JHSC changes in Ontario going back to the ‘90s

Norm Keith
On Oct. 1, Ontario’s Ministry of Labour announced new training standards for Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) certification training and training providers. The chief prevention officer is looking to the past to reinvent JHSCs. The controversial Workplace Health and Safety Agency, under the infamous Bob Rae NDP government in Ontario in the 1990s, appears to be the basis for new changes coming to workplaces in early 2016. The changes are the latest effort by the Kathleen Wynne government to try and improve occupational health and safety. The changes, which are not open to public or legislative debate, involve lengthening the time to provide the same training under the current certification system. The bottom line is that completing JHSC Part 1 and Part 2 of the training will now take five days (up from the current three). There is also a requirement for one-day refresher training every three years.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) requires that a JHSC have at least one management and one worker member who are “certified” or have received certification training. In order to become certified, JHSC members must complete a two-part training program. JHSC Part 1 training is common to all industries and reviews various health and safety topics. Part 2 Workplace Specific Hazard Training reviews significant hazards applicable to the participant’s workplace. JHSC Part 1 training must be obtained from a training provider approved by the Ministry of Labour.

The current standards for JHSC certification have been in place since 1996. There is no evidence that the current system is not working or that it needs to be changed. The current standards will remain in effect until Feb. 29, 2016, and the new standards will come into effect on March 1, 2016. Training providers approved under the 1996 standard can continue to provide JHSC training during the transition period leading up to March 1, 2016.

Training providers

Companies that provide training for health and safety committee member certification will need to apply to the Ministry of Labour for approval under the new JHSC Certification Training Standards to provide training after March 1. There is no reason provided by the chief prevention officer why past providers need to apply to continue to be approved by the Ministry of Labour. This will put costs pressure on smaller, private sector training providers who wish to continue to provide certification training and favour the heavily subsidized workplace safety associations in Ontario.

Committee members

JHSC members who complete both Part 1 and Part 2 training under the 1996 standard prior to March 1 will continue to be certified and will not be required to complete any further training under the new JHSC certification standards, including the refresher training. This effectively “grandfathers” certificated members who are certified before March 1.

Worker or management members who need to become certified for the first time will need more time off work to get their certification. As of March 1, JHSC Part 1 training will be a minimum of three days or 19.5 hours. Part 2, or Workplace Specific Hazard Training, will be a minimum of two days or 13 hours and must be completed within six months of completion of Part 1 training. Those members certified under the new standards will be required to take refresher training every three years. Those members who have completed only Part 1 training under the 1996 standard as of March 1 will be required to complete Part 2 training under the new standards in order to become certified. They will also be required to take refresher training to maintain their certification.

These changes mean employers will have increased costs and lost productivity while their workers are completing the initial training and the future refresher training requirement, all to achieve the same end result; namely “certified member” status under section 9 of the OHSA.

One of the enduring lessons from the failed Health and Safety Agency was that longer certification training (five days in the 1990s) did not make the certified members more effective. Although the agency was popular with organized labour in Ontario, it was also found to be a hot bed of nepotism and government waste. These new changes will be one of the defining moves by the chief prevention officer who hails from the construction industry. Although accidents in construction have yet to be fully addressed by the Ministry of Labour, the certification changes will apply to all workplaces, regardless of the level of risk. For example, large accounting firms and stock brokerage firms in Ontario will have to meet these new certification training requirements even though they remain very low-risk workplaces. This is the same approach taken by Bob Rae and the NDP in the 1990s; the agency treated all workplaces the same even though their relative risk levels varied greatly. These moves by the office of the chief prevention officer, like the agency before it, do little if anything to improve safety in Ontario, but place higher costs on employers that will foot the bill for the 50 per cent increase in the lost time for both worker and management members who attend certification training.

The Ministry of Labour has confirmed there will be a transition period from March 1 to April 30 for employers and training providers to be able to submit their final 1996 JHSC Part 1 learner tests and Part 2 Workplace Specific Hazard Training confirmation forms. The ministry has confirmed that it will not accept submissions for certification under the 1996 standard after that date.

Norm Keith, an OHS lawyer and consultant, is a partner at Fasken Martineau DuMoulin in Toronto. He can be reached at (416) 868-7824 or [email protected], or visit www.ehslaw.ca for more information.

This article originally appeared in the December/January 2016 issue of COS.