Ontario is committed to making workplaces safer, evidenced by a recent three-month enforcement blitz of more than 2,800 high-risk construction sites. And, with the announcement of two new tools – a workplace violence toolkit and now a severance pay entitlement tool and calculator – to helping employers to meet their employment obligations, said Ontario labour minister Peter Fonseca, to a packed opening session of a new Ontario health and safety event.
Fonseca was among the speakers opening the Partners in Prevention: Ontario Health and Safety Conference and Trade Show. This was the first conference presented by Ontario’s four new health and safety associations: Safe Workplace Promotion Services Ontario; Workplace Safety North; Infrastructure Health and Safety Association; and Health and Safety Association for Government Services.
The most common violations found in the recent construction site blitz involved guardrails, suspended scaffolds, fall protection systems and worker training. Since 2005 Ontario has doubled the number of full-time occupational health and safety inspectors, bringing the total to 430. (The ministry’s website provides the blitz results at www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/hs/sawo/blitzes/preliminary_report.php)
According to Fonseca, the ministry is implementing new measures to improve safety on construction sites, including:
- Strong enforcement measures that target repeat offenders and shut down construction projects when workers' lives are in danger.
- Increased focus on training and worker supervision during inspections.
- A public campaign with health and safety partners to increase awareness of enforcement and safety in different languages.
- A toll-free telephone line for workers and the general public to report construction site work practices that appear unsafe.
With less than 30 days until the workplace violence and harassment provisions of Bill 168 come into force, the minister drew delegates attention to the new workplace violence tool box. This toolbox will help employers to assess and control risks of workplace violence in a number of situations, such as:
- working alone or working in high-crime areas or with unstable clients,
- where workers must handle cash or protect valuable goods, or
- transporting people or goods.
The “tool box” will also include specific information on dealing with domestic violence in the workplace. Developed by the Occupational Health and Safety Council of the tool box is now available on the ministry’s website - along with a revised Guide to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, at www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/hs.
Fonseca also discussed the establishment of a panel of industry experts, led by Tony Dean, to review Ontario’s occupational health and safety system of prevention and enforcement. This panel will look at a range of issues, including:
- entry-level safety training,
- the impact of the underground economy on health and safety practices, and
- how existing legislation and programs can better serve the cause of worker safety.
Health and safety are not the only areas of ministry focus, however. In his speech to conference delegates, Fonseca noted, “For example, to help employers meet their obligations under the Employment Standards Act, we have developed a new termination and severance pay calculator to complement our existing public holiday pay calculator." This tool is available by visiting, www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/es/tools/severance/disclaimer_sev.php.
The ministry is also establishing a modern employment standards program that helps employees understand and realize their entitlements, as well as to help employers achieve compliance. “We are moving toward a system in which employees and employers will be encouraged to resolve their issues before they come to us,” Fonseca noted.
A full text of the minister’s speech can be found at www.labour.gov.on.ca/english.
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