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Vulnerable workers need stronger prevention support

This week at the Partners in Prevention Conference in Mississauga, Ont., Gritziotis reiterated the need to develop programs and resources specifically aimed at increasing protection for vulnerable workers.

The Tony Dean Panel report provided some recommendations to address the issue of vulnerable workers in Ontario — establishment of an advisory committee on vulnerable workers, more proactive inspections and enforcement campaigns geared at sectors employing more vulnerable workers, developing information and awareness materials in multiple languages and formats, and developing regulations pertaining to agricultural work hazards.

In response, the Ontario government is following through with these recommendations, according to the Ministry of Labour.

It’s an issue the editorial staff at Canadian Occupational Safety feel should be at the forefront of workplace health and safety discussions. Canada has come a long way in improving workers’ health and safety. Government, workers and employers have stepped up to the plate in a collective effort to increase safety and drive down work-related injuries, illnesses and fatalities.

The new realities of the workplace, however, are putting workers — especially in certain industries — at higher risk of exposure to injuries and illnesses. The economic downturn of the last four years, for example, has given rise to temporary work arrangements in manufacturing and construction. Many companies laid off permanent, full-time workers and replaced them with part-time employees through temporary placement agencies.

The influx of new immigrants to Canada has created new OHS challenges as many of them end up in jobs they are overqualified for or have little to no experience for, making them vulnerable to hazards in the workplace.

A recent Institute for Work and Health (IWH) study found new immigrant workers are less likely to report a work-related injury — either because they are unaware about their rights as a worker or they worry about the repercussion. In some instances, the employers themselves discourage these workers from reporting their injury or filing a workers’ compensation claim.

Recently, Canadian Occupational Safety hosted a panel discussion on this very topic (read about it in our June/July edition). It was certainly a very interesting discussion and covers a a vast array of sub-issues: OHS challenges of temporary work agencies, mental health in the workplace, supervisor competencies and a host of other issues that need to be looked at in order to address the issue of vulnerable workers.

At the very least, Ontario is on the right track. The recommendations pertaining to vulnerable workers under the Tony Dean Report set the stage for a more focused prevention effort aimed at vulnerable workers.

Gritziotis has declared the issue of vulnerable workers as one of the key focuses of the soon-to-be established Prevention Council.

Employers need to start looking at their own organization to determine if vulnerable workers form part of their workforce. Do you have a maturing workforce? Do you hire temporary workers through placement agencies? Do you have summer workers? Is your workplace providing sufficient work-life balance for your workers? Did you recently hire a new worker?

Chances are, most employers would answer “yes” to at least one of these questions. It would be in their best interest to start looking at the issue of vulnerable workers, and even make it part of their risk assessment process.

The province is certainly taking active steps to address the vulnerable workers issue — which means, a new standard or regulation could be afoot.

Mari-Len De Guzman

Mari-Len De Guzman is the former editor of Canadian Occupational Safety magazine and www.cos-mag.com.
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