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Dean report may change enforcement landscape: Edwards

By Taylor Fredericks
| www.cos-mag.com
Cheryl Edwards, Heenan Blaikie

COS

reports from the CSSE Toronto Chapter Education Day event, where OHS legal expert Cheryl Edwards outlines the highlights of the Dean panel report and what the recommendations would mean to employers and workers.

The recommendations put forth by the review panel tasked to assess Ontario’s current occupational health and safety prevention system may potentially result in sweeping changes to OHS enforcement in the province.

OHS legal expert Cheryl Edwards made this observation at a presentation to the members of the Canadian Society of Safety Engineers’ (CSSE) Toronto Chapter, during its annual Education Day event.

Edwards, who leads the national OHS and workers’ compensation group at Toronto-based law firm Heenan Blaikie, spoke about the highlights of the Dean panel report and what they could mean for stakeholders. Early in 2009, the Ministry of Labour convened a multi-sector review panel, headed by University of Toronto professor Tony Dean, to review and make recommendations on improving the province’s prevention system.

Edwards says some of the recommendations contained in the report may prove difficult for employers, noting that organizations could expect the inspection process to change, to include weekend and evening inspections, as part of an effort by the ministry to crack down on the underground economy in trades.

This focus on the underground economy was one of the issues tackled by the Dean panel report, and one that was brought to light by the Christmas Eve 2009 workplace accident where four workers were killed and one severely injured after a scaffolding they were working on gave way from the 13th floor of a Toronto apartment building. The workers who died were reportedly undocumented. The Dean panel review was commissioned shortly after the incident.

The Dean panel report also called for mandatory health and safety awareness trainings for new employees, supervisors and construction workers, she said.

Edwards also made reference to a number of recommendations that, if passed into legislation, could make the reinstatement of certain aggrieved workers a potentially thorny issue for employers.

The CSSE Toronto Chapter’s Education Day, held at the International Centre in Mississauga, also featured a variety of speakers from different organizations.

The event was headlined by a four-member panel discussing OHS standards and legislation. The panelists included: Elizabeth Rankin, a project manager with the Canadian Standards Association's (CSA) occupational health and safety program; Gabriel Mansour, a provincial coordinator within the OHS branch of the Ontario Ministry of Labour; Goldie Bassi, an associate lawyer with Gowlings specializing in OHS and worker's compensation law; and Lewis Smith, a director of OHS with the Canada Bread Company Limited.

The format saw each panel member speak for 30 minutes about their experiences in creating, enforcing and abiding by the standards and legislation that govern health and safety practices across the country. Rankin and Mansour provided valuable insight into how health and safety standards are established and written into legislature, while Smith spoke about how organizations work to incorporate standards into their practices, and what that can mean for the effectiveness of their business models. Smith noted that his company saw a 44 per cent reduction in claims when they began adhering to the standard.

Bassi offered advice and guidance regarding employers’ legal obligations and the cost of non-compliance. The panel portion was followed by an open-floor Q&A session that allowed attendees to address specific questions to the panel.

Ken Langer, an assistant director of the WorkWell Program with the Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB), offered attendees insight into how the process of conducting WorkWell audits works — from how companies are selected to how companies can work with WorkWell and its auditors to ensure they're in compliance.

Bill Sisler, the CSSE's regional vice-president for Ontario and Quebec, provided an update on this year's North American Occupational Safety and Health (NAOSH) Week, an annual initiative led by the CSSE. This year's NAOSH Week will be held from May 1 to 7, with the theme, “What's Your Plan?” For more information on the initiative, you can visit their website at

www.naosh.org.

Peter Sturm, the president of the CSSE and the event's opening speaker, felt the event was a success. "It was a great event from the standpoint of having a pretty diverse group. We had many individuals from across the province come in for the event," he notes. "I thought the speakers were phenomenal. They were really leading edge. I thought Jeremy did a good job answering questions, and I thought Cheryl Edwards' presentation was excellent. The panel was also really good."

Perhaps more importantly, Sturm knows that events like these are invaluable when it comes to creating the sorts of forward-thinking health and safety communities he spoke about in his opening address.

"[Health and safety] has a significant impact on everyone in the public domain. People do go to work, and there is a potential for them to get hurt— and at any type of a workplace, whether it's an office or an industrial establishment— and there are all these people working in the background trying to keep it all together. The issue that came up was how to get to those best practices. It was a long day, but it was very fruitful in terms of what we were able to accomplish."

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