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Regulatory Approach

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

Stakeholder feedback consistently suggested that the current process for reviewing and updating regulations is not responsive to the rapid change in work practices and workplaces. The Panel heard that the legislation and regulations must keep up with changes in technology and work design; that greater use of Codes of Practice, standards and guidelines would support compliance; that common hazards need to be addressed by common regulatory requirements regardless of the sector and the introduction of new technology; and that new work processes require adequate planning, assessment at the design stage and post-installation evaluation.

Different types of regulations are needed for different situations. A good regulation must be flexible, recognize that one size does not fit all, consider the possibility of changing circumstances and find a good balance between ensuring safety and enhancing innovation. Some workplace situations are more suitable to performance-based regulation, while others lend themselves to a more prescriptive approach. MOL health and safety regulations are already a mix of performance-based and prescriptive requirements.

Prescriptive regulations state or describe what must be done and how work is to be carried out. The prescriptive regulation approach emphasises a known degree of risk mitigation but can become dated with changes in work practices and/or equipment. In situations where the work is especially hazardous due to the environment or equipment used, prescriptive regulations are most appropriate.

Performance-based regulations can provide flexibility in compliance because they focus on outcomes rather than on the precise factors to be controlled or the means of controlling them. A Code of Practice is a tool that can be used to augment performance-based health and safety regulations. Codes tend to apply to specific types of work or equipment and are designed to provide practical guidance on how to achieve compliance. Codes can be developed with labour and industry involvement to provide a plain-language description of roles, expectations and outcomes that can be easily understood by all parties. This is particularly important for small business owners.

Ontario needs harmonized requirements for high-hazard situations across all sectors, compliance requirements that are supported and promoted through information tools, and an OHS system that proactively responds to the needs of its stakeholders. The world of work is changing quickly and Ontario’s health and safety regulations must keep pace with these changes.

Recommendation 28

The Ministry of Labour should institute a regulatory review approach that ensures regulations are current, consistent and provide compliance flexibility and support.

Establishing evidence-based (claims, orders, research, etc.) priorities for regulation review would confirm the regulation’s continued need (or lack thereof) and ensure that it is reflective of the current work environment and work practices. By adopting a standard and transparent process for the regular review and updating of regulations, the Ministry would be proactive and responsive to the needs of stakeholders.

Complex, highly technical workplace situations would benefit from a mandatory review by a competent individual such as an engineer or other professional prior to use. Such reviews, which are currently required in limited circumstances, would provide a proactive evaluation of health and safety and confirmation of compliance.

Where appropriate, supporting performance-based regulations with approved Codes of Practice (industry-developed standards, Canadian/International Standards and/or other Codes) would clarify requirements and intents, provide greater workplace flexibility and respond more effectively to innovation. Since compliance with a Code of Practice is one way to achieve the performance standard, this could give employers flexibility while at the same time giving small business the help it often requires. Employers choosing to comply with the Code in an alternate way would be allowed to do so, but would need to demonstrate that the alternate approach achieves equal or greater safety.

Consolidating requirements for key hazards (e.g., personal protective equipment, ladders, guarding, confined spaces, noise) would ensure consistent coverage across all sectors and eliminate inconsistencies and duplication. It would also be effective in addressing common problems and efficient in maximizing benefits to the workplace. The objective would be to assist employers and workers in understanding and complying with essential occupational health and safety requirements.

The key is for stakeholders to continue to work together to identify the most appropriate regulatory approach for specific situations. With employers, workers, unions, industry associations and the government working together, useful/relevant regulations and flexible approaches can be developed.

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