Ontario Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn and Chief Prevention Officer (CPO) George Gritziotis provided an update on two initiatives that are expected to make vast safety changes in the construction industry during the recent COR Open House and Leadership Conference.
The event was hosted by the Ontario General Contractors Association in partnership with the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association at the Centre for Health and Safety Innovation in Mississauga, Ont.
Flynn revealed that the CPO will be launching a consultation process for developing an accreditation program that "is going to set the bar very high in terms of safe workplaces.
"I firmly believe that companies that keep their workers safe and treat health and safety as a priority, they're the most profitable companies, the most productive companies where people want to work," said Flynn. "They become employers of choice, they have lower absenteeism, they have all the things you want in your company that come as a result of taking this issue very seriously."
Gritziotis addressed the process for developing an accreditation program in the province. The program is currently in the research phase but will be moving to the consultation phase as early as the end of March.
"The purpose of accreditation is to recognize Ontario employers who improve injury prevention," said Gritziotis, adding the Occupational Health and Safety Act has been amended so that the CPO as an institution can now establish standards that occupational health and safety management systems would need to meet to become accredited.
"In order to be recognized you have to go beyond minimum compliance," explained Gritziotis. "To be accredited you've raised yourself to the top. It's also about recognizing good internal responsibility systems and one that is about strong health and safety programs and practices."
Accreditation provides the opportunity to augment the current system and will work hand in hand with current approaches that are the cornerstone of the legislation including inspection and enforcement, Gritziotis added.
"It's another tool in the health and safety tool box when we think about what we want to do with the system," he said. "We know that the employer community is very diverse and no two work places are the same in their service offerings, in their production process, or how they treat their employees."
As a next step, the CPO's consultation process will focus on the implementation of a proposed accreditation framework, the elements of an accreditation standard and incentive framework.
"Phase one, which is starting now, focuses on meeting with labour and employer groups who have expressed an interest and, quite frankly, the purpose of those meetings is to begin getting some clarity and articulating what are the issues and questions we should consider, what are some of the gaps you see out there," said Gritziotis. "The bottom line is we want to learn about the good, the bad and the ugly."
Phase 2 is expected to begin this summer or fall and includes a more formal and broader public consultation to seek input on highlighted areas, Gritziotis reported.
During the conference, Flynn also stated the much-anticipated Construction Health and Safety Action Plan is expected to be released in the coming weeks.
"I can tell you that this plan is going to have a meaningful impact on the construction industry and, to put it quite simply, it's going to do what we're all here to do today and that is to save lives and to prevent injuries," said Flynn. "You know that when we all get together and share our best practices you help make your industry safer."
Stakeholders in the construction sector have been working closely with the Ministry of Labour on the plan.
"We're going to be launching more awareness campaigns, we're going to improve the information channels that we have to build upon this exercise, but the roles and the responsibilities, people are telling us, need to be more clearly defined," explained Flynn. "Getting the information out to people, making sure they're properly trained so that lifelong learning or career-long health and safety learning is something you're going to see promoted in a very big way."
While the ministry will provide guidance and regulations to keep workers safe, everyone is going to be expected to play a part, he added.