Workers Health & Safety Centre

Ontario government proposes changes to laws regulating hazardous exposures

Construction worker wearing hard hat, safety goggles and respirator
The Ministry of Labour (MOL) is seeking public input by June 6th on a proposal to amend a range of regulations affecting worker exposure to hazardous substances.

Proposed OEL changes

To begin, the MOL is proposing to add or revise occupational exposure limits (OELs) for 21 hazardous substances. These proposed changes under Regulation 833 include:
  • Addition of specific listings for four substances to regulation: Ethyl isocyanate, Peracetic acid, Phenyl isocyanate and Cyanogen bromide.
  • Revisions to exposure limits or listings for 17 substances currently regulated: Atrazine, Barium sulfate, 1‑Bromopropane, Ethylidene norbornene, Methomyl, Methyl isocyanate, Naphthalene, Nickel carbonyl, Pentachlorophenol, Pentane, Trichloroacetic acid,  Acetone, Lithium hydride, Methyl formate, Oxalic acid, 1,2,3Trichloropropane and Triethylamine.
Ontario OELs for more than 700 biological and chemical agents were first set in 1986 based on limits established by American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH). These American limits were based on what the average healthy white male worker could acutely tolerate. Little or no regard was made for the risks of long-term damage to worker’s health or reproductive health effects.

Proposed new respiratory and air sampling requirements

The MOL is also proposing the addition of respiratory and air sampling requirements to Regulation 833 similar to the protections proposed and consulted on in 2015 for the Designated Substance Regulation which have yet to be adopted. The proposal includes requirements for the selection, use and care of respiratory protection along with related worker training. To this end, the MOL proposes to reference a few sections from two Canadian Standards Association (CSA) standardsCSA Standard Z180.1-13, Compressed Breathing Air and Systems and CSA Standard Z94.4-11, Selection, Use and Care of Respirators.

However, joint health and safety committee members and employers will need access to the standards to help understand and ensure these new respiratory protections are in place. These standards must be purchased from the CSA at a cost in excess of $300. To avoid this cost barrier the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) recommends incorporating the specific wording of the CSA standards in the regulation or adding a requirement for employers to make the standards available to workers, JHSC members and other workplace parties

Proposed new equivalency clause

Further, the MOL is proposing a new equivalency clause for the respiratory and air sampling requirements, suggesting similar to language in Regulation 278/05. This requires protection for workers at least equal to the protection that would be afforded by complying with the new proposed respiratory and air sampling requirements. Many feel JHSC members and worker health and safety representatives will need specific training to ensure they can play an informed role in ensuring equivalent protection for workers is achieved

Proposed new minimum oxygen content in Regulation 851—Industrial Regulations

This proposal would increase the minimum oxygen required for exposed workers covered by the Industrial Regulations. The Confined Spaces and Mines and Mining Plant Regulations have already increased this protection from 18 per cent by volume to 19.5 per cent. Workers exposed to anything less would trigger the workplace requirement to use mechanical ventilation.

Seeking greater protection for workers 

Regardless, the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), and others, feel Ontario needs a better process to establish exposure limits that will actually protect worker health. Ontario’s Occupational Cancer Research Centre (OCRC) recommends lowering limits for eight priority carcinogens including silica which is not part of this current consultation process. According to the OCRC, Ontario’s current limits provide significantly less protection than even the limits set in other Canadian jurisdictions.
Many more substances remain outside the scope of regulatory consideration or updates by the MOL at this time including radon, formaldehyde, nanoparticles, metalworking fluids and diesel engine exhaust (DEE).
In 2012, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reclassified DEE from a probable to a definite human carcinogen in light of what they explained was “compelling scientific evidence”. Still, Ontario has established no legal occupational exposure limit for whole diesel exhaust or diesel particulate matter. Truckers, bus drivers, heavy equipment operators, miners, maintenance workers and landscape labourers are just some of the 300,000 Ontarians who continue to be exposed to this deadly hazardous substance as a result of work.

Europe’s ‘best practice’

Still others insist on a different approach altogether. One of the most substantial developments in this area is European Union legislation entitled, Registration, Evaluation, and Authorisation of Chemicals or REACH. This initiative attempts to remedy the prevailing policy failure allowing tens of thousands of chemicals to be used without adequate knowledge about their environmental or public health effects. Enacted in December 2006, REACH has the potential to trigger cleaner technologies and safer products globally. Already many companies in Europe and North America have started phase-outs of certain high concern chemicals. As of June 1, 2007 chemicals covered by REACH are not allowed to enter the European market without compliance with the regulations.
Different approaches such as REACH could form the basis of a much-needed, long-awaited, comprehensive occupational disease strategy for Ontario.
Meantime, many resources are available to help workplaces looking to embrace a more proactive approach to protecting the health of workers. For instance, the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) has designed as a single access point to the many chemical substitution tools available on the internet.
For our part, the Workers Health and Safety Centre assists workplace parties through training programs and information services aimed at raising awareness about hazardous substances, related occupational and environmental disease and the many legal duties and responsibilities related to the requirements for reducing worker exposures and targeting prevention.
To learn more:
Call:    1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak to a training service representative
Want additional information about the MOL consultation process and where to send submissions?