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Government downgrades safety in Ontario workplaces

Publication Date

Friday, June 28, 2019 - 10:15am

Ontario’s Conservative government is moving quickly - not only making a mess of our environment, the sale of alcohol and the education of our young people, but also workplace safety. 

On July 1, 2019, the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) will be amended to allow employers to “opt-out” of safety precautions prescribed in regulation, if they believe their course of action is just as safe.

This and other changes, under the “Industrial Establishments” regulation of the OHSA represent a monumental shift in workplace safety standards. For example, parties will no longer be required to work collaboratively in the workplace to protect workers, thanks to the revocation of Section 2, O. Reg. 851, which has replaced “Equivalency” with “Alternative Methods and Materials.”

This is more than a simple modification to the regulation; this sullies the very spirit of meaningful joint action through workplace Joint Health and Safety Committees.  

Once enacted, the revised language will enable employers to “vary a procedure required” or vary “the composition, design, size or arrangement of a material, object, device or thing as required by this Regulation.”  It is little comfort for Ontario’s workers that employers may only do so, “if the employer gives written notice…to the joint health and safety committee or the health and safety representative.” After all, simply having to provide written notice is not a meaningful barrier to bad decision making.

This shift of power to the employer is an insult to Ontario’s workers and to Dr. James Ham who first introduced the Internal Responsibility System (IRS) for health and safety in 1976. The intent of the IRS is to promote a culture of safety in the workplace, establishing a joint process with equal input from the employer and workers to improve health and safety.

The incoming use of  “Alternative Methods and Materials” stands in stark contrast to the previous use of “Equivalency.”  With Equivalency, factors such as strength, and health and safety mattered in the application of the regulation to make a variance to any material, object or device. And employers were not permitted to make unilateral decisions, which ensured that joint efforts were made to promote safety – rather than decisions based on the almighty dollar.  

There are other amendments to Regulation 851 that minimize important safety requirements. For example, in situations where a worker may be exposed to injuries to the eye or skin by a hazardous biological or chemical agent. Where workers might be at risk of falling into liquid, a personal flotation device can now be used instead of a lifejacket, which is the current requirement.   According to the Red Cross, “a Canadian approved standard lifejacket, when worn properly, is designed to turn an unconscious person from face down to face up in the water, allowing them to breathe.” Conversely, “A Canadian approved PFD is designed to keep you afloat in the water.”

Premier Ford has said many times that, "Ontario is open for business." What he fails to mention is that his cuts and bad policies make Ontario open for more injuries at work too!

The current version of Regulation 851 can be found here:         

The amending regulation (O. Reg. 186/19) can be found here: