Canada: Highlights From The Gowlings OHSLAW Year In Review

Last Updated: December 18 2012
Article by Neeta Sahadev

Edited by Norm Keith

Gowlings' recent OHSLAW Workplace Risk Management Year in Review conference featured an impressive array of speakers who provided attendees with a wealth of current knowledge and practical resources.

The morning kicked off with the new Ministry of Labour (MOL) chief prevention officer (CPO), George Gritziotis. Mr. Gritziotis took the opportunity to break down the latest CPO "priorities." He discussed the improvements being made to existing small business occupational health and safety (OHS) systems, and the latest MOL initiatives for vulnerable workers, including youth, new Canadians and aging workers. Mr. Gritziotis also addressed the ongoing concerns involving the underground economy and "high hazard" sectors. Success in these areas, he suggested, require reaching out to them and other mainstream sectors of the economy to move beyond existing relationships and towards new networks within each community.

Elizabeth Mills, president and CEO of Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (WSPS) discussed various health and safety solutions available to Canadian employers and employees. She addressed the top four workplace hazards causing the greatest loss of workplace productivity across Canada. To assist with fi nding solutions particular to each incident or hazard, Ms. Mills provided the audience with valuable information on how to access WSPS resources at no cost, including through its online site www.healthandsafetyontario.ca, and promoted some of its "fee-based" solutions.

OHS law expert Norm Keith, a partner at Gowlings, reviewed five recent court decisions and important trends in OHS prosecution. Mr. Keith explained the consequence of a continuing obligation and consequently the responsibility imposed on defendant employers. Mr. Keith clarified how satisfying the court that every reasonable precaution was taken does not require superhuman efforts by the defendant. He also discussed the immediate impact of recent court decisions involving Bill 168, Work Refusals and Bill C-45. Mr. Keith noted that the MOL continues to increase its emphasis on the enforcement of the OHSA. He also indicated that courts are imposing higher expectations on the defendants to prove the Due Diligence defence and, accordingly, that trials are becoming increasingly complex, long in duration and high in costs. As this pendulum continues to swing, Mr. Keith offered suggestions on how companies can best prepare to maximize safety and health, and minimize impact of productivity.

Dr. Ertugrul Alp, PEng, PhD, offered numerous in-depth and practical solutions on ways of identifying and mitigating the inherent risks in a workplace. Dr. Alp encouraged the attendees to consider undertaking a detailed risk analysis in their workplaces, and provided checklists and strategies for immediate application. Not only did he stress the importance of appropriate risk control strategies but he implored that sufficient human and physical resources be available to mitigate against workplace risk. A corporate safety standard promotes a safety culture; therefore, the corporation must take an active role in continually increasing safety for its employees, which, in turn, increases profits for the business.

Dr. Peter Strahlendorf, associate professor of occupational and public health at Ryerson University, emphasised that safety belongs to each member of the workforce and should not be hived off and imposed onto a committee exclusively. He addressed the impact of a well established and functioning Internal Responsibility System (IRS), which he understands to be the ultimate expression of respect for the human element in the workplace. Dr. Strahlendorf spoke in detail about the two IRS phases, and set out how each phase can be successfully achieved, thereby reaching the critical goal of lowering the risk of accidents in the workplace.

Thomas Teahen, chief corporate services officer at the WSIB, discussed the current fi nancial state of the WSIB and its ambitious goals to transform and modernize. Mr. Teahen spoke of the billion dollar deficit run by the insurance fund, and the resulting high cost of premiums affecting employers across the Country.

As a result, the government implemented a regulation requiring the WSIB to incrementally reach 60 per cent, 80 per cent and 100 per cent funding by 2027. Currently, one of the key milestones achieved by the WSIB is that it now, in 2012, is covering its costs.

Elsa Cabral, director of operations and client services at LifeLabs, spoke passionately about where corporate social responsibility and business intersect. She made numerous references to LifeLabs current safety success and its continued focus on improvement. She discussed the company's constant search for efficiencies, and listed those that are tried and true. She spoke of the company's increase in investments in areas such as ergonomics, which, as an operation expense, can pay dividends in the long run. Ms. Cabral connected many dots for companies seeking to improve the health and safety of its workers while also improving the bottom line.

The conference closer was David Marchione, an occupational health and safety consultant and paralegal at Gowlings. Mr. Marchione provided practical and realistic cost saving techniques achieved through effective risk management. Mr. Marchione stressed the importance of not only requiring personal protective equipment (PPE) to be worn by the worker, but making absolutely sure, through monitoring and enforcement, that it is worn properly. Mr. Marchione acknowledged that the onus placed on employers and supervisors is high, but implored that their roles be done thoroughly and at all times. There were numerous practical take-aways from this presentation, all which improved the protection rightfully afforded to workers under the OHSA and complemented the cost concerns of all businesses.

Stay tuned for other OHSLaw and related courses at Gowlings as each will continue to offer its attendees details about the current state of OHS law and the most up-to-date means of preparing and dealing with these everevolving challenges in the workplace.

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