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Legislation brings significant changes to safety associations.

Legislation brings significant changes to safety associations

There is both support and questions about implementation from safety associations over coming changes in Ontario's Health and Safety Act.

Bill 208 was passed in June, and most of the changes will become effective on Jan. 1 1991.

The bill amends existing legislation to provide for more participation in health and safety matters by those who are most affected - the employees and employers.

It also encourages occupational health and safety training and, in some cases, makes it mandatory.

Almost every workplace with 20 or more employees will be required to have a joint health and safety committee composed of management and staff representatives. This includes workplaces which have not had committees before, such as retail stores, offices and construction projects which last three months or more.

In a workplace with 20 to 49 employees, the committee must consist of at least two members. Where 50 or more are employed, the committee must have at least four members.

At least half the committee members must be non-management employees. These members must be chosen by the employees or by a union representing the employees, if there is one.

Committees will inspect the workplace regularly and identify hazards. Members will be entitled to their wage or salary while carrying out these duties.

If a workplace has more than five but fewer than 20 employees, no committee is required. However, the employees must choose one of their fellow employees as a health and safety representative who will have many of the duties and responsibilities of the committees.

Dave Stinson, operations manager with the Construction Safety Association of Ontario, says the organization's membership has many questions about Bill 208.

"Actually, most of the membership is really not sure what is included in it," Stinson said in a telephone interview from Toronto.

A government document is needed that incorporates the amendments into the old legislation, he said, adding that the amendments are very difficult to read and understand without such a document.

The association has an unofficial document, but would prefer one from the Ministry of Labour, he said.

The association, along with the ministry, is conducting seminars to explain the legislation to the association's membership. the meetings will be sponsored by 13 regional labor/management committees from around the province.

Speakers will come from the ministry's health and safety branch, and the meetings will likely include a handout of the legislation, an overview of the new law and a question-and-answer session.

Three seminars have already been arranged.

In Northern Ontario sessions will be held by the committees in Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay.

While Stinson noted that no meetings are planned for Timmins or North Bay, it is possible that they could be arranged if there is enough interest expressed from those areas.

Stinson said members have concerns about the formation of a new workplace safety agency, since it is not clear how the agency would operate. "I think in some areas there is a bit of anxiety."

The Workplace Health and Safety Agency will, among other responsibilities, co-ordinate the activities of safety associations, encourage and promote public awareness of occupational health and safety, promote research intended to make Ontario's workplaces safer and healthier, and set training standards for those members of committees who will be `certified.'

The agency will set new training standards that must be met by the joint health and safety committee in every workplace. Workplaces that have committees must choose at least two members - one employer representative and one employee representative - to take this special training.

Those members with special training will be certified by the agency and will have special roles and responsibilities in the workplace.

Stinson said there is some concern about the training of certified members and about how the committees will operate.

Under the legislation the committees will become more responsible for workplace health and safety.

Stinson believes that further concerns will be raised once the seminars begin.

He said the Construction Safety Association has no choice but to enforce the changes and work out how they are going to be administered.

However, he said that the new legislation is basically designed to fit the industrial sector.

"It doesn't necessarily fit the construction industry well," he added.

For example, he noted that it is not clear how the management representatives on the safety committees are to be selected.

Stinson explained that, in construction, there are contractors and sub-contractors, leading to split management.

"There are a number of things that have to be worked out," he said.

Association membership is mandatory for contractors collecting funds for payment to the Workers' Compensation Board. Currently, it has a membership of about 40,000 firms.

Jim Nugent, general manager of the North Bay-based Forest Products Accident Prevention Association, is in favor of the legislation and is looking forward to its implementation.

"I think it will be a very positive change," Nugent said.

In particular he is pleased that most of the legislation is directed towards worker training.

Nugent noted that safety in the forest industry is already directed towards worker training.

In about the five years up to 1989 he noted that there was a 20-per-cent reduction in compensable injuries in the forest industry. He attributed this to the amount of on-the-job training which was undertaken.

Nugent said the legislation will not be difficult for forest companies to comply with.

"Companies don't have to do much to prepare for it, except strengthen their health and safety committees," he said.

Companies certainly have nothing to fear from the new legislation, he said.

However, Nugent noted that there are no guidelines stating how joint labor/management certified safety representatives are to be selected.

In addition, the constitution and bylaws of the association will have to be changed to allow for equal representation on the board by labor and management.

"A complete restructuring will take place within 10 months," Nugent predicted.

Previously, the board had only management representatives.

Much of the change will take place at the association's annual conference next April in North Bay.

The association represents about 2,300 companies in the logging, sawmill and veneer plywood sectors throughout Ontario.

Bill 208 places new duties on the shoulders of an employer. These include writing and maintaining a workplace health and safety policy, providing health and safety reports to the joint committee, responding in writing to the joint committee's recommendations for improvements and paying workers' costs for any required medical examination or tests.

The maximum fine for a corporation convicted of violating the act has been increased to $500,000 from $25,000.

Bill 208 gives greater enforcement capabilities to inspectors. These include the authority to require tests to be carried out, to inspect training materials and attend any training courses given by an employer and to require a written response indicating how an employer will comply with an order issued by the inspector.

In 1989 alone more than eight million days of work were lost throughout Ontario because of job-related injuries and illness. In 1988, the last year for which figures are available, more than 300 people died from causes related to their work, and more than 400,000 people were injured.
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Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Oct 1, 1990
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