Trends in health and safety 2024

What safety leaders can expect in the year ahead

Trends in health and safety 2024
Dave Rebbitt
  1. Harassment and workplace violence

This continues to be a focus area. In 2023, the International Labor Organization called on member states to eliminate violence and harassment at work and ratify Convention 190 with the aim of protecting workers and other persons from workplace violence and harassment.

Cases involving workplace violence and harassment continue to crop up in the news, commanding national attention. It seems that society and those charged with managing the risk and hazard of violence and harassment are still playing catch up.

Somewhat confounding is the inconsistent approach when it comes to workplace violence and harassment. Many would say this is a safety issue. That follows as the legislation dealing with this topic is found within the occupational health and safety legislation of the relevant jurisdictions. However, in the past, this was the realm of human resources.

Nowadays, there is a hodgepodge of approaches. In some companies, it is entirely a human resources process, and in some, it is entirely in the health and safety department. Other companies have a collaborative approach between HR and health and safety as partners. Some of these approaches are disastrous, while others do work.

Health and safety organizations, for the most part, have remained entirely silent on the role that health and safety practitioners should play in this newly regulated workplace hazard. The old way of handling such cases from a pure risk management perspective would almost certainly violate the rights of the stakeholders today. Companies deal with these issues, leaving victims to resort to the courts, health and safety regulators or human rights commissions.

The only thing that seems certain these days is that this is a risk and hazard that is poorly assessed and managed.

  1. TDG changes

The changes proposed to the training requirements for the Transportation of Dangerous Goods were delayed until 2024.

These changes are really significant as the training shifts from an awareness to a competency focus. Online training programs to qualify personnel for their various roles described within the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations, the onus would be on the employer to outline the process for competency.

There is a training standard available, and it outlines the process the company should follow to ensure that personnel are competent. This would include consignors and carriers of dangerous goods.

  1. Goodbye CSSE?

In 2023, twenty-five members of the CSSE voted that the organization should be renamed “Health and Safety Professionals of Canada.” A survey indicated that 408 members approved of the name.

Those 25 voting in approval do not represent anything close to a majority of the CSSE’s membership.

A name change has long been discussed and prudent as we saw the ASSE drop the “Engineering” in favor of “Professionals, becoming the ASSP.” A well-reasoned decision since they maintained the brand they spent a century building, leaving their logo virtually unchanged. Not so for the CSSE. Things remain foggy as there is a new logo floating around with the new name.

We may be saying goodbye to an organization that has been a touchstone to many health and safety professionals and practitioners across Canada for decades. Myself included. However, since the CSSE has made sweeping changes to make itself more insular and dictatorial, perhaps it’s for the best. Other organizations are springing up to fill the need. I was a member of the “old” CSSE.

  1. Regulators continue to send mixed signals

Regulators are charged with enforcing legislation that is very similar in its structure and requirements across Canada. The approach to regulation varies from warnings and administrative penalties to actually charging companies or individuals that breach legislated requirements.

In some jurisdictions, companies or individuals are charged with criminal negligence or manslaughter. Some say that the echoes of Westray are finally beginning to tell in the courts. The case last year regarding a City of Fredericton contractor and a fatality is yet another example of this.

Some courts are holding repeat offenders more accountable than others. A recent case in Ontario led to a roofer being banned from the construction industry and even imprisoned twice for multiple and repeated safety violations.

In other areas of the country, regulators are issuing warnings and fines or assessing administrative penalties. In one unusual case last August, British Columbia crown prosecutors laid charges in a 2012 death at a work site. The unusual part is the eleven-year wait and that anyone was charged at all.

The inconsistent application of legal principles in Canada, with its patchwork of jurisdictions, can give very mixed messages to employers that operate in more than one province or regulatory area.

There is also the workload for regulatory officers and the watering down of their role, as is the case in Ontario, where OHS officers are now also immigration officers. In 2023, a number of OHS inspectors were terminated for misconduct, and some of this was related to their expanded duties in revealing the “underground economy” in Ontario. The span of the regulatory officer’s responsibility seems unnecessarily large here. The question of competency was raised years ago in the Metron case, where a plaintiff who survived a workplace incident alleged that OHS officers were not competent.

In a recent case, a judge found regulatory officers could not be found to be negligent or have shown bad faith when they were not competent in their jobs or competently supervised.

The trend here is that the public is growing increasingly dissatisfied with the effectiveness of regulatory officers. It is a job for which the qualifications are murky, and the competency requirements are equally opaque.

I hope for an end to the trend where aggrieved families are suing regulators for failing in their primary function.

  1. Due diligence tested?

The Supreme Court of Canada released a decision in 2023 that has been hailed as groundbreaking.

The case included the City of Sudbury appealing a conviction relating to a workplace fatality. The City of Sudbury had claimed that they were not an employer within the meaning of the Ontario Occupational Health & Safety Act.

In the initial trial, the City argued that they were not the employer, as that was the contractor they had hired. They also asserted that they acted with due diligence. The City was found not guilty as the court held they were not the employer. The decision was appealed and overturned on appeal, and it was found that the City was the employer. An appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada provided greater clarity on why the City was, in fact, an employer.

The defense of due diligence was never tested due to the acquittal in the initial trial. However, this decision is interesting as it provides a more focused lens on contractor management. I hope to write a more in-depth article on this in the coming months.

The Supreme Court sent the matter back to the Provincial Court to allow the City to plead due diligence as is their right.

  1. Negligence and manslaughter

There are hopeful signs in some provinces that deviations from long-standing practices and health and safety legislated requirements which result in fatalities are being treated seriously as criminal matters rather than simple civil offenses.

A death that occurs when a law is being broken (such as OHS law) is manslaughter. A much easier route than criminal negligence.

It remains to be seen if this trend will spread across the nation.

  1. The changing hybrid workplace

Canadian workplaces have changed a great deal since before the onset of the pandemic. Health and safety practitioners, being generalists, will continue to see challenges in the hybrid work environment. They need to engage with other professionals in managing the hybrid workplace and workforce. Ensuring a safe workplace where workers are present in a workplace provided by employers is far easier than ensuring that personnel are conducting work safely at home.

One of the concerns that keeps surfacing is the relationship between what the employee is doing and work. If an employee develops a repetitive strain injury while working at home, that would surely be compensatory. However, what if the employee is taking out the garbage and slips, injuring themselves? Sounds outlandish. However, what if part of that trash was trash from the employee’s home office space?

Companies must still be diligent in outlining the parameters of working from home arrangements and establishing clear expectations and support for those who are working at home full-time or working at home part-time.

Along the same generalist theme, remaining connected to the workplace is one of the important aspects of employee mental health. This is another area where other disciplines might be engaged to enhance effectiveness and communication.


There are some new ones and some old ones in here, and of course, space constraints only let me get to so many. I look forward to others sharing their thoughts on the trends in this complex world of ours.