Third Day of Second Reading of Ontario OHS Reform Bill 160

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Second reading of Bill 160, Occupational Health and Safety Statute Law Amendment Act, 2011, continued on March 10. Here are the highlights from yesterday’s debate in the Assembly.

Day Three: the NDP Perspective

Day three of the debate began with comments by Paul Miller of the New Democratic Party (NDP). Miller recognized that Bill 160 represents a set of compromises, with neither workers nor employers getting everything they want. But he still believes that the bill falls short. He set out the NDP’s view of what fundamental change in Ontario’s OHS system would mean, including:

  • Improved external and internal enforcement of OHS requirements;
  • Strengthened reprisal provisions;
  • Improved and expanded health and safety training;
  • Increased health and safety support and resources for workers; and
  • Regular reviews of the OHS system, statutes and regulations.

Miller then moved on to a critique of Bill 160. Key areas of criticism:

Consolidation of prevention in MOL. Miller agreed that the duplication of safety efforts needed to end and that such efforts needed to be consolidated under one roof. However, he expressed concern that putting everything essentially in the MOL’s hands could undermine safety. He said, “There is a danger that a lack of independence from the minister could result in unilateral decisions being made by the minister that could do real harm to Ontario’s health and safety regime. In part, this has to do with maintaining the independence of the four health and safety associations, the Workers’ Health and Safety Centre, and the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers.”

Echoing Hillier’s comments from the day before, Miller believes that the healthy and safety associations (HSAs) shouldn’t be eliminated. Specifically, he said that the HSAs should “clarify and communicate that their primary mandate is to act as health and safety resources in their sectors. The HSAs should align their activities annually with the plans and sector strategies developed by the Ministry of Labour in consultation with labour and employer organizations.”

Chief Prevention Officer and council. Miller explained that although the NDP supports the idea of a chief prevention officer (CPO) and a prevention council, they have “real concerns that these bodies have sufficient independence from the minister to do their jobs properly.” As an example of the lack of independence from the MOL, Miller noted that Bill 160 provides that the provincial health and safety strategy that the CPO comes up with must be approved by the Minister before it’s released to the public. The NDP believes that the CPO should have the independence to go right to the public with his strategy.

Training. Miller doesn’t believe that Bill 160 goes far enough to ensure that workers get adequate health and safety training.

Internal and external enforcement. Miller said that internal and external enforcement systems need to be enhanced, with external enforcement referring to the MOL and internal to the balance of power in workplaces on decision-making over OHS issues.

As to external enforcement, the cost of violating OHS law must be greater than the cost of compliance, said Miller. To that end, he believes that MOL “needs more inspectors, and inspectors need more resources, such as access to industrial hygienists, ergonomists, toxicologists, nurses, physicians and engineers. They also need easy access to databases and research to assist in addressing new and emerging workplace issues.”

As to internal enforcement, Miller noted that Bill 160 made small steps in this area, such as letting one JHSC co-chair go the employer with a recommendation if there’s an impasse on the committee. But it’s not enough.

Reprisals. Miller quoted the Dean Report on reprisals, noting how serious of an issue this topic was. But he doesn’t believe that Bill 160 adequately addresses these concerns.

Laws and regulations. Miller said it seems clear that forces outside of the MOL, such a unions and public protests, are driving changes to the OHS laws and regulations. He used the example of how the murder of Lori Dupont and resulting public outcry led to the new workplace violence and harassment requirements. Miller said the NDP wants regular reviews of the Ontario OHS system that would lead to new laws and regulations to address shortcomings in the system as well as new emerging safety issues and hazards.

Administrative penalties. Noting that Bill 160 doesn’t mention administrative penalties, Miller said the NDP supports letting an inspector impose an immediate financial penalty on an employer. Ideally, they’d like to see the following: “Certain violations must result in a mandatory penalty relying on a schedule of violations and penalties; repeat violations must result in higher penalties, and penalties must reflect the seriousness of the violation, how long the violation has been occurring, the number of workers affected and the impact on the worker—injuries and illnesses.” Such a system would be speedy and not easily circumvented, he explained.

Miller then ceded the floor to comments by other members. Some concerns they raised included:

  • The need to protect young workers, particularly students;
  • Bill 160 does not reflect all of the Dean recommendations—there are serious gaps in its coverage that must be addressed; and
  • Changing the law is fine but “talk is cheap”—it’s enforcement that really matters.

The second reading was then adjourned. It seems that the debate will continue today. So expect another update from us on the latest proceedings.