Construction industry stakeholders are supportive of the Ministry of Labour’s (MOL) recent decision to lengthen the transition period for working at heights (WAH) training requirements by six months, but it’s how the MOL is executing it that is receiving even more praise.
"It's not just being extended, there is a program in place for how it's being extended," explained Andrew Pariser, vice-president of the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON), adding the extension does not apply to every construction worker who requires WAH training.
"It's for people who had the old training...as well as they are registered for the new one. When you bring in training regulations or there is any kind of update, this seems to be a better transition tool, to me, than a hard date. So I would urge the ministry to take what they're doing with working at heights and apply it across the board."
Ontario's WAH training requirements came into force on April 1, 2015, requiring employers to ensure workers on a construction project successfully complete a WAH program approved by the chief prevention officer (CPO) and delivered by a CPO-approved training provider.
There was a two-year transition period for workers who, prior to April 1, 2015, had met the fall protection training requirements then in force under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Those workers had until April 1, 2017 to complete an approved WAH training program.
The deadline is now being extended to October, but only in specific circumstances: workers must have completed fall protection training and be enrolled in a WAH training program that will be completed before Oct. 1, 2017. The employer must have written proof of enrolment, which must be made available to an inspector upon request and include the name of the worker, the name of the approved training provider, the date on which the approved training is scheduled and the name of the approved training program.
"This gives us a little more runway to get all our members who need the training trained."
LIUNA Local 183
Pariser suggested the MOL use a transition tool with a "flexible deadline" when bringing in any new training programs or standards in order to provide a sufficient amount of time for everyone to get the training they need.
"I think a transitionary tool like the one we're seeing now provides the incentives that are needed to make sure the industry gets trained as quickly as possible, which is always the goal," he said.
"I have to credit the MOL on how they extended this. I think it was very smart and I think if they had just moved it six months down the road then you potentially would have the same issues six months later. Because people have to be registered for a course in order to be in compliance, I think the ministry hit the nail on the head this time. They did a good job and it means that people are going to take the training as soon as it is available because this is a serious issue."
The MOL reports it extended the time for workers to receive training after receiving requests from worker representatives in the construction sector.
"The ministry is seeing an enthusiastic level of compliance with the new working at heights training requirement," states an email from the MOL to The Daily Commercial News.
Approximately 300,000 workers having been trained and the demand continues, the MOL stated.
"The six month extension of the working at heights transition is in response to that demand...This extension is about ensuring that all required workers are able to receive this critical training," added the MOL.
Jason Ottey, director of government relations and communications for the Labourers' International Union of North America Local 183, said the union supports the extended deadline.
"We have actively, as an organization, been asking the ministry to extend the deadline," said Ottey, emphasizing the importance of having criteria in place in order to be eligible for the extended deadline. "This gives us a little more runway to get all our members who need the training trained."
Pariser said the transient nature of the construction workforce makes it difficult to quantify the number of workers in the industry and those requiring training.
"They're training a lot more workers than they thought and that's a credit to the industry, the unions, the workforce and the ministry," said Pariser.
He added you can't compromise the standard of training to meet a deadline and the ministry has recognized this.
"Somebody new, who has no WAH training, will not be allowed to work without it and that's important because we don't want new young workers on a construction site without the proper training," said Pariser. "Somebody who has training and is working safe as long as they are registered for a course in the near future, can continue to work which I think is a good compromise for everybody. But we can't understate the importance of working safely. Falls have plagued the construction industry. It's an issue we need to work more on and we are."