Second Reading of Ontario OHS Reform Bill 160 Resumes

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Second reading of Bill 160, Occupational Health and Safety Statute Law Amendment Act, 2011, resumed on March 21 after a week’s break. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s debate in the Assembly.

Day Four: Support for the Bill

Day four of the debate began with comments by Yasir Naqvi of the Ontario Liberal Party in support of Bill 160. Naqvi believes that Bill 160 will ensure that safety rules are in place and that the rules are even stricter “to ensure that we protect our workers both in terms of their lives and their safety but also their health.”

Naqvi reminded the Assembly that Bill 160 wasn’t created in a vacuum. He noted how the tragic scaffolding incident in Toronto had spurred creation of the Dean Panel, which included representatives of labour, employers and academia with workplace health and safety expertise. In addition, the Panel received more than 400 responses in over 50 meetings with stakeholders across the province. The point: All sides got to a chance to speak their piece and express their concerns about workplace safety in Ontario.

And Bill 160 reflects the recommendations from the Dean Panel, asserted Naqvi. For example, the Dean Report recommended creation of a prevention council and appointment of a chief prevention officer, both of which Bill 160 does. In addition, the bill consolidates responsibility for workplace safety within the Ministry of Labour—another Dean suggestion.

Bottom line: Naqvi said that Bill 160 “gets more credence because it is a result of an exhaustive consultation process that has allowed for it to include a broader canvas of issues that would allow for a better [OHS] regime.”

Just More Bureaucracy?

Some of the key comments made in response to Naqvi’s presentation:

  • The bill just creates more bureaucracy and doesn’t do anything that would’ve prevented the Toronto scaffolding incident, which started this whole process.
  • If the OHS laws already in place had been strictly enforced, the scaffolding incident would never have happened.
  • Bill 160 attempts to do a lot and if it has any shortcomings, those can be addressed in committee.
  • The Assembly should send Bill 160 to a standing committee for public hearings so all parties that have an interest in these issues—including representatives of organized labour as well as business—have a chance to have a say on the bill.
  • The “toothless” prevention council won’t be accountable to anyone.
  • Elimination of the Section 21 committees cuts industry out of the process.
  • Training was a big focus of the Dean Report but is only one line in Bill 160.
  • Bill 160 “deviates drastically” from the Dean Report and needs many improvements. For example, it’s a vehicle for patronage positions and doesn’t address the concerns about the underground economy expressed in the Dean Report.
  • The province needs a process to ensure the prosecution of proper workplace safety cases under the Criminal Code for criminal negligence.

The second reading was then adjourned and is scheduled to continue today. So expect another update from us on the latest proceedings.