Ontario report calls for overhaul of OHS

Mandatory training for construction workers, new prevention organization top the list
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/14/2011

Enhanced safety training for every construction worker and a prevention organization reporting directly to the province’s Ministry of Labour are just two of the 46 recommendations in a report calling for improvements to Ontario’s occupational health and safety system.

The report by the Expert Advisory Panel on Occupational Health and Safety is the result of an investigation launched after four construction workers fell to their death in Toronto in December 2009.

The 10-person panel was headed by Tony Dean, Ontario’s former cabinet secretary and a professor at the School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Toronto. The panel sought input from a variety of workers, employers, unions, professional organizations, special interest groups and individuals.

If the recommendations are implemented, “every construction worker will receive entry-level training on construction site safety and there will be rigorous training standards for workers who work at heights and on other high-risk activities,” Dean wrote in a letter to outgoing Minister of Labour Peter Fonseca, who has now been replaced by Charles Sousa.

“I think the vast majority of construction employers embrace workplace safety,” said Ian Cunningham, president of the Toronto-based Council of Ontario Construction Associations (COCA), which represents 30 construction associations with 10,000 contractors as members. “Dean was very strategic in his thinking and what he’s recommending is evidence-based, more aggressive enforcement targeted to companies that appear to be willful non-compliers.”

Mandatory training of this nature is something both employers and workers have long supported, said Cunningham. This was one of the recommendations included in COCA’s submission to Dean’s expert panel in June and it will mean significant change in the industry.

“We will have to come to grips with what it looks like and what are the standards, learning outcomes and curriculum and who is going to deliver it,” said Cunningham. “Let’s hope it comes into effect quickly and in a way where it’s not onerous and expensive for workers and employers.”

The report also called for a renewed prevention organization with focused leadership “heading a more integrated, efficient and accountable system,” said Dean. The organization would be housed in the Ministry of Labour and a chief prevention executive would report directly to the minister. One of its key functions would be to provide an annual report on Ontario’s occupational health and safety system that would be available to the public.

The ministry has embraced this recommendation and is recruiting a chief prevention officer. It is also establishing a transition team, consisting of representatives from the ministry, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and health and safety associations, to move the implementation forward until the new organization and chief prevention office are in place.

“Dean has tied a loosely connected bunch of organizations together into a system that can take advantage of those things systems benefit from, like accountability, strategic planning and expected outcomes,” said Cunningham.

Another recommendation of the report is to issue tougher penalties for those who place workers at risk of death or serious injury. This would not only include increased fines but would also consider administrative monetary penalties (AMPs) — which are used in Nova Scotia and British Columbia — where offences are prescribed by regulation with fixed fine amounts set as penalties. AMPs are supported by labour stakeholders and Ministry of Labour inspectors as some existing ticket penalties do not sufficiently deter non-compliance, according to the report.

Other “creative sentencing” options were also recommended such as community service, financial contributions to public education in occupational health and safety or a points system similar to the one used with driving infractions.

“We need to get to that point in Ontario where owners believe that injuring people could stop their business,” said Patrick Dillon, a business manager at the Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario, based in Toronto, which represents 150,000 construction workers. “So raising fines is a good thing but there has to be more to it.”

Better methods of gathering and sharing information in health and safety were also recommended by the panel. Stakeholders found it difficult to locate prevention information and found there was often inconsistent and unorganized overlap among resources, according to the report. As a solution, the panel recommended the prevention office be in charge of health and safety knowledge management to provide consistent, standardized and high-quality information.

The panel called for a mandatory health and safety poster in every workplace explaining the right and responsibilities of workplace parties, including how to obtain additional health and safety information and how to contact a Ministry of Labour inspector. This would ensure “every Ontario worker and supervisor will receive mandatory information about workplace rights and responsibilities before they start their job,” said Dean.

While it will improve getting information out to stakeholders, there’s lots more work that has to be done, said Dillon.

“We need to use technology and new ways of communicating to get the message out that workers have the right to refuse unsafe work.”

The panel made an effort to find the “best mix of high-value opportunities for change” that would ultimately support a strong organizational culture and commitment to health and safety in workplaces, said the report.

“These are good recommendations, if we’re serious about driving prevention,” said Dillon. “But the devil is going to be in the details of how we put all this in place.”

The Dean report

Other key recommendations

• The new prevention organization should work with Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board to develop appropriate financial incentives that reward employers based on their health and safety performance.

• The Ministry of Labour should carry out more proactive inspections and periodic enforcement campaigns at workplaces and in sectors where vulnerable workers are concentrated.

• The Ministry of Labour should develop regulations in consultation with stakeholders in the farming community to control the key hazards associated with farm work.

• The occupational health and safety system should intensify support for small business compliance through the creation of focused and integrated programs with dedicated resources.

• The Ministry of Education should work with school boards, private schools and teacher organizations to expand the health and safety content of primary and secondary school curricula and update teacher resource material to allow them to effectively teach these curricula.

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