Feds focus on OHS in roundtable series

Feds focus on OHS in roundtable series
The federal government has embarked on a series of national dialogue focused on issues relating to occupational health and safety, with the end-goal of enhancing safety in Canadian workplaces.

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt has been travelling the country, engaging in discussions with members of the business, labour and academic communities, as part of a national roundtable series aimed at ensuring Canada’s labour policies and programs reflect a 21st century workplace.

The discussions “are focused on current and emerging occupational health and safety issues, including violence prevention, ergonomics and mental health,” said a ministry spokesperson in an email.

The roundtable discussions will serve to provide “information on emerging workplace issues, particularly those in relation to occupational health and safety,” said the spokesperson. This information will also be used to help enhance the ministry’s policy and programs with regards to occupational health and safety, helping keep Canadian workplaces “fair, safe and productive.”

Vancouver hosted the first roundtable on July 14, with Toronto playing host to the second on Aug. 9. Future locations for roundtable meetings are currently being reviewed, and as such no date has been publicly announced for the next one, said the spokesperson.

The federal consultations come reflect a similar initiative on the provincial level in Ontario.

In January, Ontario Labour Minister Peter Fonseca appointed University of Toronto professor Tony Dean to head an advisory panel tasked with reviewing the province’s OHS prevention and enforcement system.

At the moment, the panel is in the process of compiling all the information gathered from the consultations and developing summary papers that outline the range of options for the panel to consider, said Dean. However, the panel will also bring its own ideas to the table, rather than rely solely on those from the consultation.

“Having been through a number of these reviews in the past, my sense is the more technical support and summary material that can be developed for the panel, the faster and more efficient we will be in working through all of the issues,” said Dean.

On the whole, the panel was tasked with looking at how well the Ontario health and safety system is working. This also includes looking at specific focus areas such as how the underground economy is impacting health and safety practices, training, joint health and safety committees and the effects of new technology.

Dean said the Labour minister chose the panelists, who have not let their backgrounds or potential biases interfere with the process. He also said all discussions, both amongst panelists and with the public, have been calm and professional. Dean said this is likely due to all involved “seeing an opportunity there to make a difference in making workplaces safer.”

“It’s not surprising, but extraordinarily helpful,” he said.

When the panel was struck in January, Dean said Minister Fonseca gave it until the end of the year to report its findings. As such, the panel will begin to analyze the summary papers in September in order to deliver its report before the end of December.

The panel and its report follow in the footsteps of a compliance program that ran from April 1, 2004 until March 31, 2008. This program helped reduce the annual workplace injury rate by 20 per cent, eliminating nearly 57,000 incidents.

In order to better inspect workplaces and enforce the OHS Act, the province has doubled the number of full-time OHS inspectors since 2005. These new recruits bring the number of inspectors in Ontario to 430.