OHS Canada Magazine

Report says more oh&s protections needed for at-risk workers

April 8, 2013

Health & Safety h&s programs, h&s audits Health & Safety

TORONTO (Canadian OH&S News)

TORONTO (Canadian OH&S News)

A set of 47 recommendations has been put forward by the Law Commission of Ontario, in an effort to better protect vulnerable workers.

The commission released its report, Vulnerable Workers and Precarious Work, on April 3, focusing on gaps in Ontario legislation — specifically the Employment Standards Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act — that leave women, racial minorities and immigrants, as well as insecure and low-wage workers, at unnecessary risk of harm and exploitation.

“It is important for Ontarians to recognize that the nature of employment has changed. Much work can be characterized as ‘precarious’ — that is work with low wages, less job security, few benefits, and only minimal control over working conditions,” said Bruce Elman, chair of the board of governors of the commission.“Precarious work and vulnerable workers present a challenge for us as a society. This report attempts to provide recommendations on how we might meet that challenge.”

The report notes that these workers are at an increased risk of injury and illness through a higher involvement in physically-demanding work in which they often lack job or hazard-specific experience or training, are unaware of their oh&s rights and will not speak up for fear of losing their job or being deported.


Mental and physical health factors at play

Precarious work carries with it the stress of holding multiple jobs, irregular or long hours, insecure visa status and a lack of legal protections, making it difficult to plan for the future and schedule any more than day-to-day, the report said, noting that consultations found workers experienced mental health issues such as tension, exhaustion and depression.

Low wages and a lack of benefits also means medicine and healthcare options, even in Canada, can become prohibitively expensive.

“This lack of access to health benefits and paid sick days encourages vulnerable employees to ignore injuries and illnesses rather than seek medical treatment. For newcomer workers and temporary foreign workers, there are often language and other cultural barriers to accessing health care,” the report added.

The commission put forward nine recommendations with regards to oh&s. These included, amongst others:

— The Ministry of Labour (MOL) make temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in all sectors a priority for enforcement activities.

— The Ontario Labour Relations Board, the MOL and the Office of the Worker Adviser ensure reprisal complaints for TFWs are heard at the labour board before repatriation.

— The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board consider attributing health and safety incidents to the client-worksite.

— The Ontario government pilot a mobile medical clinic service that can provide medical care and support to facilitate injury claims for migrant workers in rural areas.

The changes, the report said, would not only assist vulnerable workers but all workers in the province.



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