Talent Development Centre

Workplace Health & Safety for Independent Contractors

You’re an IT professional working at a comfortable desk in a cozy office, what could possibly go wrong? Compared to working on a construction site, very little; however, health and safety hazards exist in offices and still require attention. From slips, trips and falls to mental health to ergonomics, there are health and safety considerations for all office professionals. Independent contractors need to understand their responsibilities and those of their client.

Who’s Responsible for an IT Contractor’s Health & Safety

To start, please note that this post is not intended to provide legal advice in any way. Our goal is to ensure you’re starting the right conversations and discussing any concerns with your lawyer.

According to OHS Canada, clients can’t necessarily “delegate safety”. At the highest level, all clients and companies always have a responsibility to provide basic human rights, including a workplace free of discrimination and harassment. However, specific health and safety responsibilities between clients and independent contractors can be a grey area and there are various legal cases demonstrating the complexities. Each province across Canada has its own variations of their health and safety laws, with all industries and situations having a number of differing variables.

To protect themselves and their employees, it is not uncommon for clients to include their health and safety regulations as part of their contract agreement with all independent contractors. Such documentation could include all of your responsibilities in protecting yourself and others while on the client site, as well as an outline any hazards of which you should be aware while working there. Clients may also conduct background checks before hiring, specifically to ensure that you will comply with all regulations and are not a risk to their business.

If something goes wrong and coverage is required, independent contractors should air on the side of caution and assume that they will require their own coverage. As an example, in Alberta, the Worker’s Compensation Board does not require clients to provide coverage to any incorporated contractor, regardless of whether you have an account with them or not. Just as important, if you hire an employee in your contracting business, you take on additional responsibility and are required to ensure coverage for them as well.

You already know that as an independent contractor you’re not entitled to the same rights as regular employees of a client. It’s important to note on the health and safety side of that, according to this article from WorkHoppers, this includes the right to file complaints for free to the Ministry of Labour. Instead, IT contractors may incur some legal costs involved in the same complaint process.

What Can IT Contractors Do to Ensure Health & Safety?

There are simple steps you can take to ensure a safe workplace, as well as reduce your risk as an independent contractor:

  • Ask questions before and after starting a contract about policies and procedures, ensuring you have a clear understanding of all hazards and expectations.
  • Make suggestions to your client if you notice the work environment could be better. Concerns may be directed to your supervisor, your client’s HR department, or to your recruiter who can further investigate.
  • Ensure you have your own coverage through your provincial workers’ compensation board. For example, WSIB in Ontario or WCB in Alberta.
  • Help maintain the health and safety of your client’s employees. You’re required to follow your client’s on-site regulations (and you should generally act like a decent human being), plus it’s good business practice and failure to do so could cost you future work.
  • Consult with a lawyer if you have any concerns.

Have you come across any health and safety issues or concerns in your IT contracting career? If so, we’d love to learn about them and how they turned out. Sharing your experiences will help other contractors understand and prepare for these dreadful situations.

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