Bill 160: How will changes affect you?
Bill 160 shifts the responsibility for injury and illness prevention activities from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) to the Ministry of Labour. This will have the Ministry of Labour carry out health and safety inspections at Ontario workplaces, as well as oversee the delivery of workplace injury and illness prevention services by Ontario’s health and safety associations. I had a chance to speak with the Ministry of Labour’s John Vander Doelen, director of the Occupational Health and Safety System Review Project Secretariat, about how this shift will impact the readers of Manufacturing AUTOMATION (MA).
MA: How will this approach work? Will there be a department responsible for prevention and another for inspections?
JV: Yes, as you’ve described, it would be a division within the Ministry that would be responsible for prevention, led by a chief prevention officer, as described in Bill 160. Many of the functions of the chief prevention officer would relate to the support that the division would have to provide, in terms of the financial oversight of the health and safety associations…And Bill 160 describes specific responsibilities for the chief prevention officer and the prevention organization related to that. There are also responsibilities for setting training standards, and the expert panel report identified a few areas that are first areas of focus for training standards in terms of high risk work, such as fall protection and entry-level training requirements for workers working in construction. So the prevention organization will have to look at creating a framework for improved quality assurance related to training, particularly for high hazard or high risk training. There’s also responsibilities for the oversight of health and safety research that currently is administered by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. We see a transfer of the funding of research to the chief prevention officer, as Bill 160 describes. Bill 160 sets the framework for a number of other things, such as training for health and safety representatives, as well as some changes to the process for claims and decision making around section 50 reprisals. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, there are provisions in the Act that prevent employers from taking reprisal action against workers who raise health and safety concerns or work in compliance with health and safety requirements of the legislation. And the expert panel report saw a number of those processes as being barriers for workers, and so there are recommendations to make that process easier to navigate.
MA: What impact will this shift in responsibility have on MA readers?
JV: I think that one of the things that readers should expect to see is a closer alignment between the priorities that are the focus of the operations division, which is our enforcement arm, and prevention activities by the safety associations. Not a closer alignment in terms of enforcement, but where our health and safety enforcement staff identify priorities of hazards, that the safety associations and prevention systems would be better aligned with providing support and educational material and services, so that we are all focused on the same priorities.
MA: So there shouldn’t be a concern that this is a conflict of interest?
JV: There [have been] lots of questions related to that, but the expert panel report, and certainly the Ministry, recognizes that there needs to be a clear understanding of the separation of responsibilities. Certainly, the health and safety associations have had to strike that balance in the past. They’ve often been guided by actions or circumstances. So consultants who might be out and see an immediately life-threatening situation and are left with the reaction by the employer that they’re not going to do anything about it, you know, have in the past had to make it clear that something of that nature would have to be followed up. But both the Ministry and the safety associations recognize that if a company is working with a consultant and they’re making progress and they’re on that continuum of things getting better, then the Ministry does not want to jeopardize that relationship [with] “fishing expeditions,” by using information from the health and safety associations.
MA: Should this shift affect employers’ risk assessment and prevention policies?
JV: As the prevention organization works to develop standards or to develop requirements for some new training, their training programs will at least need to be reviewed to make sure that they cover off those requirements. A good example is a recommendation related to awareness for all workers. The expert panel report focused on that workers and front-line supervisors respectively should receive information from their employer regarding basic rights and responsibilities within legislation. Discussions with many employers [tell us] that their health and safety training tends to focus on the hazards or the precautions that workers need to take in the workplace, and maybe doesn’t let them know of some of the key elements of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, for example, around representation from a joint health and safety committee or a health and safety rep, or protections against reprisals for raising health and safety concerns. The expert panel felt quite strongly that workers, as part of their health and safety training, should receive this information…So I think that one of the areas that employers will need to look at is their current health and safety training, and when this requirement for awareness of rights and responsibilities would come into affect, they’ll need to confirm that their training either does that, or be able to use the materials that would be developed by the prevention system for future use that they could integrate into their training.
If you have any questions regarding Bill 160, you can contact John Vander Doelen at John.VanderDoelen@ontario.ca.
This column originally appeared in the November/December 2011 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.