Health and Safety Outlook: Issues, trends to watch for in 2010

Complying with the legal requirements of Ontario’s new workplace violence legislation — scheduled to take effect in June — will be on many organizations’ to-do list for 2010, said Toronto-based lawyer Norman Keith, a partner at law firm Gowlings and leads the firm’s OHS group.

Keith recently spoke to Canadian Occupational Safety for its Health and Safety Outlook 2010 series, a year-end discussion of the hottest OHS issues of 2009, as well as trends for 2010.

Bill 168, which amends Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act to include specific provisions on workplace violence and harassment prevention, received Royal Assent on December 15, 2009.

To comply with Bill 168, Keith said, there are at least five steps an employer with more than five employees has to do: have a policy that deals with workplace violence and harassment, as defined under the amendment; conduct a risk assessment for violence in the workplace; develop specific program for their specific workplace based on the results of the risk assessment; provide a mechanism for worker complaints about harassment or violence or threats of violence in the workplace; and, provide training for workers and supervisors on this new program and the legal requirements of Bill 168.

“The questions we’re getting from people are: Do you need two policies – one for harassment and one for violence? And generally we’re saying, ‘No, you can include both issues in a policy.’ And we recommend it be a respectable workplace policy as opposed to just prohibition against workplace violence or harassment,” Keith said.

The legal requirements for employers under the new legislation will take effect on June 15, 2010, six months after receiving Royal Assent.

Keith also expects regulatory bodies to continue to beef up OHS enforcement in 2010, following an announcement from the Ontario Ministry of Labour to hire 41 new workplace inspectors over the next few months.

“This indicates a continuing trend of aggressive enforcement by the Ministry of Labour of incidents that result in accident, injury or death. So the trend towards blaming employers for workplace accidents without looking at worker or supervisor responsibility, I think, will continue,” said Keith.

OHS management
Veteran OHS consultant and long-time COS columnist Alan Quilley also gave his insight on what’s in store for health and safety professionals in 2010. “I certainly see — as we have seen in the past every time the economy slows down — people take an opportunity to educate themselves.”

Quilley said enrolment in formal education typically goes up during tough economic times, as people challenge themselves to become better at their profession.

“I think anytime you’re not doing something that is billable, anytime you’re not working for someone else, you should be working on yourself. You should be working on making yourself a better professional,” he said.

Quilley said the economic downturn of 2009 also led companies to “focus on the fundamentals” of health and safety in the workplace. Companies are looking at how safety is being measured in their organization to look at how effective their OHS programs and policies really are, he added.

“In those challenging economic times, we can little afford to spend our money and our time not getting results. So I think — that would be prediction — more companies would certainly start to measure safety differently: the creation of safety rather than the absence of injury,” Quilley said.

The economic challenge has also opened up opportunities for companies to take advantage of new technologies that help bring cost down. For example, virtual meetings, podcasts, online trainings and electronic information have helped companies communicate more efficiently and cost-effectively.

Quilley predicts organizations will be turning to more technological solutions even more this year. “I think the economic challenges of the recent past have made us focus on what’s the best way to hold a meeting when you’re working in a company that crosses continent. Is it to bring everyone in the same room? That’s not the most economical. It’s not the greenest way to do things.”

Still in the technology subject, wireless applications are also expected to play a significant role in worker safety in 2010.

Jeff Becker, global wireless business director for Honeywell Process Solutions, believes wireless technology is enabling different applications that are transforming the way technology is being used from a workplace health and safety perspective.

Historically, Becker noted, wireless technology in the area of health and safety simply meant voice communications and handheld radios. That has changed in recent years, with wireless becoming an “enabler” for other technology applications.

“When you combine this wireless technology enabler with some other technological innovations — things like improvements in battery storage technology, the emergence of low-powered sensors and low-powered microprocessors, and a lot of improvements in the area of computational algorithm — we’re starting to see a number of new safety-related applications that are coming out in 2010 and a fairly robust set of applications that are in research and development now but should be coming out over the next couple of years.”

Examples of such applications include: safety sensors, which provide real-time monitoring of pressure release valves; wireless sensors that provide remote alarming when a safety shower or eyewash station is activated; corrosion sensors that can monitor corrosion in the pipes, allowing companies to take proactive measures to prevent a leak or a breach that can cause an accident.

Digging deeper: Watch for our Health and Safety Outlook 2010 special video report hosted by COS editor Mari-Len De Guzman. Coming soon on