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Canada – Health and Safety – in focus


For employers used to operating in countries with a single legislative system for health and safety, the 14 separate jurisdictions of occupational health and safety legislation in Canada might look like a complex and challenging prospect.  Eldeen Pozniak, the Director of Pozniak Safety Associates and the past President of the International Network of Safety and Health Practitioners (INSHPO) and the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering, has given us some history and insight.

NEBOSH (the National Examination Board in Occupational Health and Safety) explores health, safety and HR influences in workplaces worldwide.

Canada’s health and safety system grew out of the Royal Commission on the Relations of Capital and Labour that started in 1887. It grew further from the 1913 Royal Commission to study workers’ compensation – The Meredith Report – which outlined a no-fault compensation for injured workers. In 1919 the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada was founded as a non-profit organisation to facilitate the exchange of information between Workers’ Compensation Boards and Commissions, as by the early twentieth century, every jurisdiction in Canada had created workers’ compensation boards and had passed laws to regulate hygiene, lighting, heating, ventilation, accident reporting and fire safety at factories. The fundamental worker rights within all Canadian legislation jurisdiction came from the 1974 Hamm Report, and are the right to know, the right to participate and the right to refuse dangerous work.

Currently OHS is regulated under a variety of mechanisms in Canada including acts, regulations, standards, guidelines and codes which outline the general rights and responsibilities of workplace parties as well as general and specific requirements. Eldeen explains that jurisdictions vary in their level of detail when allocating duties. “Some jurisdictions talk in basic terms about just employers, supervisors and workers, while others are more extensive – including suppliers, for example. But what you don’t get is the kind of detail you get from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), such as references to the responsibilities of the ‘architect’ or ‘consultant engineer’.”

Enforcement of health and safety law again varies according to jurisdiction, and may be carried out by Worker Compensation Boards or the Ministry of Labor.

A positive development was a Canadian Criminal Code change in 2004. “The change in the Canadian Criminal law has provided new rules for attributing criminal liability to organisations, including corporations, their representatives and to those who direct the work of others. It has allowed the courts to impose serious penalties of jail terms, fines or creative penalties.”

Some jurisdictions have introduced “summary ticket offences”. The safety equivalent of a speeding ticket, fines can be handed out to workers, supervisors or employers by certain officers (inspectors) during workplace visits. “They’re typically handed out for breaches involving work at height, confined spaces or personal protective equipment,” says Eldeen, “and the fines vary between jurisdictions.”  Others have created creative sentencing, such as instead of fines going into government coffers, that specific greater good initiatives are funded, such as the development of a training program for an industry sector.

Eldeen sees approaches to enforcement action evolving: “It used to be the case that companies only ended up in court following a death or serious injury, but there are signs that’s beginning to change: in some jurisdictions, we’ve seen authorities go after repeat offenders without specific incident or harm.

“One of the issues we have to deal with is the difference in standards between the jurisdictions,” she confirms. “The rules around specific hazards can differ from one jurisdiction to another. For multi-provincial companies, it means as they cross the line from one province to another, the requirements can change. ” There are efforts under way to try to bring greater consistency to health and safety requirements, through reference to CSA (Canadian Standards Association) Standards.

Hazard and risk based safety approaches are not as evolved in Canada as in the UK.  “Activities such as job hazard analysis [risk analysis] are not yet such a strong component here as they are in the UK system,” explains Eldeen. “There’s a tendency for companies in one sector to look at another sector and think, ‘we’ll just copy and paste what they’re doing’, which of course doesn’t necessarily work.”

At a national level, the multi-jurisdiction system affects the gathering of statistics and makes comparing jurisdictions – and establishing a clear national picture of performance – challenging. For example in one province a lost-time injury might be defined as missing your next shift, while in another it is having to leave your current shift. There are also different approaches to defining industrial sectors and groupings between jurisdictions. What is clear at a national level, however, is that the fatal injury rate – while on a downward trend – is high in comparison to the UK: in 2016, there were 312 injury-related fatalities in Canada (working population approximately 17.2 million) compared with 147 in the UK (working population approximately 31.4 million).

Better co-operation between HR and health and safety functions within organisations could make a significant difference to performance, Eldeen believes. In some organisations health and safety is a stand-alone function, while elsewhere it sits under HR, but too often there is a silo mentality. “It can either be a game of tug-of-war – where the two functions fight over responsibility for certain areas – or of hot potatoes, when no one wants responsibility for something! But there’s so much cross-over – on working hours, on mental health etc. – that as two professions we need to identify what sits where and define better what the fuzzy, grey area between us is. Collaboration needs to improve.”

Each jurisdiction also has specific labour standards and human resources regulations that include employment standards and workplace safety as well as employment equity and human rights obligations. Both parties’ HR and OHS need to understand and have a basic knowledge of each of the legislative inclusions.

HR professionals also need an understanding of the health and safety role and the competences needed to fulfill it. This is where the INSHPO Capability Framework document can provide HR professionals with solid information on the activities, knowledge and skills based upon level of practice. Then using hiring guides such as the one published by the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering and the Salary Survey published by the Board of Canadian Registered Safety Professionals, the HR professional can ensure appropriate job descriptions, salary rates, performance evaluations and job postings in Canada.

There have been conversations in Canada about licensing the health and safety profession, and there has been movement in Alberta to start that process in their jurisdiction.  Eldeen recognises the benefits of licensing the profession, as well as the potential difficulties within a multi-jurisdictional system. If each jurisdiction has its own licensing process and criteria, without agreement between jurisdictions it could become difficult and restrictive for those operating in multiple jurisdictions.

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