It’s the law

To begin, certainly health and safety laws recognize the value of training. Under Ontario’s Occupational Health & Safety Act and its regulations, employers have a general duty to provide information, instruction and supervision to workers to protect their health and safety. As a minimum, employers must also comply with specific training requirements including those related to worker awareness, joint health and safety committee (JHSC) certification, WHMIS, confined space, workplace violence, working at heights, and competency for supervisors and equipment operators. Workplaces regulated by the Canada Labour Code, Part II and its regulations have similar obligations, including obligations to provide worker education for all hazards identified and addressed by a workplace hazard prevention program. Although it must be said, employers are all too often met with misguided attempts to reward or incentivize them for meeting, rather than exceeding, these basic standards. 

Some of these requirements in Ontario at least were enacted in response to an Expert Panel report released in December 2010. More than five years later, training standards for worker representatives in small workplaces, mandatory entry level training for construction workers and training to identify, assess and control a number of other significant workplace hazards have yet to be realized, this despite Panel recommendations for most to be implemented within 12 months.

It works

Regardless, independent research also demonstrates quality training works. It can help ensure participants play their role in the workplace prevention program.

The human costs of work-related injury, illness and death though are incalculable. Thousands of Ontario workers suffer work-related injuries and illness every year, while hundreds more are killed as a direct result of hazardous exposures.

It has been some time, but here in Ontario, researchers came to this conclusion regarding the original, comprehensive Certification training standard of the 1990s. Participants of Core Certification reported dramatically improved ability to carry out their considerable responsibilities as certified representatives of joint health and safety committees.

It works especially with real learning in mind

But what defines quality training? For not all training programs, or the standards that govern them, are created equal. Some of what passes for occupational health and safety training (lectures, videos, posters and online resources) is not training at all; and some training actually blames workers for their own demise. Here too research tells us much. Good training:

  • Embraces proven adult teaching techniques
  • Builds on workers’ existing knowledge
  • Is delivered by a trusted and qualified source
  • Provides opportunity to apply and observe what is learned
  • Addresses root problems—namely workplace hazards.

In so doing, good occupational training distinguishes itself from the education of children. Adults bring a life-time of experience to training. They are not empty vessels into which knowledge is poured.

It is cost-effective

Compare the cost of this training with the unacceptable outcomes of inaction and one finds the decision to train makes sound business sense too. Last time the WSIB calculated the average lost-time injury in Ontario (2007), they estimated each one to cost approximately $106,500, when accounting for such factors as fines, prosecutions, premium hikes, stop work orders, and lost productivity.

It’s the right thing to do

The human costs of work-related injury, illness and death though are incalculable. Thousands of Ontario workers suffer work-related injuries and illness every year, while hundreds more are killed as a direct result of hazardous exposures. Training that is hazard-focused and prevention-based can help avoid this needless suffering. Workers of Newfoundland and Labrador know this to be true. Their province introduced working at heights training standards January 1, 2012. Reported fall injuries dropped by 25 per cent in the first 16 months after the requirement was implemented.

For all these reasons then, as we observe this National Day of Mourning, let’s also recommit to the ‘fight for the living’ and the work of developing and delivering truly protective, health and safety training programs and standards.