Time to regulate occupational health and safety professionals

Posted on September 4, 2017 in Health Delivery System

TheStar.com – )pimion/Commentary – Lack of regulation poses a public safety danger to Canadian workers
Sept. 4, 2017.   By

For many Canadians, Labour Day means the end of summer and a long weekend spent with friends and family. But the holiday was originally created to celebrate trade unions and their contributions to improving workers’ rights. In that context, Labour Day is an important time to reflect on how we can honour that legacy. Improving our occupational health and safety (OHS) systems is a crucial way of doing just that.

In 2015, according to the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada, there were 852 workplace-related fatalities in Canada. Workplace injuries are even more common. The association found that an average of 672 workers were injured every day on the job in Canada in 2012. Every day. And those numbers only cover workplaces where workers can receive provincial compensation benefits.

Fortunately, the frequency of work-related injuries and deaths has fallen drastically since the 1980s, which can be attributed to strengthened OHS regulations and more focus on improving OHS outcomes by unions, professional associations and industry. However, during the last decade, statistics measuring workplace injuries and fatalities have stopped showing signs of significant improvement. Clearly, there is still much room to improve OHS regulations and outcomes in Canada. A cornerstone of that push for safer and healthier workplaces should be the study of other countries and their success in that area.

In Canada, OHS falls primarily under provincial jurisdiction, with federal legislation applying only to federally regulated workplaces. Provincial governments routinely review and update their OHS laws and regulations, but they have been complacent about regulating the people responsible for administering OHS in the workplace and at the scene of likely accidents — OHS professionals. That stands in marked contrast to many comparable jurisdictions.

In Germany and Italy, for example, federal and regional governments regulate the educational and professional qualifications required to work as an OHS professional. A similar regulatory system exists in Singapore. In the United Kingdom, OHS professionals are regulated by Royal Charter status, which delegates oversight of the field to a government-recognized association. Chartered status has been applied to some professions in Canada, including accountants.

Overall, several countries with similar systems of government to Canada are leaders on regulating OHS professionals, which ensures consistency and drives best practices for the health and safety of workers. For Canada’s provincial governments, those examples, showing that regulatory oversight of OHS professionals has been successfully implemented in other jurisdictions, should serve as touchstones for future changes to OHS policy.

In Canada, the trend towards government oversight of professions is clear and strong, which is a welcome development. To name but three examples, home inspectors, paramedics and human resources professionals are now regulated in some form in one or more provinces. In fact, provinces are increasingly regulating a suite of health professionals that may include everyone from dental hygienists to diagnostic sonographers, but not OHS professionals.

Because of the lack of regulation of OHS professionals in Canada, there are many people claiming to be OHS professionals without any formal education or professional training. That poses a public safety danger to Canadian workers. Regulating OHS professionals as other countries have done would be a significant step forward in making Canada’s workplaces safer and healthier.

As we celebrate Labour Day in Canada, there could be no better time to take that next step to ensure that Canadian workers leave work healthy, uninjured and alive every day.

Paul Andre, CRSP, is chair of the Board of Governors of the Board of Canadian Registered Safety Professionals and acting president and CEO of Workplace Safety North.


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One Response to “Time to regulate occupational health and safety professionals”

  1. mknox says:

    For many vulnerable Canadians with serious mental health challenges, Labour Day can mean a long weekend spent entirely in seclusion at a mental health institution due to a lack of sufficient staffing. Modern unions now fight a losing battle for workers’ rights against neoliberal reforms in the mental health system.

    In this age of automation, Labour Day now marks an important time to reflect on how the health and safety of both mental health workers and clients has been compromised by neoliberal reforms and globalization. The provincial and federal government providing systemic reforms to our mental-health system is now more crucial than ever.


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