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Health and Safety Training in the Workplace

  • Issued: December 2010
  • Content last reviewed: December 2010

As previously mentioned, Ontario’s 1976 Royal Commission on the Health and Safety of Workers in Mines (Ham Report) developed the term Internal Responsibility System (IRS). This report further identified the need for individual and collective rights and responsibilities of workplace parties paralleling their level of control. To carry out its roles, it is critical that each party have access to information about working conditions. The Occupational Health and Safety Act defines the roles and responsibilities of various workplace parties in establishing and maintaining a safe and healthy workplace. If the workplace parties are not aware of, or do not understand these roles and responsibilities, the IRS’s ability to function is compromised. In certain small workplaces that are without the most basic knowledge, workplace parties are limited in their ability to identify and discuss hazards and remedies.

One of the ways in which employers meet legal obligations to impart health and safety information to protect workers is through training. A recent systematic review by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) concluded workplace training and education have a positive impact on the health and safety practices of workers (Robson et al, IWH, 2010). There was, however, insufficient evidence that training on its own reduced injury rates. These findings support the multi-faceted approach set out in the recommendations of the Panel: filling gaps in training requirements, promoting key elements of OHS performance such as management commitment, encouraging worker participation, influencing societal norms, and creating processes to identify and remove hazards. To make significant improvements to workplace health and safety, all of these elements are necessary.

The public consultations revealed that there is a lack of foundational, basic information among workers about the existence of “the green book”, that Ontario has an Occupational Health and Safety Act; and that owners, employers, supervisors and workers all have rights and responsibilities. In the view of the Panel, everyone needs to be aware of these rights and responsibilities, regardless of their role within the workplace.

Throughout the public consultations, the Panel heard how pivotal the supervisory role is in setting the tone of health and safety in a workplace or on a job site. Supervisors are instrumental in reinforcing safe work procedures and in establishing a culture of safety. However, the Panel also heard that, due to an absence of information and training, many supervisors are not prepared for this responsibility. It is imperative that supervisors have, at a minimum, a basic understanding of workplace health and safety and of their responsibilities under the legislation. The Panel also heard that supervisors cannot always fulfil their health and safety role if the employers and owners they report to are not sufficiently committed to occupational health and safety. The Panel has emphasized the importance of leadership throughout the report, and later in the report makes a recommendation to raise health and safety awareness among new business owners.

Research points to the elevated risk of occupational injury among workers who are new to their jobs and in firms that are newly established (Breslin, Smith, 2006). This is compounded if they do not have foundational health and safety knowledge or an awareness of job hazards, if they lack the ability to learn safe-work procedures, or if they do not know about other prevention measures before starting work.

Recommendation 14

The Ministry of Labour should require mandatory health and safety awareness training for all workers.

A standard should be developed to establish a health and safety awareness program for all workers. It should be a requirement that workers receive this information at the entry level, prior to being exposed to workplace hazards. The content for such a standard exists within many of the programs that health and safety associations have developed and within the programs of many employers. Labour and employer stakeholders should be consulted in the development of this standard and regarding the content of a specific program.

Development should take into consideration the needs of small business and the literacy and language challenges present in the diverse workforce of Ontario. The program should be available in multiple formats (web-based, CD/DVD, hard copy, classroom, smart phones, etc.) to allow for various delivery options inside and outside the workplace. To have the broadest reach into the community, the program should be accessible to all employers and workers, through non-traditional venues (settlement offices, Employment Ontario, community programs). The awareness program should be developed and maintained by the prevention system and be free to workers and employers.

This program should include:

  • the rights and responsibilities of workers and supervisors;
  • the roles of workplace parties, including HSRs and JHSCs;
  • the role of the MOL, HSAs and the WSIB;
  • the definition of a hazard;
  • the right to be informed of hazards in the workplace;
  • the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System as a cornerstone of understanding chemical hazards; and
  • the introduction of occupational disease and the concept of latency and illnesses.

Equivalency should be available to employers who already have an entry-level program that covers the content set out in the standard. The training standard would allow employers to compare it to their own programs to determine equivalency. The employer would be responsible for record-keeping and there would be no refresher requirement.

The MOL should consult with employer and labour stakeholders to determine the time required to develop the standard and a model program, as well as the time workplaces would require for providing it to workers who have not previously received such information.

Recommendation 15

The Ministry of Labour should require mandatory health and safety awareness training for all supervisors who are responsible for frontline workers.

The OHSA requires employers to appoint competent persons as supervisors. A supervisor is deemed competent if they are qualified by knowledge, training and experience in the work they oversee; are familiar with the OHSA and regulations that apply to their workplace; and have knowledge of actual or potential workplace hazards and advise workers about these hazards. This training will contribute to ensuring that individuals appointed as supervisors are competent.

A standard should be developed to establish a health and safety awareness program for all supervisors who are responsible for frontline workers. While the definition of supervisor under the OHSA is broad, the Panel feels that this training requirement should initially be directed at those who supervise frontline workers who are generally exposed to the greatest health and safety hazards. Supervisors should have to receive this information upon being appointed to a position. The content for such a standard exists within many of the programs that health and safety associations have developed as well as those of many others. Labour and employer stakeholders should be consulted in the development of this standard and in the content of a specific program for supervisors.

Development should take into consideration the needs of small business and the literacy and language challenges present in the diverse workforce of Ontario. The program should be available in multiple formats (web based, CD/DVD, hard copy, classroom, smart phone, etc.) to allow for various delivery options inside and outside the workplace. To have the broadest reach into the community, the program should be accessible to all employers and workers through non-traditional venues (settlement offices, Employment Ontario, community programs). The awareness program should be developed and maintained by the prevention system and be free to supervisors and employers.

This program should include:

  • the rights and responsibilities of workers and supervisors;
  • the IRS and the roles of workplace parties including HSRs and JHSCs;
  • the role of the MOL, HSAs and the WSIB;
  • the recognition, assessment, control and elimination of hazards in the workplace; and
  • where resources and assistance are available.

Equivalency should be available to employers who already have a program for supervisors that covers the content set out in the standard. The training standard would allow employers to compare it to their own programs to determine equivalency. The employer would be responsible for record keeping. Since supervisors frequently stay in their jobs for a long time, there would be a need to keep up with new legislation and the introduction of new chemicals or processes in the workplace through additional or refresher training.

The MOL should consult with employer and labour stakeholders to determine the time required to develop the standard and a model program, as well as the time workplaces would require for providing it to supervisors who have not previously received such information.

Recommendation 16

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.

Recommendation 17

The Ministry of Labour and new prevention organization should develop mandatory fall protection training for workers working at heights as a priority and consult with stakeholders to determine additional high-hazard activities that should be subject to mandatory training for workers.

The Panel has taken the view of risk and the escalation of risk very seriously in framing its recommendations. When an employer sends a worker into a highly hazardous situation without adequate supervision, training or safety equipment, that worker is put under serious threat of injury, illness or death. Some sectors and work activities are more hazardous by their nature; therefore, the training and preparation to undertake such high-hazard work must be more rigorous, standardized, accredited and subject to audit.

Ontario has experience in the mining and forestry sectors through the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities’ modular programs, which can be used as a foundation to inform how to advance these types of training programs in other sectors or high-hazard activities.

Development of such a comprehensive sector- or activity-wide program requires the commitment and involvement of stakeholders. Submissions from the construction sector highlighted a desire and need for the construction sector to be the next sector to embrace a comprehensive mandatory minimum training standard. Fatalities in the construction sector over the last five years have ranged from a high of 27 deaths per year to a low of 16, the highest of any sector. As of November 16, 2010, there were 22 fatalities in the construction sector, of which 15, or 68.2%, were caused by falls. Improved and standardized fall protection training is a priority, as falls from heights continue to be the number-one source of fatalities in construction.

In pursuing construction-sector mandatory training, guidance may be found in the Australian National OHS Construction Induction Training program; the US Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s Outreach Training Program for Construction, and Quebec’s ASP Construction program. These programs were identified during a jurisdictional review to inform the Panel of leading practices in this sector.

While a centralized database is under consideration and development, a portable proof of training record is needed to support the mobility of construction workers. Consideration should be given to using a “passport” such as those currently being used by the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. Any training record developed must be an accurate and secure record of training to provide reliable evidence to an employer, supervisor or inspector.

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