Ontario’s Chief Prevention Officer Ron Kelusky told Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA) members recently that the province’s occupational health and safety system is in the midst of a renaissance due in part to the efforts of the association during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kelusky, addressing the OGCA during its virtual annual meeting held Oct. 8, outlined a half dozen examples of progress in the system, including restoration of the roles of the government’s Prevention Council and office of the Chief Prevention Officer (CPO) as well as how Ontario was able to implement new COVID-19 health and safety protocols throughout the province’s workplaces thanks in part to the leadership of the OGCA.
He also noted the government is entering a new era of more sophisticated health and safety analysis with a new evidence-based approach to policy development taking hold.
“The minister is very committed to health and safety,” Kelusky said of Ontario Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development Monte McNaughton, who contributed a video offering greetings to the AGM. “It has led to a greater understanding of the role of prevention. To be honest, a year ago we didn’t even know what was going to happen with prevention, and now it is fully funded, all of the funding that was removed is back, the ministry is taking on a whole new perspective.”
Prevention Council no longer on “life support”
The role of the province’s Prevention Council, which was on “life support” in June of last year, is being expanded, Kelusky said.
“The activity of that committee, providing information to the minister, has never been stronger, and we are dealing with issues I could only have dreamt of when I first started. Things like oversight over private training providers, learning outcomes for training programs, so that we just don’t have people building stuff without evidence. All of that is coming.”
Very early on in the pandemic, Kelusky noted, the OGCA led by its director of government relations David Frame decided it was essential to get a grip on the effects of COVID-19 in construction workplaces.
“The OGCA stepped up to the plate with the first templated document, which was an overarching document for construction, and through a series of refinements it became a template for the 200 documents that the minister indicated,” Kelusky said, referring to protocols tailored to the needs of the varied workplaces in the province.
The OGCA also jumped into other pandemic issues such as the need for source control, contact tracing and consistency in reporting, Kelusky said, and former president Clive Thurston showed leadership when it became apparent there was a shortage of PPE in the province.
“You’ve been there. You have demonstrated true leadership as an association, as an organization and as people, which is phenomenal,” Kelusky remarked.
Ministries are working together
It was also during those early days of the pandemic that a distinct transformation in the way provincial ministries worked together on health and safety issues developed, Kelusky said. The ministries previously tended to work in silos, he said.
“It was not uncommon for literally eight ministries to try to solve a problem, whether it was managing PPE, whether it was managing some of the crises early on in agriculture,” he said. “The whole prevention concept has taken on a whole new meaning.”
The Supporting Ontario’s Safe Employers program, launched last year with input from the OGCA, has taken somewhat of a backseat during the pandemic, Kelusky said, but it is now back on track. Led by the Office of the CPO, the program is designed to promote excellence in occupational health and safety in Ontario workplaces and includes new recognition of Certificate of Recognition (COR) certification by the construction sector. There is also alignment with the new Workplace Safety and Insurance Board Health and Safety Excellence Program.
The League of Champions, initially created by the OGCA and still supported by the association in the League’s first year as an independent agency, has had a strong launch, Kelusky said, and he hinted that further government funding could be forthcoming.
OGCA humbled by Kelusky’s comments
OGCA president Giovanni Cautillo said he was grateful for the acknowledgements.
“The OGCA was humbled by the praise bestowed upon us and our entire industry,” commented Cautillo. “Ron has worked diligently with us to ensure that the ICI sector continues to benefit by investing in health and safety. This pandemic has demonstrated the need for health and safety to be the central focus of all businesses that hope to navigate COVID-19 successfully.”
Meanwhile, Kelusky suggested, the expansion of the Ministry of Labour last October to include Training and Skills Development may well pay dividends by creating pathways for new Canadians to enter the construction workforce. The ministry now oversees credentialing of new Canadians and Kelusky said there is an opportunity to develop entry-level construction skill sets for them that will enable a boost in oversight of their health and safety.
“We know that general labourers account for 60 per cent of injuries in their first year of work in the construction industry, many of them being new Canadians,” said Kelusky. “That is on the agenda that the minister has.”