Bill 160 paves way for changes to health and safety system

Jun 29, 2011

Bill 160 paves way for changes to health and safety systemOver the next year, the province will be implementing changes to Ontario’s occupational health and safety system based on recommendations from the Expert Advisory Panel on Occupational Health and Safety.

Expert Advisory Panel

In early January 2010, the Minister of Labour struck an Expert Advisory Panel on Occupational Health and Safety, led by former senior Ontario public servant Tony Dean. Over the course of its work, the panel asked a wide variety of stakeholders for their views on how to improve the prevention system. The panel absorbed the advice and made substantial recommendations for improving both the structure of the system and its work.

Among other things, the panel recommended

  • a new prevention organization should be created within the Ministry of Labour
  • the new prevention organization that would be headed by a Chief Prevention Officer and would feature a multi-stakeholder Prevention Council
  • a strong emphasis on training, including mandatory awareness training for workers, supervisors, and health and safety representatives
  • a priority on implementing mandatory entry-level training for construction workers
  • a special focus on high-risk work, vulnerable workers, and small business
  • new efforts to combat the underground economy
  • tougher penalties for willful violators.

Bill 160

To implement the recommendations, certain laws had to be amended. The government moved quickly to draft Bill 160, which was introduced to provincial parliament in March. The bill received Royal Assent on June 1. Now that the bill is law, various elements will come into force at different times over the coming year.

Work already underway

A priority recommendation in the Expert Advisory Panel's report is the creation of an Interim Prevention Council (IPC) to advise the Minister on implementing the priority recommendations. On February 14, 2011, the Minister announced the appointment of a multi-stakeholder Interim Prevention Council (IPC). Until recently the IPC has been advising the Minister of Labour on Bill 160 and recruitment of the Chief Prevention Officer (CPO). The council's efforts will now shift to advising on the functioning of a permanent Prevention Council and working with the ministry regarding the implementation of the expert panel's 11 priority recommendations. Many of the recommendations will be phased in over time to allow for further consultation on detailed proposals. This will also ensure that workers, unions and employers have an opportunity to become familiar with – and to prepare for – their new duties and responsibilities.

Recruitment for a CPO is currently underway, with the hope of appointing a candidate this summer. The CPO will have responsibility for developing a provincial occupational health and safety strategy for the prevention system.

Working groups to address a number of the priority recommendations identified in the expert panel’s report have been established. These include:

  • mandatory awareness training for all workers and supervisors
  • development of a process to expedite the resolution of reprisal complaints under section 50 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Working groups to address priority recommendations in the areas of mandatory entry-level training for construction workers and mandatory fall-protection training for those who work at heights will be established in the future.

It is expected that a permanent multi-stakeholder prevention council will be established in early 2012. Membership will comprise equal numbers of labour and employer representatives, and also provide for representation from non-unionized workers, the WSIB, and experts in occupational health and safety.

The permanent council will advise on the implementation of the remaining recommendations. Many of them will be phased in over time to allow for further consultation.

One system change will be that prevention responsibilities will move from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board to the Ministry of Labour. This shift will formally take place in April 2012. It will mean that responsibility for Ontario’s four health and safety associations – and Health & Safety Ontario – will reside with the ministry.

What the changes mean for you

The coming changes have clear benefits for Ontario employers and workers. Here are just a few of them:

  • an enhanced focus on health and safety training. Better trained workers mean safer workers, and safer workplaces
  • a system that places special attention on what’s most important: vulnerable workers as well as high-risk sectors and activities
  • support to small businesses
  • monetary and non-monetary incentives to motivate superior health-and-safety performance.
  • a stronger focus on uprooting the underground economy to promote a level playing field for all businesses
  • clarity concerning the roles of the various organizations working for occupational health and safety.

Stay tuned for more information and updates.