Health and safety training will soon be non-negotiable in Ontario workplaces, thanks to a new training requirement from the provincial Ministry of Labour.
The province introduced the on-the-job training requirement in November, and it becomes mandatory on July 1, 2014. All workers and supervisors in the province who are subject to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) will have to complete the training, which takes about one hour.
“This health and safety awareness training is about giving our workplaces the tools and knowledge to make sure our workers are safe in a way that supports our businesses,” said Yasir Naqvi, Ontario minister of labour.
“It forces a dialogue between the business and the worker as to what kind of hazards may exist at that particular workplace, and it really speaks to a culture of prevention, where businesses and workers are proactively working towards building a safe working environment.”
Organizations that already provide similar training may be exempt, as long as the training meets the minimum requirements of the new regulation.
The training is designed to inform supervisors and workers directly about their rights and responsibilities when it comes to creating a culture of safety in the workplace. It includes instruction on rights and duties under the OHSA, the role of joint health and safety committees and representatives, and common workplace hazards and occupational illnesses.
“It really raises the profile of health and safety in workplaces,” said Naqvi. “It really makes sure that that’s the very first conversation an employer and employee are having before starting their work.”
The mandatory training requirement was among key recommendations set forth by Ontario’s Expert Advisory Panel on Occupational Health and Safety, led by Tony Dean. The requirement was developed after extensive consultation with businesses, worker groups and municipalities, and will be as easy and streamlined as possible for employers to implement, said Naqvi.
“The awareness training is completely free,” he said. “The training is one time and can be completed in approximately one hour, and the e-modules allow for training to happen on the company’s and worker’s schedule.”
The training can be completed individually or in groups, using online e-modules or hard copy workbooks. The e-modules can be accessed through the Ministry of Labour website and the workbooks are available from Service Ontario. Once complete, the training never expires and is valid for the remainder of an employee’s career.
“My message to businesses is they should not wait until July of 2014 when that requirement comes into force, but complete the training now,” said Naqvi. “This helps keep workers safe and helps build a stronger economy and a stronger Ontario.”
The Ministry of Labour intends to develop additional employer resources to help organizations comply with the new requirement.
The training is particularly valuable for vulnerable workers who may not be aware of their rights, he said.
“A lot of this training is geared towards vulnerable workers like new workers in our economy, our young workers… we know most health and safety injuries take place (with) young workers and new workers,” he said.
“This gives them the basic foundational information they need in terms of what their rights are, how to identify hazards at a particular workplace, their right to refuse to undertake any unsafe work.”
The training will also be available in eight different languages, so newcomers to Canada can complete the training in their first language.
Right to refuse unsafe work still not widely understood
Completing the training will go a long way when it comes to educating workers about their rights, according to Rob Ellis, president of MySafeWork in Oakville, Ont.
“I find that most Canadians still don’t understand that they have the right to say no to unsafe work, and I find it shocking — after speaking 1,900 times across Canada and the United States in the last 13 years — that most Canadians still fear putting up their hand and reporting unsafe work,” he said.
“So we’ve got some education to do and I think this will be helpful.”
The new regulation is a step in the right direction, said Ellis, whose 18-year-old son David was killed while clearing dough out of a machine at a bakery in Oakville in 1999.
“I represent young workers, new workers, immigrant workers who are the most vulnerable in the Ontario workforce, and I’m absolutely convinced that the Ontario government is headed in the right direction with the training. I’m really, really pleased with it,” he said.
“The Ontario government is leading the way with this training.”
The ease and accessibility of the training will help smaller organizations that may not have an HR department to facilitate safety programs, said Ellis.
“For many years, the governments in all the provinces have had a difficult time in trying to reach small employers. Small employers typically wear many hats during the day and they have many functions and their time schedules are very tight,” he said, adding that, as a result, safety is not always a priority.
But mandatory training will help change that, said Ellis.
“HR directors should be thrilled about this, because our young workers are now going to get educated in small companies and... they’re going to move up to mid-size and large companies, and they’re going to work directly under your HR directors. And everybody’s going to be on the same page with the same vision, and it’s going to be a win-win for everybody.”
OHS leaders welcome mandatory training
The mandatory training is already receiving praise from OHS professionals.
“Mandatory safety training really sends a clear message from the Ministry of Labour in Ontario that it’s very serious about reducing incidents and injuries,” said Ken Read, director of health, safety and environmental services at PowerStream in Vaughan, Ont.
The electrical distribution company, which has more than 500 full-time employees, was recently recognized at the Canada’s Safest Employers Awards, hosted by Canadian Occupational Safety magazine, a sister publication to Canadian HR Reporter. (See www.safestemployers.com.)
Proper training has already been a highly effective tool for the organization and the new mandatory training should be very effective for other employers that take it on, according to Read.
“We’ve seen the benefits of training,” he said, adding that more than 75 per cent of the company’s employees have completed the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB)’s basic certification training.
“It’s been very effective for us, so I think in Ontario it will be very effective.”
The training will be particularly effective for smaller organizations that don’t already have similar training in place, said Read.
“It will reduce their injuries and incidents. The new legislation really is an opportunity for them to improve their health and safety programs and, again, we’ve seen the benefits of training and engaging staff in health and safety, and I’m sure all companies across Ontario, as they roll out this program, are going to see the benefits.”
But the biggest benefit? Mandatory training will help shape a more open safety culture, he said.
“It really does create a platform for discussion, so I think it should be easier for vulnerable workers to communicate their safety concerns and needs.”
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