With more than 100 submissions in hand from a consultation process, the newly reappointed Ontario Chief Prevention Officer, George Gritziotis, is expected to table recommendations concerning mandatory training protocol on construction sites by February.
The changes flow from the Advisory Panel on Occupational Health and Safety, chaired by Tony Dean which reported back in 2010 with 46 recommendations to improve workplace safety, including the appointment of a Chief Prevention Officer.
The panel was appointed after the 2009 Christmas Eve swing stage collapse in Toronto which killed four men and seriously injured a fifth.
The mandatory training protocol addresses recommendation 16 in Dean’s report: "The Ministry of Labour and new prevention organization should develop mandatory entry-level training for construction workers as a priority and consult with stakeholders to determine other sectors that should be subject to mandatory training for workers."
Ontario’s construction industry has higher rates of workplace injuries and fatalities compared to other sectors, government data reveals.
In 2013, the construction sector accounted for seven per cent of employment in Ontario but 26 per cent of its workplace fatalities.
The proposal at hand would make employers ensure that all workers performing work to which the Construction Projects Regulation (O. Reg. 213/91) applies, complete construction hazard awareness training.
Public consultations closed on Aug.12, 2016 and the report is expected in February.
However, while there’s agreement in the sector as to the need for training, the concern is around what form the training will take and who will have to pay for it and, most of all, who will have to undergo the training and how it will be tracked.
The Council of Ontario Construction Associations (COCA)’s executive director Ian Cunningham says his association’s concerns revolve around how the effectiveness of any training program will be measured.
"Ontario’s mandatory entry level training for construction workers must be consistent with those in other jurisdictions and to the extent possible should be transferrable from province to province to allow for labour mobility. Why online? Because it is 2016," COCA asserts in its submission.
It’s not enough just to order mandatory training and then assume the job is complete, COCA says.
It urged a "reverse engineering" approach which is to determine the desired outcome and then work back to create the process.
The thinking thus far, says Cunningham, goes much further than the Dean report and ignores simple accessible delivery mechanisms like using online training.
"I’ve been involved in a number of discussions on this subject with officials from the Ministry of Labour," he tells the Daily Commercial News.
"I think the Ministry has been confounded by the feedback which was ‘all over the map’ and provided no clear direction."
He said there’s some general agreement that the training should be for new entrants only and not for experienced workers.
"We know that new workers are six times more likely to be injured when they start in construction," Cunningham said.
"And that’s obviously because they don’t have the experience. There’s not a lot of point in going back and requiring all 450,000 construction workers in Ontario to have the new training."
The cost alone would be massive, as COCA points out in its submission.
As currently proposed, construction workers would be paid for a full eight-hour day to take the 6.5-hour training course. At the average rate of $50 per hour, the total cost to the industry would be $180 million. Where is this money supposed to come from?
"We’re optimistic that there will be some more consultation," he says.
"Really, the delivery should be by e-learning with a three-year phase in."
Who pays is another issue.
Requiring employers to pay for all workers is a burden but if it was only applied to new workers it would be more manageable.
Cunningham also notes construction trade unions have robust training plans in place and their members all carry union cards which they need to get on a union job site.
The Ontario College of Trades also has records of individual tradesmen so it should be easy to get access to that data or to issue a card to each worker, explained Cunningham. The data on the card would confirm which levels of trade skills they have and their safety certifications, working at heights, for example, or basic site safety.
"The government has data on fishing licenses, snowmobile licenses, driver’s licences," he says.
"They track all this information. Employers should not be burdened with this. A lot of guys sell cards off the back of trucks so there has to be some way of ensuring it."
He also says unions and employers have always worked together on safety.
"There’s no partisanship here," he says.
"This is not a wage cost issue or anything like that. It’s about everyone, 100 per cent of workers, getting home safely after a day of working."