Canadian occupational health and safety legislation re arc flash hazards

To ensure effective operations of a workplace, everyone must be aware of what they are doing and how it may affect those around them, and they must be prepared to accept the consequences. Electrical dangers such as shock, electrocution, arc flash, and arc blast are essentially unavoidable in many types of workplaces, but proper training and safety strategies minimize the likelihood of injuries and fatalities.

Arc flash is addressed legislatively at both the provincial and federal levels. All provincial occupational health and safety acts have a general duty clause requiring employers to take reasonable precautions to ensure their employees' health and safety. For example, OHSA Occupational Health & Safety Act of Ontario sets out responsibility on employers to "take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of workers". It places the responsibility on employers to anticipate those hazards particular to the workplace. Under the OHSA, corporations face potential fines of $600,000 per offense. Individuals face potential fines of $27,500 or twelve months in jail.

Additionally, some provinces specifically mandate protection against arc flash. For example, Ontario's Construction and Industrial Regulations require workers to be protected against electrical shock and burns while working on or near the live, exposed parts of equipment or conductors. Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety Code requires workers exposed to electrical equipment flash-over to wear flame-resistant outerwear and use other protective equipment appropriate to the hazard.

Federally, as of 31 March 2004, Bill C-45 established a duty under the Criminal Code of Canada for employers, managers and supervisors to ensure workplace health and safety. Under the code as amended by Bill C-45, there is no specific limit on fines against a corporation that's found guilty, and individual representatives of a corporation can receive a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if convicted of criminal negligence causing death.

The Courts have placed substantial fines upon employers, regardless of size for violations of health and safety statutes.

According to the law, a person has a duty of care towards another where it is reasonably foreseeable that his failure to take care might cause that person harm. The law holds that people should consider the consequences of their conduct and therefore it assumes they do. Consequently if people fail to live up to the required standard of care, and a person is harmed by their conduct, they are liable to compensate the other party.

Under section 217.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada individuals, organizations and corporations can be convicted of criminal negligence for failure to take reasonable steps to protect the lives and safety of workers and public. The definition of those who fall under the purview of section 217.1 is fairly broad. If you direct a person to perform a task, you now have a legal duty to protect that person. In other words, unlike the Occupational Health and Safety Act OHSA it's not just managers and appointed supervisors who are liable under Bill C-45 but everyone who undertakes directing others, This includes lead hands and plant forepersons. Under the Bill C-45. the Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the actions of those charged represent a marked and significant departure from the standard of a reasonably prudent person in the circumstances. If the Crown is successful, the maximum charge for a summary conviction is $100,000. Where the Crown proceeds by indictment there is no limit on the amount of fine that can be imposed on a corporation or organization. Individuals are subject to a range of Criminal Code sentencing options, including absolute discharge to life in prison, depending on the specific offense.

OHSA allows for an individual or corporation charged with a violation (tort of negligence) to avoid liability by showing that every precaution was taken in the circumstances. This is known as the defense of "due diligence". Six essential elements of due diligence program are as follows:

  1. Workplace Hazard Analysis / Audit
  2. Corporate Safety Policy and Implementation Program
  3. Specific Critical Task Policies and Procedures
  4. Training Procedures for Workers, Supervisors, Managers
  5. Enforcement of Health and Safety Procedures
  6. Supervisor Competence

Every individual or corporation regardless of size can take steps to show that they have been duly diligent and met the standard of care expected by law.

Safe work practices designed to prevent arc flash incidents are contained in the U.S. NFPA 70E Standard for Electrical Safety Requirements for Employee Workplaces. Until recently, in the absence of such a document in Canada, many companies in Canada adhered to the NFPA 70E standard. The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) has now implemented new CSA Z462 Workplace Electrical Safety Standard. CSA Z462 is based on NFPA 70E. Similar to NFPA 70E, the CSA Z462 standard provides guidance on the assessment of electrical hazards and design of safe work spaces around electrical power systems. It stipulates requirements for identifying hazardous equipment and for the development of safe work procedures around this equipment and gives guidance to electrical workers on the selection of personal protective equipment and protective clothing. Adopting the safe work practices found in CSA Z462 is a reasonable measure for an employer to follow to protect his employees.