OPSEU welcomes reform of occupational health & safety system


Ontario should become a safer place in which to work if the recommendations put forward today by an expert advisory panel studying workplace health and safety are fully implemented.

"We welcome the changes announced today by Labour Minister Peter Fonseca and we fully anticipate he will put into law all 46 recommendations," said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

"These proposed changes would not have been possible had it not been for the extensive contributions made by organized labour to the expert advisory panel and we are pleased that chair Tony Dean has incorporated many of our recommendations to the extent that he did."

Working in collaboration with Ministry of Labour occupational health and safety inspectors, OPSEU participated in the consultation process and in June released two written submissions that contained several recommendations that found their way, at least in part, into today’s report by the expert panel.

Chief among those recommendations was a call by OPSEU that the powers of Ministry of Labour inspectors be strengthened when investigating reprisals against workers who report unsafe working conditions. However, the report fell short of an OPSEU recommendation that inspectors be given the authority to reinstate workers who are victims of employer reprisals..

OPSEU also welcomed the panel’s recommendation that every Ontario worker and supervisor must receive mandatory information about workplace rights and responsibilities before they start their job.

The government will establish a new office, within the Ministry of Labour, under the direction of a Chief Prevention Officer whose mandate will be to ensure that all worksites operate in compliance with the OHSA.

"The Chief Prevention Officer will ensure Ontario's injury prevention priorities and programs are coordinated and integrated with the province's enforcement system. The officer will also oversee Ontario's Health and Safety Associations and report annually to the Minister," the Ministry said in a statement.

Going into the review there were some fears that the Ministry’s enforcement duties would be lost, but the report made clear that this function must remain inside the department. Also left intact was the role and funding of the Workers Health and Safety Centre and the Occupational Health Centres for Ontario Workers.

Len Elliott, chair of OPSEU’s Ministry of Labour MERC, said overhaul of Ontario’s health and safety system was long overdue but he welcomed the panel’s recommendations and the role played by labour in fashioning the changes.

"It is deeply regrettable that it took the deaths of four young men on a construction site in Toronto last December to trigger the work of the panel; but now that its work is complete we will be watching very closely to ensure that all the recommendations are implemented to the fullest in order that Ontario becomes a safer place for working people on the job," said Elliott.