Legislative amendments introduced by Labour Minister Charles Sousa earlier this month bring Ontario one step closer to what he describes as “the first major review and the largest overhaul of Ontario’s occupational health and safety system in 30 years.”
Among the benefits these changes would offer workplaces:
- better access to resources, through greater alignment and coordination of health and safety association activities
- greater leadership and focus in preventing workplace death and injury
- more codes of practice for employers, especially small businesses
- improved opportunities to engage stakeholders and make them aware of system enhancements.
As of March 21, Bill 160, Occupational Health and Safety Statute Law Amendment Act, 2011 has received second reading. The bill empowers the Ministry of Labour to implement 46 wide-reaching recommendations submitted by the Expert Advisory Panel on Occupational Health and Safety in December 2010. Within days of receiving the recommendations, the province committed to implementing them.
Among the most significant recommendations, which appear as amendments in Bill 160, are the following:
- Transfer responsibility for prevention from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) to the minister of labour.
- Appoint a new chief prevention officer responsible for developing a province-wide workplace health and safety strategy that aligns all prevention system partners.
- Transfer oversight of Health & Safety Ontario (comprising Ontario’s four health and safety associations) to the chief prevention officer.
- Establish a new prevention council that will advise the chief prevention officer and the ministry with respect to setting strategic priorities and measuring system progress, and engage worker, employer and other stakeholders in the priority-setting process.
- Assign the minister authority to establish standards for health and safety training.
- Improve worker protection against reprisals for exercising their rights under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
- Expand Ministry of Labour involvement in education and promotion.
Based on the minister’s comments when introducing Bill 160, Ontarians can expect fast action on these amendments. The minister advised the legislature that “the major components of these proposed amendments would, if passed, come into effect on or before April 1, 2012.”
The minister also committed to acting on a longer-term recommendation for more health and safety training, especially for workers in high-risk occupations, and to continuing the stakeholder consultation process begun by the expert advisory panel. The panel received 400 responses and submissions during its consultations, and conducted more than 50 stakeholder meetings in London, Windsor, Ottawa, Sudbury, Thunder Bay and Toronto.
Interim prevention council now in place
To help the province in the short term with its ambitious overhaul of Ontario’s prevention system, Minister of Labour Charles Sousa has appointed an interim prevention council. “The interim council has already hit the ground running,” says acting chair Paavo Kivisto.
“The council was put in place by the minister for up to a year, or until a permanent council is set up. I think the minister’s intent,” continues Kivisto, “was to get a council in place so that the ministry can work with it as it moves forward with implementing the expert advisory panel’s priority recommendations.”
The interim council’s role will be much the same as the permanent council’s. “For instance,” says Kivisto, “we would expect the ministry to table what it proposes to do in front of the council, and the council will provide its input. If the council is satisfied that the proposals reflect the recommendations of the panel, it will formally endorse them.
“I anticipate quite a number of proposals from the ministry,” says Kivisto. “All of the advisory panel’s top priorities are major changes.”
Kivisto expects the permanent council will have at least greater number of members as the interim council, increasing the range of stakeholders represented. “The interim council will be looking for stakeholders who best reflect the spirit and intent of the panel’s recommendations.” The council will also select its own chair, as opposed to having a chair selected by the minister.
Included on the interim panel are
- Joan Eakin, professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health
- Vernon Edwards, health and safety director, Ontario Federation of Labour
- John Macnamara, vice president, Health, Safety and Environment, Hydro One
- Domenic Mattina, vice-president, Sales and Estimating at Mattina Mechanical Ltd.
- Carmine Tiano, director of the WSIB Advocacy and Occupational Services, Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario
Interim chair Paavo Kivisto is a former deputy minister of labour and deputy minister of the environment.
Learn more about the expert advisory panel during a session at Health & Safety Ontario’s Partners in Prevention 2011 Health & Safety Conference and Trade Show, May 17-18, Mississauga