Yvonne O’Reilly: An Interview with the Chair of this Year’s OHS Summit


The Westray mining tragedy, in which 26 workers died in an explosion at a Nova Scotia coal mine, had a big impact on the world of workplace safety. The resulting inquiry lead to changes in Nova Scotia’s and other jurisdictions’ OHS laws and Bill C-45, which amended the Canadian Criminal Code to make it easier to hold corporate executives who fail to take steps to protect the lives of their workers criminally liable. It was also one of the things that drove Yvonne O’Reilly, an OHS consultant and Conference Chair of the OHS Summit 2011, into the field of workplace safety.

Yvonne says that she was riveted by the inquiry and its “dissection of what went wrong.” It made her realize the importance of a comprehensive management system that outlines all stakeholders’ accountability. As a result, she went back to school and achieved a Canadian Registered Safety Professional designation. For over 10 years, Yvonne has worked in occupational health and safety, the last seven as the owner and principal consultant of O’Reilly Health & Safety Consulting, a national consulting practice based in Ontario.

We recently spoke with Yvonne about the challenges facing safety coordinators and how the OHS Summit can help them meet those challenges.

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Practical “Nuts and Bolts” Compliance Solutions

OHS Summit 2011 is Canada’s leading compliance conference for one reason: you don’t just find out what the law says about compliance.  You find out what-to-do and how-to-do-it to integrate proven compliance practices into your safety program and polices.

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Early Bird Registration is now open.  Register now and save.  For faster service or for more information, call 1-877-486-8143.

Challenges for Safety Coordinators

To exercise due diligence, your company has to take all reasonable steps to comply with the OHS laws. But Yvonne says that one of the biggest challenges facing safety coordinators is understanding the OHS regulators’ expectations as to due diligence—that is, what do they consider reasonable steps for compliance with the OHS requirements? After all, your definition of reasonable and the regulator’s may be very different—and ultimately it’s the regulators’ definition that matters.

Even once you think you have a handle on the regulators’ expectations, the next hurdle is getting senior management’s support to implement those reasonable steps, says Yvonne. To do so, you often have to overcome what she calls the “silo mentality.” Many managers see safety as “someone else’s job” and put it in a discrete box, separate from the rest of the company’s operations, she explains. It’s up to the safety coordinator to teach them that safety is everyone’s responsibility with wide-ranging impacts. But educating management on safety’s “interconnectivity” can be a hard sell, she notes.

In her role as an OHS consultant, Yvonne aims to help her clients do three things:

  1. Achieve their goals for preventing incidents and injuries in the workplace;
  2. Take the reasonable steps required for compliance with the OHS laws; and
  3. Document their actions so that they can prove they exercised due diligence if needed.

Her approach is the essence of the theme of this year’s OHS Summit: “Due Diligence: Defining, Establishing and Demonstrating Your Record of Compliance.”

OHS Summit 2011

In considering the theme for the conference, Yvonne says she wanted to build on the best aspects of the Safety Compliance Insider newsletter and also turn the attention from due diligence theory to practice. Yvonne says that she was inspired by a presentation by Jeremy Warning, an OHS lawyer and partner with Heenan Blaikie, LLP, in which he used the phrase “demonstrating a record of compliance.” That language resonated with her because taking all reasonable steps is only half the due diligence battle—you have to also be able to prove that you did so. She says that the OHS Summit will give attendees the tools to do just that.

OHS Summit 2011 - Register Now and Save!

Due Diligence: Defining, Establishing & Demonstrating Your Record of Compliance

Oct 24th and 25th Hyatt Regency, Toronto, ON

Conference Chair

Yvonne O’Reilly O’Reilly Health & Safety Consulting

You are invited to participate in Canada’s leading networking and educational conference for OHS professionals and in-house lawyers.

Special “Early-Bird” Registration Now Open!

Register Today!

Early Bird Registration is now open.  Register now and save.  For faster service or for more information, call 1-877-486-8143.

The conference isn’t just for safety professionals. Yvonne explains that although safety coordinators may spearhead a company’s safety initiatives, a team approach is the most effective way to run an OHS program. So other “essential members” of the team, such as union representatives, in-house counsel and members of the HR and operations departments, should also consider going, she suggests. By attending, these non-safety professionals will get an OHS education and a new vocabulary. So when they go back to their companies, they can now have meaningful discussions on safety issues, she says.

The OHS Summit is unique, says Yvonne, because its agenda is built around a unifying theme and designed to move from theory to practical advice. For example, the conference begins with nationally recognized OHS lawyers from across the country explaining the basics of due diligence and relevant cases and moves on to sessions on how to document your compliance efforts and conduct risk assessments. The goal is to update attendees on the latest OHS news, laws, cases and trends and then explain how they apply in the workplace.

The conference includes panel discussions, presentations, break-out sessions and a workshop. And there will be lots of opportunities for attendees to ask questions and network with fellow attendees and conference speakers, adds Yvonne.

Yvonne hopes that attendees will take away “comfort and confidence” from the OHS Summit. She believes the conference will give them the information and tools they need to ensure that they meet their OHS compliance obligations and the understanding of how to use the information and tools to exercise due diligence. By the end of the conference, she says attendees should know:

  • What steps they have to take to exercise and prove due diligence;
  • Why they have to take those steps; and
  • How to do so.

In addition, attendees will have made valuable contacts they can reach out to in the future when tackling safety issues in their own workplaces, she adds.


Yvonne O’Reilly, CRSP: O’Reilly Health and Safety Consulting; (416) 294-4141; www.ohsconsulting.ca; info@ohsconsulting.ca.