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OCOT drafting new risk of harm description

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by Richard Gilbert

The Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) has completed a public consultation process and is drafting a new description of a concept called risk of harm, which will measure both day-to-day and systematic risk to workers employed in construction trades.
OCOT drafting new risk of harm description

"To ensure that our compliance and enforcement policy helps the College fulfill its mandate to protect the public interest and ensure the people of Ontario feel confident that when they hire a qualified professional to fix their brakes or wire their homes — that the work is completed by certified skilled tradespeople — the Compliance and Enforcement Committee embarked on a period of dialogue and engagement," said Kate Poultney, chair of OCOT's Compliance and Enforcement Committee.

The Ontario legislature passed amendments to the Ontario College of Trades and Apprenticeship Act, 2009 on Dec. 8, 2016, which are based on a 2015 report by Tony Dean entitled Supporting a Strong and Sustainable Ontario College of Trades.

The Ministry of Labour (MOL) accepted the recommendations of the Dean report and OCOT was given 180 days (until June 6, 2017) to develop and post a comprehensive compliance and enforcement policy.

"The committee consulted members, the public and stakeholders through a series of town hall meetings in Sudbury, Ottawa and London and held a day-and-a-half of hearings in Toronto," said Poultney. "Now that all the feedback and advice has been received, the committee has begun drafting the policy and is on track to meet the legislative timelines prescribed through Bill 70."

An occupational risk expert said the Dean report goes much deeper than the protection of the public interest because it addresses safety hazards for construction workers on site.

"Tony Dean did a very good and bold thing in recommending that risk of harm be the number one and two criteria used to judge ratios and compulsory trades," said Gavan Howe, who is an associate professor at Humber College and the University of Guelph Humber. "I believe and interpret the language he used to mean risk of harm to trade workers first and then other trades/workers on site, and then risk of harm to the general public."

Dean recommends that risk of harm should be the judgment criteria by which OCOT and the MOL address concerns about journeyperson-to-apprentice ratios and compulsory certification.

In response to the Dean report, OCOT established the Compliance and Enforcement Committee to write the description of what constitutes risk of harm and of how such risks will be accounted for in terms of enforcement.

However, OCOT is not speculating or revealing what the final document will contain until it is released to the public in June.

"The big issue here is that there is no definition or description of risk of harm in any of the 12 literatures I have searched," said Howe. "Risk of harm definitions exist for those who need protection: elderly, children, disabled, nurses/health care, but nothing exists to inform around risk for highly skilled, healthy, well-adjusted workers who go in harm's way."

Prior to a study by Howe in 2016, there was no research on the notion of occupational risk of harm to healthy, well-adjusted and highly trained adult experts, other than violence, a risk of harm to those employed in the health care profession, he said.

Howe's study entitled 1,159 Years on the Tools: What Risk of Harm Means to Experts found the prominent definition of risk of harm pertains to substance abuse and deals with unhealthy individuals as well as abuse towards children.

The technical definitions of risk in most literature domains are too narrow and tightly bound to deal with the complexities of construction sites, Howe added.

As a result, Howe argues there is a need to create a new definition of occupational risk of harm.

According to Howe, the Building Ontario Up for Everyone Act, known as Bill 70, and the new description of risk of harm should form the basis of apprentice ratios, compulsory trades, scopes of practice for various trades and Ontario Labour Relations Board rulings.

Bill 70 should also influence other government initiatives, organizations and ministries, he said, including the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB); the Highly Skilled Workforce Expert Panel; the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills development; the Coroner's Office; the Changing Workplaces Review; all trade colleges; the Labour Relations Act; and the Employment Standards Act.

In addition, Howe argues a new definition or description for risk of harm should be developed for firefighters, Emergency Medical Services, police, military, returning vets with post-traumatic stress disorder, loggers and commercial fisherman.

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