On December 10, 2010, the Expert Advisory Panel on Occupational Health and Safety submitted its report to the Ontario government. The report contains several significant recommendations that will help improve workplace health and safety. The panel believes that the implementation of these recommendations would usher in a new era of collaboration in reducing the number of workers who become injured, ill or are killed because of their work. Many of these recommendations would increase the integration of occupational health and safety into business decision making processes which is seen as contributing to a culture that constantly reinforces health and safety in the workplace.
The panel, chaired by Tony Dean, a professor at the School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Toronto, was created early in 2010 to conduct a review of Ontario’s occupational health and safety (OHS) system. The panel was comprised of health and safety experts representing labour and employers, together with specialist academics.
The move came after four men employed by Metron Construction were killed when they fell from a swing stage scaffold 13 storeys above ground at an apartment complex in Toronto in December 2009. Metron and three employees were charged with criminal negligence causing bodily harm and four counts of criminal negligence causing death. The Ministry of Labour also laid 30 OHS charges against Metron, 16 against a director of the company and 8 against a supervisor. For more information, read this previous First Reference Talks blog post.
The panel’s proposals call for:
- A new prevention organization — the Ministry of Labour should assume responsibility for the co-ordination of prevention program delivery. This is currently the responsibility of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and other partners. The new organization would be headed by a Chief Prevention Executive, and would feature a multi-stakeholder Prevention Council; each would have specific powers explicitly defined in the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The Chief Prevention Officer would report to the Minister of Labour, to co-ordinate and align prevention system strategies, priorities and programs, and oversee Ontario’s Health and Safety Associations. The officer will report annually to the minister on the state of the system and work collaboratively with all parts of the ministry as well as with the Prevention Council to redesign injury prevention systems and integrate them with the ministry’s enforcement mandate.
- The new prevention organization will be responsible for ensuring effective and efficient development and delivery of occupational health and safety training standards that would apply to training required by the Occupational Health and Safety Act and regulations.
- The Ministry of Labour should also create a mandatory requirement for training of health and safety representatives and require mandatory health and safety awareness training for all workers. Rigorous training requirements that set a minimum standard for high-risk activities such as working at heights in the construction industry, with tougher penalties where standards for training, supervision and the provision and use of safety equipment are not followed.
- Better methods of gathering and sharing information so that everyone involved in health and safety can better track the performance of workplaces and sectors and better identify current and emerging risk factors such as those in the underground economy. An important first step would be the development of a broadly accepted set of performance metrics. The Ministry of Labour should target workplaces and sectors operating in the underground economy for proactive inspections after normal working hours.
- Providing recognition and incentives for high-performing employers and sharing best practices with other workplaces to bring them up to an appropriate level of health and safety. There is a particular focus on the characteristics and needs of smaller employers.
- Increasing the involvement of the workplace parties in making decisions about OHS system priorities, and earlier involvement in other decisions that affect them, such as the development of regulations.
- Providing training to improve foundational knowledge on the rights and responsibilities of workers (existing and entry-level) and supervisors.
- The Ministry of Labour and new prevention organization should develop mandatory entry-level training for construction workers as a priority and consult with stakeholders to determine other sectors that should be subject to mandatory training for workers.
- The Ministry of Labour should work with the new prevention organization to create a health and safety poster that explains the key rights and responsibilities of the workplace parties, including how to obtain additional health and safety information and how to contact a Ministry of Labour inspector. It should be mandatory to post this in the workplace.
- Better approaches to reaching and protecting the most vulnerable workers in our economy who sometimes face challenges in understanding and exercising their rights and responsibilities. The Ministry of Labour should carry out more proactive inspections and periodic enforcement campaigns at workplaces and in sectors where vulnerable workers are concentrated.
- More collaboration and integration between agencies delivering health and safety services and a more flexible range of enforcement tools for health and safety inspectors.
- Extending business owner and CEO leadership in building a culture of health and safety and worker involvement. This includes leadership in the implementation of an effective health and safety management system and the support for the effective operation of Joint Health and Safety Committees and Health and Safety Representatives, along with better training for these representatives. For example, The Occupational Health and Safety Act should be amended to allow a co-chair of the Joint Health and Safety Committee to submit a written recommendation to the employer if an issue is unresolved following repeated attempts to reach consensus.
- The Ministry of Labour should update the Guide to the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Guide for Joint Health and Safety Committees and Representatives in the Workplace to address changes in the workplace and workplace relationships with particular emphasis on a small business lens, covering the following issues: roles and responsibilities of workplace parties; temporary employment agencies; and functions of JHSC and Health and Safety Representative.
- Ensuring better accountability for spending and results. This will result in better performance measurement and transparent reporting on progress in priority areas.
- The Ministry of Labour should review the offences for which tickets can be used for enforcement, and request that the Attorney General review and revise the existing set fines for Occupational Health and Safety Act offences.
- The Ministry of Labour should enhance the current legislative provisions for penalties by adding administrative monetary penalties as an enforcement tool, and should develop policies and procedures that govern their use.
- 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 Minister of Labour should create a small business Section 21 committee and appoint members that can represent the needs and interests of employers and workers in small businesses. A number of Section 21 committees currently exist in various sectors and are generally composed of labour and employer members. Their activities include preparing guidance material, identifying emerging health and safety issues, and advising on the development of regulation and enforcement strategies. All these activities would appear relevant for a small business advisory committee. Special effort will be needed to bring into this forum the voice of unrepresented workers employed in small business.
- 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. The Ministry of Education should make high school graduation dependent upon demonstration of knowledge of occupational health and safety.
The panel recommends that an implementation team and an interim Prevention Council be established as soon as possible to work closely with labour and employer stakeholders to implement these as priorities over the next 12 months.
The Ministry of Labour has already responded and stated that a new prevention organization will be created and a Chief Prevention Officer hired. Although the report presented the steps the government should take to implement the recommendations, the province stated they will determine how best to implement the panel’s remaining recommendations.
The day after the report was tabled, Premier Dalton McGuinty announced that Charles Sousa is the new Minister of Labour following the resignation from cabinet of Peter Fonseca.
Charles will continue to put Ontario workers and their families first, particularly as we implement the workplace safety recommendations in the Tony Dean Expert Panel. I know Charles will continue to bring together our workers and businesses to uphold employment standards and improve the health and safety of our workplaces.
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Managing Editor