More Canada-wide OHS harmonization coming

Committee starting with legislation around personal protective equipment


Earlier this year, the federal and provincial labour ministers agreed on an approach for occupational health and safety harmonization. With 13 jurisdictions operating under different legislation, regulations and policies, it is often difficult for employers operating across provinces.

“Businesses operating in more than one jurisdiction might be required to develop different safety and health programs for workplaces in each jurisdiction and be unable to bulk order equipment, due to varying equipment requirements,” said Christopher Simard, media relations spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada. “The efforts on harmonization are expected to address these challenges by providing predictability for employers and employees, and helping them to comply with their obligations.”

Since harmonization was so successful with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), the government decided to try it again, starting with personal protective equipment (PPE), such as hearing protection, respiratory protection and personal floatation devices.

When looking at hearing protection, for example, the occupational exposure limit for noise is not consistent across jurisdictions. The majority state the maximum permitted exposure level for eight hours is 85 decibles — but not all. To come to an agreement across the country of exactly what the right decibel level is, the occupational safety and health subcommittee of the Canadian Association of Administrators of Labour Legislation is looking at best practices, examining available standards and gaining an understanding of what the different jurisdictions have in place.

Once the best course forward has been decided, it must be approved by the labour minsters and the various jurisdictions will need to make any necessary changes — legislative, regulatory or policy — to achieve harmonization. Each jurisdiction will establish its own timelines for making these changes. Simard was not able to speculate on any dates for decision-making or implementation.

Once various PPE regulations have been harmonized, first aid kits may be next on the agenda now that the new CSA Z1220-17 standard on workplace first aid kits is available, the federal government said.

One benefit of the harmonization efforts is that it eliminates duplication of effort. For example, one jurisdiction may have completed comprehensive research and cost-benefit analysis on personal floatation devices. There’s no reason why another province should go through that exact same process, the federal government said.

Harmonization can also have a positive impact on workplace health and safety.

“As an employee, you might be used to working in one province where you know exactly how to safely use the equipment, and then you move into a work site in another province or territory where the requirements are just a little bit different and unfamiliar,” said Simard. “This lack of familiarity can become a workplace hazard — harmonization of regulations and standards can help to reduce this.”

This article originally appeared in the April/May 2018 issue of COS.