Regulatory training as the foundation for a safe workplace

Glyn Jones
Four workers die each day as a result of work in Canadian workplaces. The current fatality rate is too high and it suggests there are deficiencies in the system that need to be fixed. A lack of regulatory training is a big part of the problem.

Regulatory training needs to be a cornerstone of the education offered to supervisors and front-line managers in Canadian companies. Regulatory training is simply taking a course that drives through the actual legislation section by section and allows learners to learn applicable definitions, determine the minimum requirements, be able to find relevant sections and reference them, interpret the intent and expectations set out in the legislation and be able to apply the legislation in their workplaces.

Without formal exposure to the occupational health and safety legislative requirements, it is unlikely supervisors and front-line managers can design a work plan or process to be in compliance or ensure occupational health and safety risks are recognized, assessed and controlled.

Regulatory training may sound boring, however, it is foundational to supervisors’ and front-line managers’ ability to do their jobs. Further, this lack of regulatory training exposes employers to prosecution risk in the event of a serious incident.

From the legal perspective, employers have an obligation to provide this training to employees who take on the role of the employee representative. This typically points towards the supervisors and front-line managers. The basis for staff training has to include the regulatory requirements applicable to the employer’s operations and jurisdiction. Ultimately, the success of the training should also be assessed as to whether the information provided allows an individual to make decisions that would keep the company in compliance and prevent losses.

After regulatory training takes place, the necessary technical training for the job is layered. Finally, additional specific training is offered selectively to employees as necessary. Our focus, all too often, is on ensuring the specific training is provided without necessarily providing for the foundation.

Learning from mistakes
Canadian legislation is based largely on the lessons learned from past tragedies. One of the first events to shape occupational health and safety legislation in Canada was the Hollinger Mines disaster in 1928 in Timmins, Ont. A fire somehow started burning in an accumulation of timber, sawdust and powder boxes. The fire was initially unnoticed and the resulting carbon monoxide started to kill the miners. After two bodies were found, the miners started to come to the surface. Without an organized rescue or firefighting program in place, the incident eventually claimed the lives of 39 miners. The fire burned for five days. This incident prompted legislative requirements for formal fire suppression, rescue and escape planning.

If we fast-forward a few years to 1974, we find workers at the uranium mine in Elliot Lake, Ont., contracting silicosis and lung cancer at a rate that was more than three times the national average. The resulting legislation included the now familiar right to know, right to participate and right to refuse.

In 1979 106-long rail train derailment in Mississauga, Ont., which involved fires and explosions, resulted in the evacuation of 200,000 residents. Without the current legislation relating to manifesting and segregation of chemicals, firefighters were unaware of what chemicals they were dealing with. As a result of this accident, the National Transportation Act and the Transportation of Dangerous Goods regulations were created.

Changes to regulatory requirements are still occurring in every jurisdiction to address the lessons learned from workplace incidents. The more recent death of Grant De Patie, a Maple Ridge, B.C., gas station attendant who was dragged underneath a car for several kilometers after trying to stop a $12 theft of gas, resulted in revised legislative requirements relating to the mitigation of workplace violence.

I searched high and low looking for a recognized educational institution or company that offers formal education on regulatory requirements to supervisors and front-line managers and none was found. Most universities offer a course in understanding law and legislation but none of these really dive into the mechanics of the legislative requirements that would allow an individual to make decisions that would keep the company in compliance. Some industry health and safety associations offer courses on the legislation but the focus is on training health and safety advisors and not supervisors and front-line managers.

One established process that incorporates this regulatory component is the functional competency assessment method that Suncor Energy, Fort Hills project, uses for its personnel and contractors. This process includes an assessment of an individual’s knowledge and understanding of the regulatory requirements specific to the jurisdiction. I spoke with Robert Day, a regulatory advisor working on Suncor’s implementation of I-CAB Functional Competency Assessments and he said the assessment includes competencies derived from regulatory requirements and allows management to focus on training deficiencies specific to the participating individuals and their job functions. Day commented that this is the first of its kind in Canada and although it is a pilot project, he believes it will become the standard in the future.