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The Ministry of Labour and Its Role

  • Content last reviewed: March 2012

How long has the Ministry of Labour been involved occupational health and safety (OHS)?

For well over a century, the ministry has played an important and continually evolving role in workplace health and safety. In 1900, Ontario‘s economy was dominated by agriculture; mining was in its infancy after the 1893 discovery of nickel at Sudbury; and what would become the province’s most important manufacturing industry--automotive--wouldn’t begin for another four years. Over the next half-century, mining, manufacturing and construction rose in importance at the expense of farming. The service industry is now Ontario’s fastest growing sector.

Adapting OHS legislation, policies and procedures to keep pace with this change has been an ongoing priority for the ministry.


How long has Ontario had health and safety laws for the workplace?

Ontario's history in the regulation of workplace health and safety began in 1884 with passage of the Ontario Factories Act, Canada's first industrial safety legislation. Selected highlights of significant events from Ontario's health and safety history include:

1886: Workmen's Compensation for Injuries Act
First workers' compensation act in Canada, establishes conditions under which a worker can take legal action against an employer.

1890: Mining Operations Act
Rules are established for ventilation, blasting, manholes, lifting devices, shafts, signals, brakes, machinery and boilers.

1895: Factories Act (amendment)
Guarding is required on dangerous machines. Employer is required to give notice of fatalities and injuries resulting in more than a six-day absence from work, and explosions.

1911: Building Trades Protection Act
The safety of tradesmen engaged in the construction of buildings (scaffolding, hoists, stairs, ladders, or other mechanical and temporary contrivances) is regulated.

1912: Mining Act
New requirements for care and handling of explosives, ladderways, shafts, hoists, scaling equipment, signals, dressing rooms, first aid, dust protection, electricity and worker refuge places.

1914: Workmen's Compensation Act
The Workmen's Compensation Board is established with responsibility for worker compensation and rehabilitation.

1919: Mining Act (amendment)
Department of Mines assumes responsibility for mine safety inspection, engineering and 175 rules.

1936: The Factory, Shop and Office Building Act (amendment)
The Factory Inspection Service is set up to do investigations for every branch of the Department of Labour and help enforce the Steam Boiler and Operating Engineers Acts.

1945: Paymaster Accident
The wire rope testing lab and electro-mechanical testing programs are established after the "paymaster accident" in which 18 men are killed when a cage detaches.

1962: Construction Safety Act Replaces the Building Trades Protection Act
Regulations for worker safety are introduced to cover the construction, alteration, repair, demolition or moving of buildings and other structures including trenches, streets, highways and wells.

1964: Industrial Safety Act, 1964
This act replaces Factory, Shop and Office Building Act. "Safety" is defined as "freedom from injury to the body or freedom from damage to health." Employer is required to take such precautions as are reasonable to ensure worker safety. A Person with a reasonable belief that a machine is unsafe or contravenes the Act is prohibited from using the machine.

1971: Industrial Safety Act, 1971
Replaces Industrial Safety Act, 1964. Some responsibility for safety is given to the supervisor and the worker. Reprisals by the employer against any worker seeking compliance with the Act or regulations are prohibited.

1973: Construction Safety Act
Replaces previous Construction Safety Act and Trench Excavators Protection Act.

1976: The Ham Report
The Report of the Royal Commission on the Health and Safety of Workers in Mines (The Ham Report) is published. The Occupational Health and Safety Division, consisting of the Mines Safety, Construction Safety, Industrial Safety and Occupational Health (from Ministry of Health) Branches, is established, as recommended by the Ham Report.

1978: Occupational Health and Safety Act (Bill 70)
Existing occupational health and safety legislation, principally the Construction Safety Act, the Mining Act (Part IX), the Employees Health and Safety Act, and the Industrial Safety Act are combined into one statute. Coverage is extended to all workers, except some teachers, domestic servants and agricultural workers. It also provides for joint health and safety committees, refusal to work and the regulation of toxic substances.

1979: Regulations for Industrial Establishments, for Construction Projects, and for Mines and Mining Plants, are under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Responsibility for the new regulations is divided among the branches in the Ministry of Labour's Occupational Health and Safety Division as follows:

  • Industrial Health and Safety Branch:Factories, shops, office buildings, arenas and logging operations;
  • Construction Health and Safety Branch: construction projects;
  • Mining Health and Safety Branch: mines and mining plants.

1987: Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Act
New provisions for the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS).

1990: Occupational Health and Safety Act (Bill 208 Amendments)
Requirement for certified joint health and safety committee members, and right to stop work are established.

1998: Workers' Compensation Reform Act (Bill 99)
Workers' Compensation Board renamed Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) with new responsibility for occupational injury and illness prevention and the promotion of occupational health and safety.


What Ontario legislation now applies to workplace health and safety?

The Occupational Health and Safety Act,(OHSA) is Ontario's cornerstone legislation for workplace health and safety. Other contributing legislation includes the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (WSIA), Part II of which deals with the prevention of occupational injury and disease and the Human Rights Code , which often has to be considered in dealing with OHS issues. Both OHSA and WSIA are available along with all of Ontario's other Acts and regulations at the e-Laws website.


What role does the Ministry of Labour play today in occupational health and safety (OHS)?

The overall Vision of the Ministry of Labour is to foster safe, fair and healthy workplaces characterized by productive relationships and high performance that drive a vibrant, competitive economy and generate widespread benefits for all. The ministry contributes to achieving this vision and to the prosperity of Ontario by advancing healthy, safe, fair and productive relationships in the workplace and the broader community.

The OHS objective is to create environments that make Ontario workplaces among the safest in the world. The Ministry works towards this by setting, communicating and enforcing OHS laws that are designed to reduce or eliminate workplace injury or illness.

The Ministry also works to prevent workplace illness and injury by implementing the priorities of its integrated occupational health and safety strategy. As part of the strategy, the ministry collaborates with its partners in Ontario’s OHS system with the twin objectives of improving the effectiveness of the OHS system while, at the same time, making workplaces more self-reliant.


What is Ontario’s occupational health and safety (OHS) system?

The OHS system comprises all the organizations and individuals that contribute to the prevention of workplace injury and illness. The main public sector organizations are the Ministry of Labour, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), and WSIB-funded safe workplace associations (SWAs), worker training centres and clinics. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety also plays an important role. Private sector partners include unions, employer associations, OHS professionals and consultants (e.g., physicians, nurses, hygienists and engineers), educational institutions and community organizations.


What is the Ministry of Labour’s occupational health and safety strategy?

The province-wide integrated occupational health and safety strategy is the ministry’s blueprint for creating healthy and safe Ontario workplaces. The strategy establishes two goals for Ontario’s occupational health and safety system: targeting the areas of greatest need and enhancing service delivery.

The strategy also sets strategic priorities to guide system partners, workplace parties and other occupational health and safety organizations as they work together towards safer workplaces. It acts as a guide for the health and safety system in planning, coordinating and delivering integrated activities, programs and services. The strategy recognizes that, to prevent workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses, all parties need to move forward together in a flexible and adaptable manner.

Encompassed by the integrated occupational health and safety strategy, the Safe at Work Ontario strategy builds on the ministry's 2004-5/2007-8 "targeted intervention" strategy, which focused mainly on workplaces with higher than average lost-time injury (LTI) rates and claim costs.

The strategy broadens the MOL scope to include focus on hazards, and partnerships directed to promoting and improving health and safety culture and strengthening an organization's Internal Responsibility System. It is built on three pillars: Enforcement, Compliance and Partnership.

The enforcement portion looks at strategies which provide the flexibility to address sector-specific hazards and characteristics. Safe at Work Ontario builds on the previous approach by using a number of triggers or criteria to identify workplaces for MOL proactive inspections. It focuses not only on identifying workplaces with high injury rates and costs, but also on hazards inherent in particular types of business activity and/or workplaces with a history of compliance problems.

The ministry's focus is on improving workplace health and safety practices through education, training, and enforcement of provincial legislation and regulations through partnership with the system's education and prevention partners such as WSIB and Ontario's Health and Safety Associations.