Workers Health & Safety Centre

Creating safer, healthier work. Demand what works!

Creating safer, healthier work. Demand what works!

2017 Day of Mourning Message
Dave Killham, Executive Director, WHSC


“Mourn for the dead. Fight for the living” is no empty cliché. With workers’ health and safety, we take nothing for granted. Today and every day, Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) joins with health and safety advocates to rededicate ourselves to supporting the prevention of worker disability, disease and death.
 
Workers and their representatives first insisted upon public recognition of the toll hazardous working conditions takes and the need for action, with a National Day of Mourning declared by the Canadian Labour Congress in 1984. More than 100 countries now observe a Day of Mourning on April 28. 
 
Almost forty years ago, Bill 70 also ushered in our first Occupational Health & Safety Act (the Act) enshrining three basic, hard-won rights for workers — the right to know about workplace hazards, the right to participate in ways to best address these hazards and the right to refuse unsafe work when hazards go unaddressed. In addition to these rights are a host of employer duties, not the least of which is to take every reasonable precaution to protect worker health and safety. In an ironic reversal though, passage of another Bill 70 threatens to undermine this legal framework.

Regulation and enforcement

Buried in Ontario’s omnibus bill to implement its last budget, and also named Bill 70, were amendments to the Act. These changes set out employer recognition and accreditation programs for voluntary health and safety management systems (HSMS) — changes that also include privatizing standard-setting for accreditation, health and safety training programs and their providers. Worker health and safety advocates warn this will lead to more workplace self-regulation and worse, will allow employers to avoid routine health and safety inspections. Employers could even receive rewards for simply complying with the law.
 
Like occupational health and safety (OHS) training programs, we also know not all accreditation programs are created equal. Many are neither superior, nor safe. Research and anecdotal evidence offer little evidence to suggest HSMS are effective. Like their name suggests, HSMS are often:
  • Paper-based, employer-controlled, self-audits
  • Include no worker participation, bypassing Joint Health and Safety Committees (JHSC) or worker reps
  • Ignore workplace experience of injury, illness and death, plus OHS orders and convictions
  • Linked to worker comp rebates which promote claims management not OHS compliance or excellence, and siphons money that could be used for real prevention efforts.
 
Elsewhere, these voluntary systems have come under the fire of Auditor Generals. Labour leaders in Alberta and BC too have openly criticized these programs, in Alberta declaring one of the most popular programs an “unmitigated disaster”.  

What to do then? Let’s focus instead on what we know does work. It takes more than good will or a safety culture to create safer, healthier workplaces. It takes good laws, meaningful regulations and strong enforcement. Research also supports this approach. A systematic review conducted by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) found inspections with penalties are associated with lower injury rates. In other words, regulation works.  

We need only look at the successful roll out of Ontario’s workplace violence laws and Working at Heights training standard to see this. Workers and their representatives also tell us we need regulatory intervention to address priority issues such as prevention of musculoskeletal disorders and occupational disease.

Ensured worker participation

Individually and collectively workers have the right to participate in workplace health and safety matters. For many, it is a critical component of any effective OHS program. Not surprising, worker participation is included in many international and Canadian health and safety standards.
 
Research also supports worker participation. University of Alberta’s Parkland Institute concluded worker involvement is critical to safer workplaces and is associated with reduced injury rates. Ontario’s own IWH has found JHSCs are a core component of any internal responsibility system. The Labour, OHCOW, Academic Research Collaboration suggests worker OHS reps who spend time building knowledge and relationships in their OHS work are more effective in affecting change.

Quality, hazard-based training

Quality training is an essential and effective prevention tool. Law-makers understand this too. By law, employers have significant duties to provide general and workplace specific information, instruction and supervision to protect workers. Effective, enforceable training standards further support those seeking consistent, and ultimately protective, quality training.
 
WHSC understands quality training is hazard-based and prevention-focused. It roots out the real causes of workplace injuries and illness — the hazards themselves. Too often what’s offered as training is behaviour-based safety (BBS) designed to effectively blame workers for work-related disability, disease and death. This approach fails to acknowledge hazardous exposures as the cause of worker injury and illness, not careless worker behaviours.

Research tells us and WHSC experience proves effective OHS training:  incorporates proven adult teaching techniques; builds on workers’ existing knowledge; is delivered by a trusted and qualified source; provides opportunity to apply and observe what is learned and addresses root problems — namely workplace hazards.

Proper resources for proven approaches

WHSC has lent this kind of support to workers, their representatives and employers in thousands of Ontario workplaces, regardless of sector, size, location or union status for over 30 years.

This April 28, let’s demand more of what works:
  • quality, proven training
  • health and safety programs developed by and for workers
  • laws and regulations that support primary prevention and a hierarchy of controls.

Let’s begin by attending a Day of Mourning event in your community. Visit WHSC’s dedicated Day of Mourning  page in the events section of our web site. It contains a complete list of events across the province and an up-to-date online catalogue of Worker Memorials in Ontario. Be sure to also check out the rest of our web site for a host of other information and training resources to support your ongoing workplace prevention efforts.