was fined heavily but they also made findings against West Fraser.

It was WorksafeBC’s conclusion that West Fraser’s representatives had not been trained on how to assess workmanship; there was no checking of qualifications; and no systematic evaluation of hazards on the site.

West Fraser was fined $75,000.

What Does this Mean for Strata Corporations?

One of the key ruling by the Appeals court was that although West Fraser was not operating as an employer and the accident did not occur during the course of employment, West Fraser was responsible as an “owner”.

Take that in for a moment. They were fined as owners of the property.

WorksafeBC concluded that West Fraser did not ensure the work was being done safely.

WorksafeBC and the British Columbia Court of Appeal determined an “employer” can be interpreted to include more specific categories such as supervisor, owner, prime contractor and supplier.

How to Protect Your Strata Corporation

As a member of your strata council, this ruling can make hiring and working with contractors and trades a daunting task. Certainly, careful consideration needs to be used when hiring contractors to complete more challenging work such as painting or power washing.

Beyond ensuring a contractor has adequate liability insurance and WorksafeBC coverage, it is essential they have a written fall protection plan that clearly addresses risks associated with completing the work required.

The challenge for many strata corporations is their councils are made up of volunteers from the pool of owners. There is little training for council members and most often their expertise falls short of being able to adequately assess risk, workmanship or standards of the contractors hired.

The best protection a strata corporation has against this shortfall of expertise is to hire a paint inspection company to assist with preparing bid specifications for upcoming projects. In addition to providing technical specifications, a qualified paint inspector can include the requirements for fall protection and execution of the project. It is important council requires the fall protection plan a requirement for bid submission and that once the contract is awarded, the plan is on site and adhered to. A paint inspection company may also be contracted to ensure this is in place along with quality assurance and MPI standards are being met.

The liability of the property owner is to ensure that any contractor is not only insured against accidents but also taking necessary steps to protect its employees from risks associated with completing the work.

By understanding the responsibilities and possible liabilities of the owners, council members are better equipped to make smart decisions when hiring contractors.

For more information on this ruling, please visit

http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/ca/16/04/2016BCCA0473.htm

Heidi Nyline

Wonder woman at Warline Painting, an exceptional painting company. Loves colour, food, wine, dark rum, beaches, dogs and family. Not in that order.

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