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Revamp of Ontario’s oh&s system gets under way

George Gritziotis, Ontario's first-ever chief prevention officer, has announced that the province is moving forward with a number of initiatives to improve occupational health and safety across all sectors.


George Gritziotis, Ontario’s first-ever chief prevention officer, has announced that the province is moving forward with a number of initiatives to improve occupational health and safety across all sectors.

Gritziotis made the announcement along with provincial labour minister Linda Jeffrey at the United Association Local 46 Training Centre in Toronto on December 16. “We are participating in the biggest revitalization of Ontario’s workplace health and safety in more than three decades since the [Occupational Health and Safety Act] came into effect in 1979,” Gritziotis told reporters and guests assembled at the centre.

Ontario’s Ministry of Labour (MOL) will propose a new regulation under the OH&S Act that would enable the Office of the Worker Advisor and the Office of the Employer Advisor to provide support for workers and small businesses involved in reprisal complaints. A process to expedite the resolution of work-related reprisals, including the role that ministry inspectors will play, has also been mapped out by the MOL and the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

A poster explaining workplace parties’ basic rights and responsibilities in various languages, and oh&s guides for both workers and employers are also ready for consultation. Following a notice period, it is expected that it will become mandatory for the poster to be displayed at worksites, notes an MOL statement.

Plans to appoint two new minister’s advisory committees in 2012, one for small businesses and one for vulnerable workers, are also among the initiatives. It is anticipated that stakeholder members of a permanent prevention council will soon be appointed.

Sophie Dennis, assistant deputy minister of operations with the MOL, says the two advisory committees will report to the minister and provide advice on a host of health and safety issues. Under the umbrella of vulnerable workers will be young workers, workers who are new to Canada and perhaps do not understand the laws and the language and older workers who are returning to the work force, says Dennis. The advisory committee on small business will advise the minister on matters relating to programs and special needs of the small business community in Ontario.

While the advisory committees will provide tactical advice to the minister, the prevention council “will be more of a strategic body providing the minister and chief prevention officer with strategic advice with respect to health and safety requirements in Ontario,” Dennis adds.

Preparations to move responsibilities for funding and monitoring health and safety associations from Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) to the MOL are currently in the works.

“At a strategic level, it’s about integrating and re-aligning a very complex system” involving the MOL, WSIB and numerous safety associations and stakeholders, Gritziotis says. “My role is to be able to get that system working in unison and knowing that we are all going towards the same priorities.”

Gritziotis reports that his team is developing an oh&s strategy and will provide the labour minister with a plan in the coming months. The Expert Advisory Panel on Occupational Health and Safety, chaired by Tony Dean, “will play a significant role in the foundation of that strategy,” he adds.

The advisory panel was established in January, 2010 to review Ontario’s oh&s system in the wake of an incident in which four workers plunged to their deaths from a swing stage on a construction site in Etobicoke, Ontario on Christmas Eve of 2009.

“That tragic incident shook everyone in Ontario,” says Jeffrey. “That tragedy was our wake-up call and the Dean’s panel report is that call to action.”

Gritziotis, who was named as chief prevention officer in mid-October, is tasked with establishing a provincial oh&s strategy and aligning prevention activities across all workplace health and safety system partners. Each year, he will also submit to the minister a report on the performance of the province’s oh&s safety system.