Highlights from the OHS Compliance Summit 2010

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This past Monday and Tuesday was the OHS Compliance Summit 2010 in Toronto. This year’s theme was due diligence. Here are some highlights from the conference sessions.

Keynote Speaker Howard McGraw

Howard McGraw, director of occupational health and safety for Maple Leaf Foods Inc., gave the keynote address in which he emphasized the importance of integrating safety from the top down in a company. He stressed having the support of senior management when it came to OHS initiatives and issues. For example, at Maple Leaf, his board of directors takes safety very seriously. In fact, the first item on the agenda of every board meeting is the latest workplace injury and incident statistics. His key message: You can’t improve occupational health and safety until CEOs recognize that people actually get injured on the job.

Tari Hiebert

Tari Hiebert, an associate at Bennett Jones LLP, spoke about the general duty clause on the OHS laws and how it’s used as almost a catch-all charge that covers actions that aren’t necessarily violations of specific requirements under the law. She also provided a good primer on due diligence, specifically the “reasonable steps” branch. (I spoke briefly about the reasonable mistake of fact type of due diligence defence later.) Her key point: Due diligence requires taking all reasonable steps—taking 80-90% of those steps isn’t good enough.

Latest Trends & Hot Topics

A panel consisting of Ryan Conlin, an OHS lawyer, Mark Madras, an environmental compliance lawyer, and Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, discussed the latest trends and hot topics in both workplace safety and environmental law, including:

  • The issue of foreseeability and worker disobedience in recent safety violation cases
  • Public criticism of workplace safety enforcement in Alberta and in federally regulated workplaces
  • The increased use of administrative monetary penalties for environmental violations
  • The Ontario Toxics Reduction Act and its implications
  • The commission looking into the OHS laws and enforcement in Ontario
  • The lack of criminal negligence (“C-45” charges) against company officials for workplace safety incidents.

Cheryl Edwards & Jeremy Warning

Cheryl Edwards and Jeremy Warning, lawyers with Heenan Blaikie LLP and former Crown Prosecutors, walked delegates through the wrong and right way to deal with inspectors in the workplace after an incident and demonstrated how an OHS prosecution works, from the investigation through a guilty plea. They even used volunteers to “act out” a guilty plea in front of a judge exactly as it would occur in real life. Along the way, they provided valuable tips and advice on how to manage the liability risks associated with safety incidents.

Matthew Allen

Because many safety coordinators do double duty as EHS coordinators as well, the conference also tackled some environmental compliance issues. For example, Matthew Allen, an engineer and environmental consultant, spoke about the importance of managing hazardous materials in renovation and construction projects. He recommended doing a project-specific hazmat survey to identify any hazardous materials before work starts and create a plan on safely dealing with those materials.

Safety Culture

Safety consultants Eldeen Pozniak and Paul Pascoe spoke about the role of safety culture in due diligence. For example, based on his experience on a project in Dubai, Paul emphasized that you must be sensitive to various kinds of culture in the workplace that all effect safety, including the corporate culture and the various cultures of the workers. And Eldeen talked about her simple, three-step approach to due diligence:

  • Do safety measures comply with the OHS law?
  • Do they comply with company safety rules?
  • Do they address any residual risk to workers that isn’t covered by the OHS laws or company rules?

Videotapes Coming Soon

I taped interviews with nearly all of the speakers at the summit. Keep your eyes posted for those videos on the website. We also videotaped all of the presentations. So look for information on how you can see those interesting and informative sessions if you couldn’t attend the summit in person.