From: Dave Killham, WHSC Executive Director
On April 28 workers, their union representatives, family, friends and community leaders will gather in communities across Ontario to remember. Together, they will remember fellow workers who have been killed, injured or made ill as a result of hazardous work.
For many this day, Canada’s National Day of Mourning for fallen workers, is deeply personal. Those who lost their lives or health are more than statistics. They are dearly remembered and never forgotten.
For many this day is also an important opportunity to refocus efforts to prevent this unacceptable suffering. Many will cite worker compensation statistics to impress upon the public the need to address these hazards.
But these statistics are increasingly unreliable. A closer look raises several questions. For instance, how is it that accepted lost-time injuries have been dramatically reduced in the last 10 years, but worker deaths and critical injuries have remained persistently high?
The simple answer I suggest is worker deaths and critical injuries are harder to deny. A growing body of research tells us aggressive claims management tactics are pushing the drop in lost-time injuries. Consequently, contrary to what policy-makers would have us believe, many Ontario workplaces are no safer, or healthier.
So what’s to be done? The work for change will continue with workers themselves. In this province and around the world, workers are on the frontlines in the drive for safer, healthier workplaces.
So while we remember our dead, injured and ill, we must also remember, worker demands are what most often put things right. Policy-makers need to listen to these voices.
Of course quality training and education workers can trust plays an important part in ensuring worker rights are acted upon. This is the reason the Workers Health & Safety Centre was created in the first place.
Over the years we have also learned we are able to sustain quality training programs when a high standard of training is required by law. We saw this with the original Certification training standard some 20 years ago and we are seeing it today with new working at heights training standards which came into force this month. Demand for our Ministry of Labour-approved Working at Heights
training program is incredibly high. WHSC is meeting this challenge, scheduling new courses almost daily and partnering with unions and employers in the construction industry to build even greater capacity to deliver on this standard.
Life-saving training standards
Ontario’s new working at heights training standard was sparked by the deaths of four Toronto-area construction workers killed on December 24, 2009. This tragedy and workers’ demands for justice triggered a year-long review of the health and safety system which ended with a report calling for the implementation of a mandatory working at heights training standard by December 2011. Experience in another province has shown that working at heights training could prevent more than 800 accidents a year and save tens of millions of dollars each year in Workplace Safety and Insurance Board costs.
The report also endorsed improvements to the Certification training standard for joint health and safety committees, and new training standards for worker health and safety reps in small workplaces and entry level training for construction workers. These standards were to be treated as priorities and implemented within one year of the December, 2010 report. The government accepted the report and its recommendations, however for more than four years these life-saving recommendations have been bogged down in the bureaucracy.
Health and safety needs a push forward. It is my great hope we will soon see the introduction of these delayed mandatory training standards. Working with our constituents and clients we have shown the WHSC can be counted on to meet and even exceed training standards so necessary to worker health and safety.
On April 28 WHSC staff and leadership will proudly participate in Day of Mourning events province-wide. In the days to follow, we will remain committed to working for better training standards and providing workers, their representatives and all workplace parties with the training they need to recognize, assess, control and ultimately eliminate the hazardous conditions that rob workers of their lives and livelihoods. In this way, we will remember our dead and our collective ability to make a real difference in Ontario workplaces.
To learn more
, including our dedicated Day of Mourning resources
Be sure to also visit www.ohcow.on.ca
Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers
has been supporting workers and workplace representatives with interdisciplinary health services for more than 25 years.