Occupational health and safety legislation in all provinces across the country places the ultimate responsibility for occupational health and safety on employers. Among other things, employers have to provide certain information, instruction and training to workers.  Last month, Ontario took occupational health and safety training to a new level, announcing that Ontario employers will have to ensure that all workers and supervisors have completed a basic occupational health and safety awareness training program. The Occupational Health and Safety Awareness and Training Regulation (the “Regulation”) will take effect on July 1, 2014 and is the first of its kind in North America.

The purpose of the Regulation is to provide basic occupational health and safety awareness training for workers and supervisors under the Occupational Health & Safety Act (the “Act”). Employers in other provinces may recognize similar requirements in their jurisdiction, such as British Columbia, where employers must ensure young or new workers are given health and safety orientation and training specific to the young or new worker’s workplace.

The Ontario Requirements

There are a number of requirements for employers under the Regulation. These include:

  • Ensuring that workers complete the basic occupational health and safety awareness training program as soon as practicable;
  • Ensuring that supervisors, within one week of performing work as a supervisor, complete a basic occupational health and safety awareness training program; and
  • Maintaining a record of the basic occupational health and safety awareness training completed by supervisors and workers. If, within six months of a worker or supervisor no longer performing work for the employer, the worker or supervisor requests written proof of having completed the training, the employer must provide such proof.

Workers and supervisors can complete the occupational health and safety awareness training program by taking part in a one-hour tutorial using free, online e-learning tools or hardcopy workbooks provided by the Ministry of Labour.

Training Program for Workers

The basic occupational health and safety awareness training program for workers includes instruction on the following:

  • The duties and rights of workers under the Act;
  • The duties of employers and supervisors under the Act;
  • The roles of health and safety representatives and joint health and safety committees under the Act;
  • The roles of the Ministry of Labour, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and Health and Safety Associations under the Act;
  • Common workplace hazards;
  • Information and instruction requirements as set out in the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) Regulation; and
  • Occupational illness.

Training Program for Supervisors

The basic occupational health and safety awareness training program for supervisors must include instruction on the following:

  • The duties and rights of workers under the Act;
  • The duties of employers and supervisors under the Act;
  • The roles of health and safety representatives and joint health and safety committees under the Act;
  • The roles of the Ministry of Labour, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and Health and Safety Associations;
  • How to recognize, assess and control workplace hazards and how to evaluate those controls; and
  • Sources of information on occupational health and safety.

Very Limited Exceptions

The Regulation provides some limited exemptions for supervisors and workers:

  • Workers and supervisors who have previously completed a training program, either with their current or a former employer, are not required to undergo the training program again, if they can provide proof they completed the training, and their current employer can verify the training program covered the content required by the Regulation; and
  • A supervisor who has completed a basic occupational health and safety awareness training program for supervisors prior to the Regulation coming into force, does not have to complete a worker training program in addition to the supervisor training program.

Ramifications for Employers

Although occupational health and safety training is not new for employers across the country, the Regulation imposes more rigorous requirements, within limited timeframes, for employers in Ontario. And although other provinces have not yet followed suit, given the similarities in occupational health and safety laws across Canada, it will not be a surprise if other provinces introduce similar legislation in the future.