During a health and safety initiative at warehouses and big box retail stores from October 1 to November 23, 2018, Ministry of Labour inspectors:

Inspectors checked that employers were complying with the OHSA and its regulations at warehouses and big box retail stores. This included checking that employers were protecting workers by taking suitable action to identify and control hazards.

The goals of the industrial health and safety initiative were to:

  • raise awareness of key health and safety hazards at warehouses and big box retail stores
  • verify that requirements were being met
  • increase workplace compliance with the law
  • prevent injuries and illness that could arise from unsafe work practices
  • provide help for employers on workplace safety in warehouses

Warehouse and big box retail hazards

A warehouse is a commercial building used by manufacturers, importers/exporters, retailers/wholesalers, transport companies and other businesses to store goods, raw materials and other commodities.

Activities at a warehouse generally include loading and unloading various materials and goods from trucks onto pallets (racks) by hand and using forklifts.

Big box retail locations share many hazards with warehouses, including racking, lifting devices and in shipping/receiving areas.

Lost-time injury data from WSIB shows that the most common injuries in these types of workplaces come from:

  • containers, boxes, barrels, packages (pressurized, non-pressurized)
  • structures (including walkways, floors and buildings)
  • parts and materials
  • persons (bodily motion or condition)
  • vehicles

Full report

Workplace inspection initiatives

Inspection initiatives are part of our Safe At Work Ontario compliance strategy. We announce to the sector, in advance, that we will be doing an initiative, although individual workplaces are not notified in advance. The results of the initiative are typically posted online, within 90 days. Inspectors' findings may affect the number and level of future inspections of individual workplaces.

Inspectors may also refer employers to health and safety associations for help with compliance and training.

Initiative focus

Inspectors checked on specific safety issues, such as:

  • Pedestrian/vehicular traffic: Workers/pedestrians are not endangered by vehicles, mobile equipment or the movement of materials at the workplace.
  • Racking/storage systems: Mobile equipment is used safely around racking and that racking is properly used and maintained.
  • Lifting devices: Lifting equipment is regularly inspected and maintained and load limits are not exceeded.
  • Ladder use: Ladders are used safely and are maintained.
  • Manual material handling: Materials are handled and stored in a manner that will not endanger a worker.

Inspectors took suitable action if violations were found under the OHSA or its regulations. This included:

  • writing orders to employers, supervisors and workers so they comply with legal requirements
  • issuing stop work orders requiring employers to comply with legal requirements before work could continue
  • help for employers on workplace safety in warehouses was available from Workplace Safety and Prevention Services.

Inspection activity summary

This is a summary of the number of visits to workplaces and orders issued:

  • 960 field visits with 55 support role activities
  • 820 workplaces visited
  • 2,764 orders and requirements issued
  • 2,681 orders issued for violations under the OHSA and its regulations, including 64 stop work orders
  • 83 requirements issued to provide an inspector with workplace information
  • an average of 3.37 orders and requirements issued per workplace visited
  • an average of 2.88 orders and requirements issued per visit

Order analysis

During the initiative, the most frequently issued orders under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) involved employers’ failure to:

  • maintain equipment, materials and protective devices in good condition [s. 25(1)(b)] — 301 orders or 10.9% of the total orders and requirements issued
  • post a copy of the OHSA in the workplace [s. 25(2)(i)] — 108 orders or 3.9%
  • take every precaution reasonable to protect workers’ health and safety [s. 25(2)(h)] — 103 orders or 3.7%
  • prepare a health and safety policy for the workplace [s. 25(2)(j)] — 81 orders or 2.9%

The most frequently issued orders under Regulation 851: Industrial Establishments were for employers’ failure to:

  • keep floors or other surfaces safe [s. 11] — 170 orders or 6.2% of the total orders and requirements issued
  • ensure materials are safely transported, placed and stored [s. 45 (b)] — 168 orders or 6.1%
  • thoroughly examine a lifting device [s. 51(1)(b)] — 153 orders or 5.5%
  • secure a load to prevent tipping or falling [s. 46] — 121 orders or 4.4%

The most frequently issued orders under O. Reg. 297/13: Occupational Health and Safety Awareness and Training were for employers’ failure to:

  • provide worker training [s. 1(1)] — 93 orders or 3.4% of the total orders and requirements issued
  • provide supervisor training [s. 2(1)] — 78 orders or 2.8%

Sector analysis

Inspectors visited workplaces in various sectors.

The top 10 sectors, ranked by orders and requirements issued
SectorOrders and requirements issuedStop work orders issuedWorkplaces visitedField visitsSupport role activities
Industrial services1761141471
Vehicle sales and service148327312
Food, beverage and tobacco73444492
Wood and metal fabrication68126292
Chemical, rubber and plastics62015182
Textiles, printing590791


During the initiative:

  • 43% of all orders and requirements were issued to workplaces in the retail sector. A high percentage of orders and requirements were also issued to workplaces in the wholesalers (25%), industrial services (6%) and vehicle sales and service (5%) sectors
  • 19.4% of all orders and requirements were issued for material handling violations [Reg. 851, s. 45–66]
  • an average of 2.79 orders were issued per field visit

Conclusion and next steps

Continued effort is needed to improve the health and safety of workers who work in warehouses and big box retail.

During routine inspections of workplaces in Ontario, the ministry will continue to focus on hazards which may be sources of injury and illness to workers. During visits, inspectors will continue to check that employers are ensuring:

  • floors and other surfaces are clear of obstructions and are not slippery
  • mobile equipment is used safely around racking and pedestrians
  • racking is used and maintained properly
  • materials are stored and handled in a way that will not endanger a worker
  • workers use ladders properly and good ergonomic practices are in place
  • workers are aware of workplace hazards and are trained on measures and procedures to work safely

The ministry will continue to raise awareness of these hazards.

A key to workplace health and safety in Ontario is the workplace’s internal responsibility system (IRS).

One of the primary purposes of the OHSA is to facilitate a strong IRS in the workplace. To this end, the OHSA lays out the legally required duties of all workplace parties — employers, supervisors, workers, constructors and workplace owners. Workplace parties' compliance with their duties is essential to the establishment of a strong IRS in the workplace. This is because everyone — including employers, supervisors, workers, health and safety associations and the government — has a key role to play in taking responsibility for health and safety in the workplace. This is essential to preventing injuries and deaths on the job.

Workplace parties are encouraged to work together to identify and control hazards in their workplace.

Help for employers

Please contact our health and safety partners for more information on workplace safety.