June 15, 2011
Ontario health and safety system is about to undergo some major changes. In the largest revamp of Ontario's worker safety system in 30 years, a series of new amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act and Workplace Safety and Insurance Act passed third reading on May 18 through the legislature.

The provincial government created a panel in early 2010 to study Ontario's health and safety system and recommend changes. Placed at the head of the panel was former senior civil servant Tony Dean.

Amendments under Bill 160 will include:
  • The Ministry of Labour is the lead agency for accident prevention, transferring the responsibility from the WSIB.
  • A new Chief Prevention Officer will be appointed to coordinate and align the prevention system.
  • A new prevention council, with representatives from labour, employers, and safety experts, will advise the chief prevention officer and the Minister of Labour. Once Royal Assent is received, the Act will become law, and come into force no later than April 1, 2012.

Employers can expect the addition of compulsory training for new workers and supervisors, and the need to evaluate existing training programs once training standards are prescribed by the chief prevention officer. The prevention council will be composed of representatives from the following workplace groups: trade unions and provincial labour organizations; employers; and non-unionized workers, the WSIB, and persons with occupational health and safety expertise. The council must include equal number of members from the trade union and employer groups, while the third group may not comprise more than one-third of the council members.

The new guidelines are expected to give organized labour a more significant role in influencing the future of Ontario's safety system. The Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (WSPS) Board of Directors expressed its concern with potential implications from changes to Ontario's prevention system.

In a statement following the announcement of the changes, Elizabeth S. H. Mills, WSPS president and CEO, wrote, "The feedback, based on legal analysis of the legislation, concerns and comments from volunteers, advisory committee members and trade associations, centred on the following issues."
  • Coverage under the revised WSIA – approximately 65 per cent of employers pay for 100 per cent of the prevention system.
  • The operating model and stakeholder consultation methods of the proposed prevention council, including methods for reaching decisions on matters of advice for the minister.
  • The process for nominating members to the prevention council.
  • The current strong linkages and model of accountability to member firms and the future potential for changes to this relationship and potential changes to the Health and Safety Associations (HSAs) governance and funding formulas.
  • Further blurring of the lines between enforcement and service delivery and the need for extensive communication to reduce confusion to workplace parties regarding the roles of WSIB/MOL/HSAs.
  • The need for assurance that the data entrusted to HSAs by member firms will not be used for regulatory and prosecutorial purposes.
  • Accountability and transparency regarding the use of funds collected by the WSIB to support health and safety associations and their prevention programs.