Mandatory training and a province-wide injury prevention strategy are evidence of the Ontario Ministry of Labour’s new oversight powers in workplace health and safety in Canada’s most populated province.
A soon-to-be filed directive stipulates that by January 1, 2014 Ontario employers must ensure that employees in workplaces covered by Canada’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) receive compulsory training in health and safety awareness. Certified trainers will provide the instruction. Supervisor and employee training materials are available for download now at the Ministry of Labour website.
The objective of the injury prevention strategy – currently a work-in-progress – is to develop and shape health and safety plans and programs that better address the needs of employees, especially those considered “vulnerable workers”. Temporary and part-time workers and independent contractors – one-third of employed Canadians – are in this category. Their non-standard employment status often translates to less protection in the workplace and, should they become injured, to increased likelihood for falling through the cracks.
While enforcement of OHS has always been under the auspices of the Ministry of Labour, injury prevention was supervised by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), whose chief responsibility is oversight of workers’ compensation. Last year, however, injury prevention oversight was shifted to the Ministry. This consolidation is intended to reduce delays between safety inspections and mandated safety improvements. In the past, this lag made it easier for unscrupulous employers to skirt classification requirements, duck insurance commitments and pay below-standard wages. It may also have been a factor in the deaths of four immigrant laborers in 2010 who died when a swing stage (suspended scaffold) collapsed (see LIFELINES Christmas Eve Tragedy Sparks Outcry in Ontario). The tragedy contributed to re-examination of Ontario’s safety and immigration laws and the changes that are now coming into play in administration and enforcement of workplace health and safety.
[Janet Lubman Rathner]