The Expert Advisory Panel on Occupational Health and Safety was created in 2010, in order to conduct an extensive and comprehensive review of Ontario’s occupational health and safety (OHS) system and to recommend structural, operational and policy improvements to that system.
Since its inception, the Expert Advisory Panel has released annual reports to the Ontario Minister of Labour. Following a year-long review, this year’s Panel, which was led by George Gritziotis, Chief Prevention Officer, has now released its report for 2013-2014.
The report highlights accomplishments made by parties across the system, including the Ministry of Labour, health and safety associations, and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).
As of March 31st, 2014, 18 of the 46 recommendations originally proposed by the Expert Advisory Panel in 2010 had been completed or were ongoing. Of the highest priority recommendations, the following have been completed:
- the creation of the Prevention Office (being a Chief Prevention Officer and a multi-stakeholder Prevention Council);
- the mandatory posting of a health and safety awareness posters in all Ontario workplaces;
- the expedition of the resolution of reprisal complaints under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, as well as increased access to information and support for complainants;
- the provision of mandatory, online health and safety training for all supervisors; and
- the establishment of a vulnerable worker task group and a small business task group.
In addition, the Panel reports the entire OHS system is now focusing on addressing the hazards that result in the most occupational injuries, illnesses and fatalities.
The Panel’s report states that, from 2003 to 2013, 15 percent of all allowed traumatic workplace fatality claims arose due to falls to a lower level. In response, the Ministry of Labour has developed an integrated action plan to prevent falls from heights. Part of this plan includes the release of a proposed Working at Heights Training Program Standard, which contains rigorous standards for workers who work in this high-risk field. The Ministry is currently conducting consultations regarding the Program, as well as a proposed regulation that would make the Program mandatory in the construction sector.
The Panel’s annual report also states that, from 2011 to 2013, the WSIB reported 48 allowed traumatic and occupational disease fatality claims from Schedule 1 mining employers while, during the same period, the Ministry of Labour recorded 80 critical injuries in underground mines. The Ministry, along with mining stakeholders and an industry advisory group, has therefore undertaken a comprehensive review of emerging occupational health and safety issues that relate to mining. Following 12 public consultations, the receipt of over 60 written submissions, and the creation of a number of working groups, a final report is expected in early 2015.
Employers need to stay apprised of all occupational health and safety requirements, including those currently in place, as well as those likely to become law in the near future. Given the emphasis placed on occupational health and safety across the entire OHS system, employers must expect to be subject to harsh penalties for any instances of non-compliance.