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Opportunities for Government Ministries and Agencies to Cultivate Health and Safety in Ontario Culture and Workplaces

  • Issued: December 16, 2010
  • Content last reviewed: December 2010

Much of this report has focused on the improvement of worker safety through actions and activities under the leadership of the Ministry of Labour and the proposed prevention organization. As previously discussed, there are many levers for change and opportunities to increase education and awareness. One such lever for change is to align government decisions with improving and supporting occupational health and safety in Ontario. The following recommendations focus on other government ministries that have key roles to play in cultivating and supporting a health and safety culture in the province.

Education and Training

A prevailing view in submissions to the Panel holds that attitudes toward safety are established very early in life. While many stakeholders were aware of the health and safety content added to primary and secondary school curriculum in Ontario in recent years, they were concerned that it is not consistently taught across schools and school boards. In addition, those familiar with the content believed that it needed to be updated and expanded. Updating and increasing the availability of teacher resource material to support teaching health and safety was seen as necessary to improving the quality and consistency of the education that students receive in this area. The Panel heard that while the current teacher resource material has been made available through the public school system, private schools have not received this material.

Primary and secondary education

Recommendation 39

The Ministry of Education should work with school boards, private schools and teacher organizations to expand the health and safety content of primary and secondary school curricula and update teacher resource material to allow them to effectively teach these curricula.

It is also recognized that health and safety expertise does not necessarily reside within the Ministry of Education; partnering with the MOL or the new prevention organization to facilitate the sharing of expertise and resources would expedite the development and updating of resource materials.

Recommendation 40

The Ministry of Education should make high school graduation dependent upon demonstration of knowledge of occupational health and safety.

The Ministry of Education should consider enhancing health and safety curricula by introducing a mandatory graduating course or health and safety awareness test similar to the literacy test diploma requirement.

Post-secondary and vocational trades programs

Many stakeholders also felt that more needs to be done to incorporate health and safety into post-secondary and trade school training. While some gains have been made in incorporating health and safety material into engineering programs, more needs to be done. The Minerva organization is a leader in this area. Graduates from other programs, such as business and the sciences, will be our future workers, supervisors and employers and it is essential that their education and training also include occupational health and safety to prepare them for their leadership positions. At the same time, workers graduating from trades programs are often exposed to some of the highest-risk workplaces. Their education and training must prepare them for working safely as well as competently.

The leadership of the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) could prompt broader opportunities in post-secondary education to build occupational health and safety into the curricula of diploma and degree programs in engineering, commerce, business, and so on.

Recommendation 41

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities should work with post-secondary institutions and trade schools to incorporate health and safety content into their programs for both future workers and employers/senior executives.

As MTCU programs and services are primarily focused on employment and skills training, it is appropriate for them to ensure that clients are aware of their rights and responsibilities as workers and trainees in relation to occupational health and safety.

There are two key areas for the MTCU to become involved in OHS processes: first, by instituting workplace-based (apprenticeship and modular) training standards that respond to the goals of occupational health and safety; and secondly, by enhancing OHS awareness and training that takes place at MTCU employment and training programs, such as Employment Services, Second Career, Job Creation Partnerships, Targeted Initiative For Older Workers, Summer Jobs Service, Literacy and Basic Skills, Workplace Literacy, Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program, Co-op Diploma Apprenticeship Program, Pre-Apprenticeship Training Program, and Apprenticeship In-School Training.

Government Contracts and Grants as a Means to Support Health and Safety

Government can significantly influence support for health and safety in the manner that it awards contracts and grants to public and private sector organizations. Two significant examples have been identified by the Panel.

Supply chain relationships

The Ontario Government and its agencies are some of the largest purchasers of supplies and services in Ontario. The Panel was presented with examples of private sector employers who have established supply chain relationships that require the vendor have a high standard of health and safety performance. These requirements appear most prevalent for construction-related services. Some stakeholders indicated that the supply of services is most often relatively local and therefore it is more feasible to evaluate suppliers of services than suppliers of goods, where suppliers could be from around the globe. The issue of complying with trade agreements may also be more complex for goods than services.

Recommendation 42

The Ontario Government should develop procurement policies that consider the occupational health and safety performance of suppliers in order to motivate a high level of performance. The initial focus could be on the purchasing of services.

Furthermore, to demonstrate its commitment to enhancing health and safety performance throughout the supply chain, the government must ensure that such provisions are included in the procurement policies and procedures of the Health and Safety Associations that the new prevention organization will oversee.

Stimulating innovation

The Ministry of Economic Development and Trade and the Ontario Centres for Excellence support Ontario business with innovation and financial incentives. Proposals for such funding are not currently reviewed against OHS criteria or benefit. There is an opportunity for these organizations to work more closely with the OHS system to promote the inclusion of a health and safety component in the evaluation criteria of funding applications. The Danish government has developed one such cross-ministry collaboration to stimulate innovation. MindLab, a cross-ministerial innovation unit, involves citizens and businesses in creating new solutions for society. MindLab works with three government departments: the Ministry of Economic and Business Affairs, the Ministry of Taxation and the Ministry of Employment. It acts as a catalyst for innovative thinking across its parent government departments and has worked on a diverse range of issues — from understanding and reducing the red tape businesses face to reducing workplace injuries. The program has received attention from a number of countries including France, China, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Recommendation 43

The Ministry of Economic Development and Trade and the Ontario Centres for Excellence should work with the Ministry of Labour and the new prevention organization to develop health and safety criteria for inclusion in funding considerations related to innovation.

Making Health and Safety Information Available to New Business Owners

Stakeholders consistently expressed the view that they believe business owners want to provide healthy and safe working conditions for their workers. To do this, owners require helpful information on compliance expectations. Sections of this report focus on what is needed and how it can be provided by the health and safety partners. However, one means of creating greater awareness of health and safety would be to make more information available to businesses during their start-up. Consultations reinforced this approach. Information should be actively supplied to everyone registering a business.

The Ministry of Government Services/Service Ontario currently provides online business registration. Health and safety information is available through the same portal but is not actively linked to the registration process. In fact, the health and safety information is difficult to locate. Some have suggested that upon registering a business, owners should receive a prompt asking whether they will be employing workers. Where this is the case, they would be linked to information on occupational health and safety, workers’ compensation and employment standards. Prospective owners would be encouraged to review or bookmark the information for future use and then they could proceed with the business registration. A second, more active approach would be to automatically e-mail this information to the prospective owner upon completing the registration. Basic health and safety information could be supplemented with sector- or hazard-specific information if the business registration includes information related to the nature of the business or sector.

Recommendation 44

The Ministry of Government Services/Service Ontario should amend the business registration process to include an active link to health and safety information, and should work with the occupational health and safety system to provide relevant information for new business owners.

Recommendation 45

The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board should amend its registration process to include an active link to health and safety information, and should continue to work with the occupational health and safety system to provide relevant information for new business owners.

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