After two years of extensive consultation with the industry, the province has released the Construction Health and Safety Action Plan with construction stakeholders applauding its launch.
Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn announced the new action plan May 11 at the construction site for the new courthouse in Toronto. The plan was created with input from construction employers, workers, associations and other industry stakeholders and contains 16 recommendations that aim to strengthen the prevention of work-related injury and illness on sites across Ontario.
"We don’t want to see any more occupational illness and we don’t want to see anymore injuries or deaths," Flynn said. "We’ve reduced the number of incidents by about 50 per cent, so we’re on that road to hopefully someday being able to see in the construction industry what we saw in the mining industry in Ontario last year where we didn’t have a single fatality."
According to Frame, it is a "comprehensive plan that recognizes the challenges and addresses them."
"It incorporates health and safety initiatives that the OGCA has been involved in, including developing an accreditation program that recognizes employers for going beyond compliance and supporting the creation of a culture of health and safety through our engagement with Rob Ellis and the League of Champions," said Frame.
Minister of Labour
One of the recommendations in the report includes creating, planning and supporting ongoing multimedia awareness campaigns to promote the importance of health and safety to stakeholders and consumers. Another recommendation is that the Ministry of Labour (MOL) work with partners to develop resource material on high priority hazards to help small- and medium-sized businesses interpret existing legislative and regulatory requirements. This also includes guidance materials when regulatory changes are made to help the sector in complying with new requirements.
"The challenge going forward will be to communicate these recommendations to our members and to see if we can get them moving towards strengthening their health and safety programs and bringing a culture of health and safety to life on their worksites," said Ian Cunningham, president of the Council of Ontario Construction Associations (COCA), adding the review was thorough and reflected the comments provided by COCA during the process.
The report also includes recommendations to develop stronger partnerships with the Ontario education system to reach students before they enter the workforce. Along the same line, another recommendation suggests working with the Ontario College of Trades to identify, review and enhance health and safety content of apprenticeship training standards.
"There is a lot of focus on educating the young people which is something that COCA and many other stakeholders advocated," said Cunningham. "The ministry always said to us, ‘there is already lots of health and safety education embedded in the curriculum,’ but I think they’re going to redouble their efforts and make sure that health and safety has a higher profile in schools."
It was also recommended that the MOL explore opportunities to work with the Ministry of the Attorney General to expand the application of tickets to a broader range of contraventions and seek an increase in current fine amounts.
"Contractors, employers and employees and organized labour came to the conclusion in the report that in some cases the fine or the penalty was not a sufficient consequence for the action," Flynn said. "You can never replace a life, obviously, and sometimes injuries don’t heal. I think there was a general feeling amongst the group that we need to see increased consequences to those people that think somehow the law doesn’t apply to them. So we’re prepared to act on that based on the advice in the report."
In terms of accreditation, the recommendations also state that the chief prevention officer work with stakeholders to create incentives that motivate health and safety beyond minimum compliance.
"What we would like to see, and what the report would like to see, is an accreditation standard in place that gives some sort of recognition to those companies that are doing a good job, to make them the example that other companies would like to follow," said Flynn. "I think any business would be foolhardy to ignore the fact that it’s no coincidence that the safest companies and the healthiest companies are also the most profitable companies and the most productive companies."
Although the MOL is known for enforcement, it does focus on prevention as well, Flynn added.
"If some company is just not going to follow the rules, we will come down as hard and as heavy as we can on them if they are putting people’s lives or bodies at risk," said Flynn. "But what we would really like to see in the first place is people complying with these laws because they know it’s the right thing for them to do for themselves."