Approaches for improving occupational health and safety
The approaches in the strategy framework are the tools available to help the system achieve our vision, goals and priorities. These approaches are not new. However, the strategy envisions a different and more effective way of using these tools. This involves two key changes:
- All system partners must align their work to help achieve common goals. Organizations that have unique expertise will be able to capitalize on each other’s strengths, learn from one another and have greater impact.
- The system partners will need to be more thoughtful about how they use available tools. Different tools are appropriate in different settings and for different goals. For example, training may be the best way to ensure compliance in some workplaces, while enforcement may be the best approach in others.
Our approaches and tools include:
- Legislation and regulations: The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and its regulations establish the legal requirements for occupational health and safety in workplaces under provincial jurisdiction. These requirements provide the clearest and strongest direction to workplace parties on occupational health and safety practices and procedures. However, stakeholders say the regulations need to be clearer, more consistent, workplace relevant and easier for all to understand.
- Enforcement and monitoring: These are guided by a strategy called Safe At Work Ontario (SAWO). To monitor and enforce compliance with the law, ministry inspectors visit thousands of Ontario workplaces every year. While only the ministry has the authority to enforce the law, many other workplace parties or their safety partners are involved in monitoring safety programs and practices. Stakeholders agree that strong enforcement is essential in dealing with workplaces that are willfully non-compliant with the law. They are encouraging the Ministry of Labour to collaborate more closely with other ministries and levels of government to help identify and target willfully non-compliant workplaces with the highest risks.
- Education and training: These are essential to preparing workplace parties to adopt occupational health and safety practices and to respond to many occupational health and safety issues and hazards. Many different organizations provide education and training, including the six provincially designated Health and Safety Associations. The province is actively implementing the recommendations of the Expert Advisory Panel on Occupational Health and Safety (2010) to clarify and standardize training requirements. We need rigorous standards to ensure training programs effectively prepare workers to be healthy and safe on the job.
- Advisory services: These are available to help workplace parties comply with legal requirements and go beyond compliance to achieve occupational health and safety excellence. The same organizations that deliver education and training services often provide advisory services. There is significant occupational health and safety expertise throughout the province, but stakeholders have said we need to develop better partnerships and referral mechanisms to ensure workplace parties are directed to the most appropriate, accessible advisory services to meet their needs.
- Programs and motivators: These can be used to move workplaces beyond compliance by encouraging excellence in occupational health and safety. The motivators can be financial or non-financial. They can be rewards or penalties. Ontario and other jurisdictions currently use a wide variety of programs to motivate better occupational health and safety performance. The ministry is exploring options to build on and improve existing programs. Stakeholders say they support motivators when there is evidence they achieve results. They also support programs to recognize leaders who promote occupational health and safety best practices in workplaces.
- Awareness: This is the first step in building positive occupational health and safety practices. Without awareness, workers, supervisors and employers are not able to act effectively to ensure workers are healthy and safe. We have to make more people aware of their occupational health and safety rights and responsibilities – especially those most at risk and their employers. To raise awareness, we need to work with new partners, develop more consistent messages and use them across the system.
- Research and data management: These allow exploration of new, innovative and practical ways to improve occupational health and safety practices and outcomes. Ontario’s strong occupational health and safety research community has helped the system partners understand both the causes of workplace injuries and illnesses and the ways to improve health and safety in the workplace. Research is critically important to understand the changing nature of workplace hazards, such as those that contribute to occupational diseases. Research and data analysis can also help identify workplaces with the greatest risk, target assistance and enforcement efforts more effectively, and evaluate the impact of actions.
To improve the system, discussions will focus on how to resource each of the tools in the occupational health and safety toolbox and how to use them more effectively as part of integrated, collaborative service delivery.
Occupational health and safety research in Ontario
Ontario has a very strong occupational health and safety research community that contributes to making workplaces healthy and safe. The key occupational health and safety research partners are the:
- The Institute for Work and Health
- The Centre for Research Expertise in Occupational Disease
- The Centre for Research Expertise for Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders
- The Occupational Cancer Research Centre
The Ministry of Labour’s Research Opportunities Program also provides strategic research investments for occupational health and safety research and knowledge exchange projects focused on system priorities. The ministry has established a new Occupational Health and Safety Research Advisory Panel to advise the Chief Prevention Officer on research and research funding issues.