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Ontario’s prescribed safety training requirements level the playing field

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by Mary Baxter

Most times of the year you’ll find Ron Whitmell on the road or in an airport travelling to conduct a training session or a project evaluation.
Ontario’s prescribed safety training requirements level the playing field

Whitmell manages AECOM Canada's safety, health and environment department. AECOM, which designs, finances and operates infrastructure for public and private sectors, has a strong cross-country presence, and in his years of training delivery, Whitmell has seen an explosion in demand for health and safety training.

Government regulation is a big driver, but so too is the adoption of best practices within the industry and a greater expectation from clients that these be followed, he says.

In Ontario, training on topics such as Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) might be a provincial regulatory requirement but the precise details of delivery are left to the employer.

The debut of the province's working at heights training regulations in 2015, however, not only made employers responsible for ensuring their workers were trained but also exerted greater control over the training's content and, through certification, who could deliver a course.

Last year, the province floated a similar proposal to establish standards for delivering health and safety awareness training.

Regulating prescribed training requirements levels the playing field, he says.

When it comes to how best to meet the new expectations for health and safety training, Ontario's construction employers opt for different approaches.

Bruno Porciello, owner of Bronnenco Construction Ltd., outsources most of the company's health and safety training needs. He obtains training for the working at heights program from the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA), Ontario's construction safety association, safe handling of propane and propane equipment training from local retailers and asbestos awareness training from qualified consultants.

"We're a very small general contractor," he explains. "There's so many different forms of different safety training...so we want individuals that are up to date on these regulations and no one person is."

Brian Hayman, vice-president of Hayman Construction Inc., a London general contractor that maintains a staff of around 50 people full-time, says his company now outsources more of its training needs than it did in the past.

"There's a wide variety of training requirements out there," he says, noting in January that employees were obtaining working at heights training at the local Labourers' International Union of North America hall. Previously, the company had conducted its own fall arrest training, which was the working at heights predecessor.

"It's easier just to hire one of the certified companies to do that training," he says.

When it comes to safety meetings, a representative from the IHSA sometimes attends to offer guidance. For specific training, such as certification of workers and management representatives for the joint health and safety committee certified worker program, the company turns to a local third-party training provider.

Right now plenty of companies deliver training.

"We're trying to use the local companies because it's convenient to go to a place in London to get the training done as opposed to travelling long distances or doing it online," Hayman says.

"If you have one instructor who can teach only so many days a year, reaching so many people a year, how do you expand your reach? By instructing other instructors."

Enzo Garritano
Infrastructure Health and Safety Association

Roughly 100 companies have obtained Ministry of Labour chief prevention officer approval to deliver working at heights training. Most of these are training services. As of mid-January, nearly 30 companies had also obtained approval to deliver in-house training.

Many companies, however, obtain training through the IHSA.

Like its counterparts in other Canadian provinces, the IHSA is a non-profit association that is focused on providing health and safety training education and consultation services for high-risk sectors, such as construction, trucking and aggregates. Employers automatically become members of the association when they pay premiums to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

The association provides both course materials and training. The IHSA conducts training in classroom or hands-on environments in different communities throughout the province. Increasingly, basic level awareness courses such as the association's electrical safety and awareness course can also be found online.

The IHSA delivers training either directly or through a partner. The organization's partnership program has been around four years, but found an added purpose after the province introduced its working at heights training regulations. The regulations increased demand for training. In turn, the partnership process created a way for companies to deliver the training with the appropriate qualifications.

"We're not going to be able to bring on more and more employees; that's not going to happen through the current budgeting and all that," says Enzo Garritano, the association's president and CEO.

"So, if you have one instructor who can teach only so many days a year, reaching so many people a year, how do you expand your reach? By instructing other instructors."

Within a year, the association and its 180 partners with more than 300 instructors trained nearly 50,000 workers. Partners — unions, employers and for-profit private sector trainers — trained roughly two thirds of that number.

Partners are trained to deliver the IHSA program; the association then audits partners to ensure they maintain the association's standards for delivery.

AECOM has been one of the association's partners for a number of years.

"We became a training partner with them so we could continue using their materials and then we knew we were meeting provincial standards," says Whitmell.

The company only uses its privileges to deliver training internally.

"I will do that for a sole proprietor subcontractor that's going to be on our sites...to make sure that when they're working for us they're up to provincial standards," Whitmell says.

Some construction firms have raised concerns about the availability of training for workers in more remote areas, indicating there is a need to deliver more training via the Internet.

Using partners has allowed the IHSA to improve training opportunities in more remote areas, Garritano says. An analysis the association recently completed shows there are still some gaps in coverage. Small towns in remote areas pose a greater challenge.

"IHSA is currently reviewing the coverage of our partnerships in the province so the demand and offering are better balanced," he says.

The association also tries to address the situation by decreasing its minimum enrolment requirement for classes serving more remote areas, and Garritano says the association will undertake training in any location upon request.

Garritano says the IHSA is moving towards adding more e-learning programs in connection with awareness training. The association is also increasing efforts to deliver training in more than one language. He points to an asbestos in construction e-learning awareness program that is being translated into languages such as Cantonese, Mandarin, Russian, Croatian, Turkish, Polish and Portuguese.

He acknowledges a progression in the province towards greater regulatory control of health and safety for construction but says it's slow.

He points out regulatory changes regarding training for assembling suspended access equipment that came into effect this year. They don't form a standard.

"The same with confined space entry (training requirements)," he says.

"It outlines requirements; it doesn't necessarily get into the learning outcomes as deep as a standard would."

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