Workers Health & Safety Centre

Ontario’s worker OHS awareness training ineffective, IWH study finds

Worker health and safety awareness in 4 steps
Programs designed to meet Ontario’s mandatory worker health and safety awareness training requirements were recently evaluated by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH).

Since July 1, 2014, employers in Ontario must ensure workers and supervisors in their employ complete mandatory health and safety awareness training. In support of this requirement, the Ministry of Labour Prevention Office created online resources and a print workbook, which they deemed adequate for purposes of meeting their training requirement.

After considerable investigation however, IWH researchers found this intervention to be deficient.

Findings from the research were recently presented at an IWH plenary, led by IWH senior scientist, Peter Smith. Supported by grants from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and the Ministry of Labour Research Opportunities Program, the research project set out to examine differences in health and safety awareness and empowerment among workers before and after the introduction of a mandatory training regulation in Ontario.

Key findings

IWH researchers conclude types of training in Ontario which occurred as a result of the mandatory requirement “were not effective in increasing awareness and empowerment.”  They further observe, “Mode of training matters. Passive training (completing OHS awareness training on-line or through a workbook) is less effective than active (instructor led) training on both awareness and empowerment.”
Further, for those who offer online training options they also advise, “Future programs utilising on-line training need to examine ways to make this type of training more effective (e.g. interactive training modules).”
“Those of us at the Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) welcome this kind of important research. Our programs are based on a considerable body of research that tells us what works. But we also need confirmation on what does not work. We have long maintained information, online or offline, is no substitute for proper training. In this case, the research also tells us something is not better than nothing,” says Dave Killham, WHSC Executive Director.

Research methodology

To reach their conclusions IWH researchers compared Ontario results with those from a sample of BC workers. As Smith explained in his presentation, BC was chosen as a control group because their labour market demographics are similar to Ontario’s and because BC’s health and safety regulations require employers to provide orientation and training to young and new workers. Unlike Ontario, the BC government did not develop their own resources to meet their training requirement.
Researchers surveyed close to 1,700 workers in Ontario and British Columbia (again for comparison) on three occasions, once prior to introduction of mandatory training in Ontario and twice afterwards. Workers were asked specifically about the type of OHS awareness training they completed. Survey questions were based upon an OHS Vulnerability Scale, developed by IWH and used to measure hazard exposure, workplace policies and procedure, worker awareness of hazards and health and safety rights and responsibilities, and worker empowerment to participate in injury and illness prevention.

Issues related to worker vulnerability have been the subject of increased attention, especially since the December 24, 2009 swing-stage tragedy which saw four workers killed and another seriously injured. This same tragedy prompted a review of Ontario’s health and safety system conducted by Tony Dean and a panel of stakeholder experts. The panel and Dean made many recommendations, including a recommendation to provide new worker and supervisor training – training, Smith of IWH, observes was supposed “to protect workers and keep them safe on the job.” Seven years later, many of the Dean panel recommendations have yet to be implemented.

After the introduction of mandatory health and safety awareness training in Ontario, the IWH research finds Ontario respondents were more likely than those in BC to be aware of mandatory training and to have participated in training in the previous 12 months. However, there was no observed difference between Ontario and British Columbia with regard to awareness and empowerment before and after introduction of the mandatory training. Hence why the researchers concluded Ontario’s mandatory training requirement and the “passive” online resources and workbooks, including those developed by Ontario’s Prevention Office, were ineffective.

Workers Health & Safety Centre offers Awareness Training for Workers which is instructor-led and interactive.

This latest research supports Workers Health & Safety Centre’s commitment to effective quality training which embraces proven adult teaching techniques, builds on workers’ experiences, provides opportunity to apply what is learned, allows instructors to observe and confirm learning has taken place and addresses root problems — the hazards themselves.

Related resources:

Watch the IWH Plenary Evaluating the impact of mandatory awareness training in Ontario

IWH research and resources on vulnerable workers

The Workers Health & Safety Centre also offers a complete suite of training programs, including Supervisor Health and Safety Training and other resources to help workplaces understand and exercise their legal rights and duties including identifying, assessing and controlling workplace hazards.

To learn more:
Call:   1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak with a training services representative