Draft remarks for a presentation on Bill 70 (Budget Measures) by Len Elliott, Regional Vice-President, Region 1, Ontario Public Service Employees Union
December 1, 2016
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Good afternoon. My name is Len Elliott and I am a Regional Vice-President for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.
OPSEU represents over 400 Occupational Health and Safety Inspectors across the province and over 130,000 members who are workers in this province.
I am here today because the measures proposed in Schedule 16 of Bill 70, to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act, will negatively affect all OPSEU members. First, it will affect us as workers. Second, it will affect us as health and safety inspectors who work to keep Ontario workplaces safe.
For the record, I am one of those occcupational health and safety inspectors. I work for the Ministry of Labour in London.
I wanted to start my presentation here today by having a minute of silence as we do every year on April 28 on the International Day of Mourning.
As you know, that’s when we recognize and remember workers who have been killed or injured on the job.
But I can’t be silent today. I have too much experience with what happens when employers fail to treat health and safety seriously.
As someone who has dedicated his career to making sure every working Ontarian gets home from work safely, I have to speak up.
I want to be a voice that speaks for those dead and injured workers.
I am here to ask the committee to delete Schedule 16 from Bill 70. Please do not leave it as is, or tinker with it. It must be removed.
Schedule 16 gives the Chief Prevention Officer the ability to accredit a “health and safety system” for use in Ontario workplaces and then recognize employers who use an accredited health and safety system.
It has been said that “stakeholders” in this province want this accreditation process. In this case, “stakeholders” does not mean all of them. It only means employers. And I can tell you that the millions of workers who are also stakeholders in workplace health and safety have not asked for this change – nor would they ever!
I want to make it clear that OPSEU opposes connecting any type of accreditation system with the way the MOL conducts proactive health and safety enforcement in Ontario workplaces.
Unfortunately, that seems to be what the government has in mind. In introducing Schedule 16, the Ministry of Labour sent out an email that states that the ministry wants to “lessen the burden on employers by taking away unnecessary proactive Inspections.”
Just think about that for a second. There is nothing “unnecessary” about proactive inspections. Field visit inspections are an integral part of our health and safety system. To whom are they unnecessary?
Not the workers of Ontario, I can assure you.
Our inspectors do tens of thousands of inspections each year, including thousands of proactive inspections.
And occupational health and safety officers write thousands of orders for contraventions of the OHSA that would otherwise NOT have been addressed if we had not gone into those workplaces.
These are workplaces that could easily receive accreditation under the new rules in Bill 16.
It is not unusual for employers to receive awards or be accredited even though heir workplaces are horribly unsafe.
Want an example? Look no farther than the Westray mine disaster. Westray received the John T. Ryan safety award (for the second year in a row) just 11 days before 26 miners were killed in an early morning explosion at the mine.
Tragically, the worker that the company sent to get the award was one of the twenty-six miners who died in the May 9, 1992 explosion.
Employer representatives and government bureaucrats would have you think that while the employers are working away in their respective workplaces, it is an inconvenience to have an inspector show up for a “surprise” proactive workplace inspection.
But here’s the thing: an unsafe workplace is an inconvenience too – a daily inconvenience that threatens a worker’s ability to be healthy – or even to live.
Inspectors need to actually see the way employers run their operations in order to determine if a given workplace is operating safely. And that can only happen if employers don’t get advance notice of an inspector’s audit.
If we had to call ahead to announce our arrival or, as suggested in Bill 70, NEVER BE ALLOWED to do proactive inspections, many workplaces might think they were safer than they actually were.
That false sense of security, based in ignorance, could be deadly.
The health and safety management system discussed in Schedule 16 is only a paper plan.
It is one thing to have policies and safety manuals in a workplace where everything looks good – on paper. But when it comes to safety, the proof is in the pudding. There must be external enforcement by Ministry of Labour inspectors to ensure compliance with the OHSA.
Health and safety management systems sideline workers, joint health and safety committees, and workplace health and safety representatives.
In 1976, the Ham Commission recognized that workers needed individual and collective participation in workplace health and safety. James Ham came up with the Internal Responsibility System (IRS) that is still in use today.
Yet even today, the balance of power when it comes to health and safety lies with employers, not workers. Moving health and safety prevention to the boardroom to develop a management system moves occupational health and safety farther from workers and farther from solving problems on the shop floor.
On Christmas Eve of 2009, four workers were killed and one critically injured in a fall from a swing stage in Toronto. That’s when this Liberal government did a review of the health and safety system in Ontario, conducted by the Dean Expert Panel.
I attended every public forum of the Dean Panel, including many internal Ministry of Labour meetings with staff, where we expressed our concerns and had some input as inspectors.
Not once did inspectors call for, or even mention, a process that would limit their ability to attend a workplace in a proactive way – even with accreditation.
And Dean didn’t suggest lessening enforcement to accredited employers either. Why? Because our inspectors have investigated critical injuries and fatalities of workers in workplaces that would qualify for accreditation tomorrow!
We, the workers of Ontario – the real stakeholders when it comes to workplace safety – also have great concerns with the proposed changes to Section 7(7) of Schedule 16.
That section proposes that the Chief Prevention Officer should have the power to designate persons outside the ministry to look after accreditation and the many duties related to certification training.
This change needs to be scrapped, too. The Ministry of Labour should not contract out its role to third parties.
Further, we have no idea what the accreditation proposal might look like. What we’re being told is, “here’s some legislation. Details to follow.”
That’s not good enough.
Schedule 16 WILL increase the number of critically injured workers and workers killed on the job, in my community and in yours, wherever you live in Ontario.
If Bill 70 goes through as is, I hope that the families of those dead workers will be able to hold this government accountable for killing their family members.
If this goes through, you may have to look a parent, a spouse or the child of a dead worker in the eye and tell them that YOU kept the Ministry of Labour health and safety inspectors out of their family members’ workplace – all because his or her employer was self-regulated and claimed, on paper, that its workplace was safe.
You don’t want to see that day. I urge you to make sure you never have to.
Proactive inspections are so important to protect the growing numbers of precarious workers in our province. Many of them do not have unions. They don’t have job security. They may not know their rights, and even if they do, they are afraid to call the Ministry of Labour. Barring inspectors from proactively inspecting workplaces would have devastating effects on these workers.
This does not match with the MOL priority to protect vulnerable workers. Our inspectors have the expertise, experience, and knowledge to do both proactive and reactive inspections. They do them now. Ontario needs both.
On behalf of the workers of Ontario who want to come home safely every day, and also the workers who have tragically been injured or killed on the job, please get rid of Schedule 16.
I presented to the Standing Committee on Social Policy on April 19, 2011, on Bill 160 where I said “Our health and safety is NOT up for negotiations.” And today I find myself saying it again.
This is NOT drama. This is REAL.
Not all employers are bad. That’s not my point. There are many good employers out there who comply with the law – and there are others who go above the minimums in the Act.
Enforcement doesn’t harm these employers. Proactive visits don’t harm these employers.
But it’s still a fact: ALL employers need proactive enforcement.
In closing, I have two main messages:
- One, proactive inspections are a critical part of our enforcement program in Ontario. No accreditation system can, or will, replace them and still protect worker safety.
- Two, the Ministry of Labour must not put any third parties in charge of occupational health and safety in Ontario. Workers depend on MOL enforcement and oversight for their lives.
Please scrap Schedule 16.
I would be pleased to take your questions now.