Trends in health and safety for 2015

Dave Rebbitt
Looking ahead for 2015, there are some things that may impact the health and safety profession both in Canada and abroad.

Global Harmonized System: The Global Harmonized System has arrived. On the agenda for many years, WHMIS will be replaced as the GHS comes into force in many countries in 2015. Since 2008 people have been running around saying GHS is coming but it really is going to happen in 2015. Canada, being unique in terms of its health and safety legislation, will see provinces coming out with new legislation once the federal legislation changes in early 2015. GHS is not greatly different from WHMIS and is long overdue in our world of interlinked economies. How this will unfold and how long it will take is a space reserved in 2016 predictions.

The profession will remain fractured and regionalized: There are hundreds of certifications in health and safety and many are region specific. There is no clearly agreed upon standard of what “health and safety professional” really means and who actually is a professional as the designation versus certification debate continues. Even training is not consistent in content or quality. Regionalized regulation and the lack or a national approach or focus on health and safety will continue to be major hurdles in defining the profession in Canada. My hopeful prediction is that talks on a national intermediate or entry-level designation such as the Occupational Health and Safety Technologists (OHST) offered by Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP) in the United States may begin in 2015.

Regulators will remain under increased scrutiny: In the provinces with larger populations, it seems that regulators are facing mounting criticism. This may be just part of the continuing trend towards mistrust of the government but this aspect is a new and emerging trend.

In 2014 we saw WorkSafeBC have the expertise of its prevention branch seriously questioned and found lacking by the British Columbia government in the wake of two botched investigations into sawmill explosions.

In Ontario we saw one lawsuit launched against the Ministry of Labour and another clear a significant milestone. One for the Elliot Lake mall collapse where a class action lawsuit alleged the inspectors were indifferent.

The other is from a former Metron employee involved in the 2009 swing stage collapse and filed suit in 2011 alleging negligence on the part of the Ministry of Labour inspectors. In 2014 the Ministry of Labour had to be compelled by court order to provide information about “education, training, workload and experience of the inspector assigned to the job site.” This case may be in court this year.

In their first public consultation to improve mine safety in Ontario, the Ministry of Labour found both the role and experience of mine safety inspectors questioned when they travelled to Timmins, Ont. Adding to their woes is the case of an Ontario Ministry of Labour inspector was charged with extortion.

In 2014 Alberta introduced fines and administrative penalties. Fatalities are rising and the public remains largely unconvinced that the actions taken will be effective.

Federally, Transport Canada was roundly criticized for failing to crack down on the Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway before the Lac-Mégantic, Que., disaster. The auditor general was subsequently very critical of Transport Canada as well. Transport Canada announced it is hiring 10 more safety auditors to double the current number, but many issues remain to be solved.

Demand for safety people will remain strong: The safety occupation will continue to grow strongly as the function becomes more embedded as a requirement rather than something nice to have. Smaller companies involved in high risk industries like construction or those involved in work with large companies will see the need for trained safety staff.

Fatalities will rise: This should be no surprise. As the economy improves more people are working and fatalities will rise. Occupational disease fatalities will rise because those related to mesothelioma or asbestos related respiratory diseases have not peaked yet. Motor vehicle fatalities will rise along with economic activity. The fatality rate may stay constant, but expect it to rise in high-risk industries like construction. Fatality rates in construction have been on the uptick recently in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada. Since there is no national analysis of workplace injury or fatality data in Canada, no one has really noticed yet, but I expect the trend will continue.

Our fascination with zero will continue: Zero is a target for a lot of companies. It is big and round and far away or nebulous for most — more of a philosophy than a target. Setting unachievable goals or ones that the workforce has difficulty relating to will actually make people more likely to take risks.

If John F. Kennedy had said “We are going to the moon” instead of “We will go to the moon in this decade” we may never have made it. In 1962 planning and activities to meet the goal was well under way. Everyone understood how the goal would be met.

Targets are great and zero is a good one but if you have no idea how to get there then it isn’t a real target. Doing more of whatever is being done now will not get anyone to a sustainable level at or near zero. No relevance (timeline), no plan and no vision equals no effect.

Enrolment in OHS diploma and certificate programs will see strong growth: The reasons for this are easy. More people are getting into health and safety and employers are becoming (to their credit) more demanding in terms of people and their educations. Experience will still be important but education will take on more emphasis in the future. The overall trend to online learning will also continue grow as many in the health and safety field are already working and cannot make it to a traditional classroom.

ISO 45001 will not get much notice: Yes, our friends at the International Standards Organization are working on a health and safety standard for release in 2016. Of course we already have CSA Z1000, or the American ANSI Z10, and the British OHSAS 18000. Not many companies certify to these standards because there is little benefit. While we could debate whether it is really needed maybe we should all agree that we need to standardize our methods first, which are also very fractionalized by region or country.