A year ago, four workers died in Ontario on Christmas eve. The tragedy triggered the government to set up an Expert Panel on Occupational Health and Safety. Chaired by the well-respected Tony Dean and supported by representatives from Labour and Employers as well as other academics (including H. Allen Hunt who recently completed a reappraisal of WorkSafeBC’s system), the Panel’s report was released December 16, 2010. You can review the entire report online or download it from the following link: http://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/hs/eap/report/index.php
As widely anticipated, the report recommends bringing all workplace prevention and enforcement activities under one Chief Prevention Executive in the Ministry of Labour. This effectively means the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) will transfer its prevention programs and services to the new body within the Ministry.
There are forty-six recommendations in all. The final one lists the recommendations the Panel believes should be acted upon first:
1. A new prevention organization should be created within the Ministry of Labour. 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. (Recommendation 1)
2. 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. (Recommendation 10)
3. The Ministry of Labour should create a mandatory requirement for training of Health and Safety Representatives. (Recommendation 13)
4. The Ministry of Labour should require mandatory health and safety awareness training for all workers. (Recommendation 14)
5. The Ministry of Labour should require mandatory health and safety awareness training for all supervisors who are responsible for frontline workers. (Recommendation 15)
6. 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. (Recommendation 16)
7. The Ministry of Labour and new prevention organization should develop mandatory fall protection training for workers working at heights as a priority and consult with stakeholders to determine additional high-hazard activities that should be subject to mandatory training for workers. (Recommendation 17)
8. The Minister of Labour should appoint a committee under Section 21 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act to provide advice on matters related to the occupational health and safety of vulnerable workers. (Recommendation 29)
9. The Ministry of Labour and the Ontario Labour Relations Board should work together to develop a process to expedite the resolution of reprisal complaints under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. (Recommendation 33)
10. A worker or employer involved in a reprisal complaint should have access to information and support from an independent, third-party organization, such as the Office of the Worker Adviser or Office of the Employer Adviser.
11. 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. (Recommendation 36)
The Panel reflected a concern over the reliability and validity of data, noting, “This is evident in fatality statistics, where WSIB and MOL figures differ because they relate to different populations of workers, due to differences in legislative coverage. Data on non-fatal lost-time injuries may be even less reliable as an indicator, due to the potential for misrepresentation of the actual incident through claims management.”
This difference in mandate affects more than data. It can impact priorities, policies, and strategies. If the population insured for workers’ compensation is essentially the same population covered by the prevention mandate, common systems make sense. Where there is a substantial difference in the workers’ compensation and prevention mandates, there are likely to be differences in what and how data are counted. This is particularly evident in Ontario where the Occupational Safety and Health law and policy applies to virtually every workplace but WSIB covers only 70% of the employed labour force. This is vastly different from BC where WorkSafeBC covers about 94% of the employed labour force.
The policy implications of these top items will cause all jurisdictions to review their own structures and policies. Fostering increased awareness of worker rights, supervisor responsibility, fall protection and small business should be on everyone’s list. The recommendations, however, are context-specific. What is right for Ontario may or may not have any application outside Ontario. That said, I believe the recommendations of the Ontario expert panel will cause every OH&S focused organization to review its priorities.