Ontario’s system of Joint Health and Safety Committees (JHSC) at larger workplaces is due for a mandatory five-year review with stakeholders playing a key role in determining if there will be minor tweaks or a wholesale recalibration.
Carmine Tiano, director of occupational services for the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario, was quick to identify a number of problems with the system as it exists now. One main issue, he said, is that under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, JHSCs are only required for firms of 20 employees or more. Many construction firms or jobsites are small enterprises.
“Reviewing the JHSC standards is important,” Tiano said. “However, the reality is that it does not apply to many jobsites in construction due to firm size in the industry. Not many have a JHSC as they are too small, under 20 employees.”
Instead, said Tiano, the Chief Prevention Officer (CPO) should be looking at lowering the threshold where JHSCs are required and when health and safety reps are required.
Currently firms with six to 19 workers require health and safety reps, with employees of smaller firms relatively unprotected, he said.
Tiano argues firms of five or fewer workers in high-hazard construction sectors should have a certified health and safety rep.
The Building Trades also believe workers who serve as health and safety reps should have more protection from reprisals; and the CPO should consider safety audits of large and medium-sized construction firms, including reviewing the minutes of the JHSC in any firms that have had deaths or critical injuries to see if there are patterns.
“How many critical injuries and deaths were from workplaces that had no worker rep?” Tiano asked.
Bring it on, said CPO Dr. Joel Moody when asked about Tiano’s questions and many other potential issues that will be raised during the review. He welcomes stakeholders to review a consultation paper he has issued and submit comments by Nov. 7.
Moody, who celebrated his first anniversary on the job Sept. 15, said the review is part of the province’s commitment to ensure standards reflect the latest science and best practices.
“When we talk about a review of the standards, it’s going to be robust,” said Moody.
“We are looking at diverse sources of information, the academic literature, other program evaluation, coroner’s juries’ recommendations, of course data, stakeholder correspondence. There’s an entire gamut that we’re using as inputs into this review.”
As for the Building Trades comments, Moody said, “If those comments are placed in this review that’s currently happening, my team will assess it, and we’ll take a look at them.
“The great reason why we go to our stakeholders is to get that type of input. Because the stakeholders are out there in the field every day and they have their observations…we need to help each other identify issues so we can come to the best solutions possible.”
The three criteria Moody is focused on as part of the review are that JHSC Certification Training Program and Provider Standards must remain “effective, relevant and up to date.” JHSC are at the very core of a healthy internal responsibility system, with employers and employees acting in concert, he said.
Ontario’s occupational health and safety system has evolved significantly since the last review, Moody said, especially given the pandemic.
During that time a lot of the training of JHSC members has been done online so the five-year review will study how that has affected program delivery.
In addition, society itself has changed with a more sophisticated understanding of the need to integrate diversity and inclusion into bodies like JHSC.
“We’ve heard that diversity, inclusion, anti-racism are very important values that need to be supported in the workplace. So, as part of the reviews, we’ve heard recommendations, how do we bolster those codes of conduct for training, to strengthen those commitments to anti-racism, to bolster those opportunities to have a respectful learning environment?”
Reviewing his first year in the job, Moody commented, “The surprise is just how vested all of the stakeholders are with improving health and safety. When you have such a great group of partners, you can move mountains, and that’s what we’re doing.”
He identified several main areas of focus during his first year in the job: introducing naloxone into workplaces, implementing the CPO’s strategic plan, improving use and evaluation of data, focusing more on occupational diseases, and co-ordinating studies of such issues as mental health, violence, harassment in the workplace and COVID recovery.
In sum, Moody said, his office attempts to preach active engagement and active listening — being proactive and preventative, the double Ps, he said.
“My door’s always open to have these discussions,” he said.
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