Workers Health & Safety Centre

Labour and WHSC Resolved to Address - Certification Crisis

Labour and WHSC Resolved to Address - Certification Crisis
“How can you possibly cover in a day and a half all that a certified member needs to know to carry out their legal responsibilities?” This was the question posed by Janice Klenot, health and safety representative, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, Locals 175 and 633, from the floor of the Ontario Federation of Labour’s (OFL) recent convention.
Like Klenot, delegate after delegate to the convention rose to speak in support of a resolution demanding among other things, higher standards for Certification training for joint health and safety committee (JHSC) members and better Ministry of Labour (MOL) enforcement of these standards. 
Passed unanimously on the first day of convention, the resolution highlights the ongoing crisis in Ontario workplaces created by collapsed Certification standards and lack of enforcement. It comes on the heels of the Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB) release of their much-anticipated public consultation paper on Certification training standards and guidelines which invites written responses no later than Friday, February 5, 2010.
To be specific the resolution calls for:
  • A minimum of five days of training in Basic Certification (Part I);
  • Strictly regulated Certification Part II training; and
  • Annual review of training.
The resolution also asks the OFL to encourage affiliates to negotiate use of the Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) for delivery of all Certification training.
“Labour fought hard to get Bill 208—the bill that gave us certified members and their training. The job of establishing the original Certification standard was just as intense. But we achieved a legally prescribed program that required one, two or three weeks of classroom training depending on your workplace and that was just to complete Part I of the standard,” says Klenot.
Of the classroom experience Klenot adds, “You worked hard to complete Certification, but in the end, when you went back to your workplace you knew what you were doing. Now the Certification standard has been so watered down, in many instances it’s doubtful much of any learning is taking place. This is not what we fought for,” says Klenot.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act passed in 1979, requires the establishment of a joint health and safety committee in most workplaces employing 20 or more workers. In 1990, as a result of a strong labour lobby the Act was amended, further requiring employers to provide special health and safety training to at least two designated members of the JHSC—one worker representative and one management representative. Known as Certification training, this training consists of two parts, Basic Certification Training or Certification Part I and Workplace Hazard-Specific Training or Certification Part II. At the same time, a bipartite Workplace Health & Safety Agency was established and legally charged with the development of Certification standards. With the disbandment of the Agency under the Harris government, responsibility for Certification standards, including training program content and duration and training provider accreditation reverted to the WSIB.
Now there are few rules governing Certification training. Consequently, participants can complete WSIB-approved Certification training online and in as little as a day. The backgrounds of some private consultant providers are also cause for concern. Many offer a grocery list of human resource management services in addition to Certification training. One even offers their services to spy on WSIB claimants and supply scab labour during strikes. Moreover, for Part II Certification training employers need only send the WSIB a form listing their hazards and the training that addressed these hazards. They can also provide Part II training themselves, no need for an approved provider.
Forced to compete in the present “market”, the Workers Health & Safety Centre offers a classroom-based, four-day Basic Certification course and Part II sector programs ranging from three to five days.
“Members of joint health and safety committees and certified representatives in particular have significant legal rights and responsibilities. It only stands to reason their training needs to be equally significant,” says Dave Killham, WHSC executive director. “The evidence shows us effectively trained workplace representatives can make all the difference.”
Two independent studies concluded the original Certification training program resulted in real workplace improvements. In those workplaces surveyed the studies found: increased compliance with legislation; safer work practices; enhanced ergonomic work design; improved JHSC functioning; and a clearer knowledge among certified members of their health and safety duties and responsibilities.
As Ontario’s designated training centre, the WHSC has been the leading provider of Certification training. Endorsed by the labour movement, most unions in Ontario insist on the WHSC as their exclusive provider.
In a letter to the WSIB, Brenda Adams, a member of UFCW Local 175 had this to say about her WHSC Certification training: “Having just completed WHSC Certification Part II training, I feel very strongly the classroom format is most beneficial to participants. The interaction and diversity of the participants provided the classroom with a constant variety of viewpoints and opinions. Through role-playing and problem solving we were allowed to apply what we learned to real-world situations. This made for stimulating discussions and challenged me to look at things from a different point of view. This would not have been possible had I just read a textbook or studied online.”
Jane Ste. Marie, Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), health and safety consultant shares Adam’s opinion, “It is my experience that workers who take the WHSC program are more knowledgeable, and better-equipped to carry out their legal rights and responsibilities as certified members.”  But says Ste. Marie, under the current standard it has been difficult to ensure all members receive the training they deserve. “There is a huge divide between the approaches of employers in Ontario school boards. We have a situation where some boards are working with the WHSC, delivering four days of Basic Certification (or Part I training) to our members and covering a minimum of nine hazards or three days of training for Part II training. Then we have members who are receiving a two-day Part I program from a Safe Work Association and Part II training addressing only one hazard, usually slips, trips and falls. Nowhere in the equation do issues like workplace violence and stress, or communicable disease and pandemic planning ever get addressed. Our members are the worse for it.”
Asked to deal with situations like this one, the MOL has taken a “hands off” approach, saying the responsibility rests with the WSIB. To make matters worse, a WSIB survey of workplaces in summer 2007 revealed almost 60 per cent of all workplaces were not in compliance with even the present, reduced standard.
Responding to this crisis, the WHSC has invested considerable effort and resources to promote, coordinate and deliver Certification training, calling their overall strategy a “Certification Surge.” Judging by participant numbers and feedback this strategy has been a huge success. In 2008, participants who have completed WHSC Basic Certification increased by 35 per cent over the previous year; meantime, participants in WHSC Certification Part II training increased by an amazing 90 per cent. A recent analysis of Basic Certification participant survey responses was equally heartening. Well over 90 per cent of participants reported the achievement of each program learning objective, while 98 per cent would recommend the program to their joint health and safety committee.
All indications for 2009 indicate the WHSC is on track to similar success. Moreover, in 2009 the WHSC also continued to offer Ontario’s first re-certification program for existing certified reps. The WHSC has also not been quiet about the training standard itself. Led by Killham, the organization formally raised concerns regarding the standard, provider qualifications, and programs, with WSIB leadership.
The WSIB responded in turn, in December of 2008, by establishing a Certification Review Committee to advise them on new Certification standards and guidelines. The WHSC has two seats on the Review Committee. Dave Killham serves as one of the co-chairs. Tom Parkin, director, training services, sits as a committee member. Other members of the Review Committee include representatives from unions, employer-oriented Safe Workplace Associations (SWAs); employers themselves, the WSIB and the MOL. Labour participants include Paul Goggan of the Canadian Auto Workers, Nancy Hutchison of the United Steelworkers and Carmine Tiano of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council.
After months of deliberation with the Certification Review Committee, the WSIB drafted the public consultation paper on Certification training. This paper reflects many of the above-mentioned issues identified by union and WHSC representatives.
One of the committee members, Paul Goggan, retired CAW, national health and safety representative urges members of the labour movement to respond to the consultation paper. “WSIB and the MOL have allowed Certification standards to deteriorate. If labour doesn’t speak up and tell them what’s needed, things are going to remain the same or possibly worsen. It’s up to the labour movement to fight for higher standards. Our lives depend on it.”