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Occupational Health & Safety Legislative Gap Analysis of the Food Processing Sector in Ontario, Canada

Bakery workers

The food processing industry in Ontario has higher lost-time injury rates than other industries. Given the economic and human costs associated with poor workplace safety, it is imperative that Ontario strive to improve its OHS performance. The purpose of this pilot study was to determine the level of compliance of the food processing sector with the relevant OHS legislation as well as produce a sector specific priority list of OHS concerns.

A survey was completed by 127 OHS managers and coordinators to collect data using a cross sectional design from a variety of food processing facilities. Survey analysis showed that many organizations do not give OHS the priority it deserves.  Overall, the top three OHS concerns indicated by all respondents were: 1) manual material handling; 2) slips, trips and falls; and 3) energized equipment. Most prevalent issues are with manual material handling. Given that manual material handling was the most commonly reported concern in this study, 23% of respondents did not have an ergonomics policy for their organization.

Additionally, researchers were able to indicate key concerns in relation to the Occupational Health and Safety Act:

  • OHS training for supervisors was not provided in 15% of the organizations. Under the Ontario OHS Act, every supervisor, defined as "a person who has charge of a workplace or authority over a worker," is required to have, as a minimum OHS awareness training (Ontario Ministry of Labor, 2016b).
  • Deficiencies to OHS training in general, evidence that this sector needs to make improvements with respect to the provision of OHS training to the workforce.  According to the OHS legislation, employers are expected to train workers on hazards in the workplace as well as the means to protect their health and well-being when working with these hazards (Ontario Ministry of Labor, 2016b)
  • Hazards known to be related to a job and/or task have not been formally identifies by their organization (36% of respondents). Important because without identification, loss preventions efforts are moot. This is an example of noncompliance in a key area which is clearly outlined in the Ontario OHS Act as a shared responsibility between the employer, supervisor and the joint health and safety committee.
  • Most organizations have existing policies associated with safety issues, however lacking policies regarding occupational hygiene matters and designated substances. In Ontario, any workplace that produces, handles or stores one or more of the 11 designated substances is mandated to comply with the Designated Substances Regulation (Ontario Ministry of Labor, 2012b) in addition to the other regulations under the OHS Act.
  • Respondents had a concern that management is not responding to reported deficiencies from inspections in a timely manner. This impacts the safety culture of the organization and its timely actions related to OHS issues.

Since current claim numbers are relatively high in this sector it is important to consider the where food processing facilities are lacking with respect to OHS legislation. This pilot study found key areas of concern (manual material handling leading) which can be used to start a discussion to improve OHS performance in food processing facilities across Ontario, Canada. It is evident that this sector needs to make improvements to OHS training for the workforce, including the recognition of the role supervisors perform with respect to workplace health and safety. Increasing appropriate and timely actions related to OHS issues can reflect on the safety culture of the organization. Further research is suggested to examine the role of joint health and safety committees regarding OHS performance within the food processing sector.

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