Ministry of Labour blitz: vulnerable workers and awareness training are the focus

Apr 03, 2014

Young retail workerFrom May to August, Ministry of Labour inspectors will be conducting health and safety blitzes of workplaces in sectors that employ new, young and temporary workers. Summer is a peak hiring period for these workers, and any worker is three times more likely to be injured on the job during the first month than at any other time.

This blitz is just the first in a series that will take place in 2014/15. For a full list of inspection initiatives involving Ontario's manufacturing and services sectors, go the Ministry of Labour web site.

Expect retail outlets, restaurants, tourism, hospitality and recreational facilities, and manufacturing operations to be high on inspectors' lists. But all employers take note: inspectors will be checking on vulnerable worker safety in every workplace they visit, not just priority sectors.

Based on past blitzes, inspectors issue an average of three to four work orders to every workplace they visit. During the 1,813 visits conducted last year in manufacturing and service sector workplaces, inspectors issued 6,915 orders. Among these were 133 stop work orders that could shut production down for hours or days.

Targeting multiple age groups

Young workers (14-24 years) are a prime concern for the ministry because statistics show they are at particular risk. However, other age groups are increasingly a concern.

New workers include young workers as well as those aged 25 and older who are new to a job, have been reassigned, or are returning after a leave or retirement. "New older workers are equally vulnerable as new young workers," says Vivien Wharton-Szatan, acting provincial coordinator of the ministry's Industrial Health and Safety Program. "We've seen an increase in lost-time claims in groupings of workers between the ages of 25-44 and 45-54." She attributes this in part to a growing proportion of older workers in the workforce.

What inspectors will be looking for

Inspectors will focus less on what workers are doing and more on processes in place to protect them. For instance, says Wharton-Szatan, "we want to make sure they have adequate supervision and training." This includes compliance with new health and safety awareness training requirements, which come into force on July 1.

Wharton-Szatan told WSPS Network News that inspectors will be checking to see if employers are aware of the requirements and taking steps to ensure workers have taken the awareness training or an equivalent. The training helps employers meet existing health and safety obligations, rather than imposing new obligations.

Inspectors may also check workplace compliance involving

Keeping vulnerable workers safe and productive

"Although new, young and temporary workers share some characteristics - they are all vulnerable - approaches to minimize risk can vary," says WSPS consultant Ana Reyes. "Each group has unique challenges that have to be considered." Follow these steps to help keep vulnerable workers safe and healthy from start to end of their shift.

  • Before hiring, assess risks related to jobs you're hiring for. Can you implement better controls?
  • Review and update orientation training to ensure new workers know how to work safely and productively.
  • Take generational and cultural differences into account. "The best way to communicate with and train workers differs from one group to another," says Reyes. "For instance, young workers are more comfortable with technology than older workers, and workers new to Canada may prefer training material in a language other than English." Understanding which methods and languages will be most effective with each group will help you communicate effectively.
  • Create a buddy system so that new hires have an experienced worker who can coach them and answer questions. This is particularly helpful for workers new to Canada. Adjusting to a new job may just be one step in adjusting to a new life.
  • Observe workers as they perform tasks. Coach, retrain, and offer positive reinforcement, especially when workers ask about safety.
  • Support your supervisors. Make sure they know the laws, regulations and hazards, and have the training and experience to help all workers follow safety procedures.

Additional reading

How we can help

Check out WSPS's extensive collection of vulnerable worker resources, including orientation training, webinars, pictograms and articles

Watch for sector-specific blitz coverage in upcoming issues of WSPS Network News.