Helping workplaces meet and exceed legislated training requirements
“What is the measure of your workplace?”
This is the question posed to thousands of workplace representatives in a recent Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) direct mail package promoting their scheduled training. Like schedules featured in previous mailers of the last two years all offerings are focused on Certification training. And, like schedules of the last year, this one was mailed on a quarterly, rather than semi-annual basis. Further, its distribution has more than doubled to some 25,000 workplaces.
Dave Killham, WHSC executive director puts these increased efforts in context, “Many of us hoped we were steps closer to safer, healthier workplaces when joint committee Certification training was first launched in 1993. So it’s especially shameful when results of a Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB) phone survey tell us only 41 per cent of workplaces are in compliance with Certification training standards. This said, we couldn’t stand by and do nothing. We had to ensure we were doing our part to help ensure Certification training reaches every workplace where it’s legally required.”
At the Source
first reported on this situation in Fall 2007, but the WSIB only recently put a number to the depth of complacence and lack of compliance in Ontario workplaces.
The mailers are part of a larger WHSC strategy dedicated to addressing this training shortfall and shoring up key resources for certified representatives, joint health and safety committees and worker representatives.
“We refer to these efforts as a certification surge. We think it’s a good metaphor because it speaks to the empowerment of workplace representatives and it certainly energizes workplace prevention efforts as studies have shown,” says Killham.
Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act
requires joint health and safety committees (JHSCs) in most workplaces employing 20 or more workers. Under this law each has considerable rights and responsibilities for workplace health and safety. Under this law employers must also 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 Training Part I
and Workplace Hazard-Specific Training
or Certification Part II
. Once trained, certified members must be registered with the WSIB.
“It’s certainly a crisis, if not a crime, when laws are made to help prevent workplace injuries and illness, but are not enforced. It’s no wonder worker fatalities in this province continue to climb,” says Killham.
The WSIB reports an almost 40 per cent increase in accepted death claims since 1997, with occupational disease claims accounting for most of this increase. And yet, the Ministry of Labour (MOL) reports they are on track to achieve a 20 per cent reduction in lost-time injury rates (LTIs) since 2004.
Ontario’s labour movement largely attributes this discrepancy to the MOL’s former enforcement strategy. Known as the “High Risk” initiative, MOL inspectors were instructed to visit workplaces with higher than average LTIs. In their annual environmental scan of 2006 the WHSC wrote, “Representatives of Workers Centre member groups have observed the targeting of workplaces with the highest lost-time claims will likely only serve to drive claims further underground. Rather than inspiring improved working conditions, this kind of strategy will inspire more vigorous claims management programs aimed at denying workers fair compensation for illness and injury. Moreover, this approach does little or nothing to address the epidemic of occupational disease in our workplaces. Future efforts must be more sophisticated in their approach.”
Judging by the MOL’s June announcement of a new enforcement strategy based on a combination of leading and lagging indicators it would seem they have been listening at least in part (see sidebar on page 6). Hence, the WHSC’s question, “What is the measure of your workplace?”
Under this new approach a MOL inspector compliance check list should include:
Proper workforce training;
Trained, registered certified representatives;
Functioning joint health and safety committees;
Health and safety policy and program;
Emergency and pandemic plans;
Safe work procedures;
Toxic use reduction; and
Borrowing from the language of business management, the WHSC mailer refers to this check list as Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs. Most of these concerns including training are also specific requirements under the law. Those that are not specifically found in the Act, Ministry of Labour inspectors should judge “reasonable” under the Act’s general duty for employers to take every precaution “reasonable” to ensure the health and safety of workers.
Response to this mailer and the overall “WHSC certification surge” has been positive. Participants successfully completing WHSC Basic Certification in 2007 rose by 16 per cent over the previous year. Among these graduates were WSIB staff. Specifically, the WSIB contracted the Workers Health & Safety Centre to deliver over 6,000 hours of Certification training to their joint committee members in offices across the province. Moreover, the training was delivered in-house by WHSC-qualified, in-house instructors.
Figures for 2008 look equally promising. The WHSC is well positioned to realize a record number of Certification Part II graduates. Among many improvements to WHSC processes is the recent WSIB audit and approval of their three most popular WHSC Certification Part II sector bundles — Health Care and Social Services, Manufacturing and Fabricating and Office and Professional. (An approved sector bundle for the Construction Sector is expected this fall.) Until now the only WSIB-approved sector programs were those endorsed by employer trade associations.
Regardless, to meet the requirement for the second phase of Certification training workplace representatives can now choose from WHSC hazard-specific training modules organized into sector bundles or they can take a more custom approach selecting from over 60 WHSC hazard modules. WHSC sector bundles meet the needs of workplaces typical to the sector. Bundles allow workplaces to get into compliance fast. Training secured in this manner is also portable between workplaces in the sector. If employers opt for a custom program, they must, in consultation with the joint health and safety committee, conduct a workplace hazard assessment and submit it to the WSIB along with a list of training that meets identified hazards. Of course, WHSC Training Services representatives are available to assist with the hazard assessment.
The WHSC has a reputation though for providing more than just the basics. Last Spring, they launched Ontario’s first Certification Renewal program for existing certified members. While it’s not yet required by law, the WHSC understands as many professions do, recertification is fundamental especially for those responsible for the well-being of others. (See page 7.)
This Fall the WHSC will also offer a Basic Certification training program for health and safety representatives in smaller workplaces (less than 20 workers) who struggle without benefit of legally-required joint committees and certified representatives.
Meantime, WHSC labour education programs, Level I and II will also continue to be important program mainstays. Both have been recently updated and translated to French. These programs serve to strengthen the knowledge and skills of worker representatives giving them the competence and confidence to get the job done.
“We can help take Ontario workplaces from complacence to compliance,” says Killham. “But we also recognize the need to exceed legislative minimums. Just as workers deserve better than the minimum wage, they deserve workplaces that go beyond the letter of Ontario health and safety law. With help from our labour constituency we are determined to set new training standards for this province.”
The WHSC remains Ontario’s only designated health and safety training centre and the only delivery organization endorsed by the labour movement. To register for Certification training or to learn more about the many programs of the WHSC visit www.whsc.on.ca. Also, be sure to watch your mail for the next WHSC direct mail package also due out in September.