A Brief History of Occupational Health and Safety in Canada

A Brief History of Occupational Health and Safety in Canada

I write this just as another Labour Day weekend has passed by.

This time of year brings about many thoughts and feelings for most of us. It is the last long weekend before the kids head back to school and signifies the final days of summer. As I watch parents bring their children to that first day of class, I never fail to be taken aback by the lingering feelings of anxiety and sense of anticipated excitement brought on by my own days of youth.

Growing up in Toronto brings with it another event to amplify this sense of summer’s windup – the end of the Canadian National Exhibition – the Ex. I actually happened to attend on the final Sunday and I thought that Grand Old Lady on The Lake still had some life in her.

The Labour Day holiday, of course, should be acknowledged for another important reason. It was established to recognize the contribution that ordinary working people have made to the Canadian way of life. This includes the right to fair wages, safe working conditions and compensation for injury, and equitable labour relations. Canada, in fact, leads the charge in respect to such legislation and enforcement, which has been imitated throughout the industrial world.

Three important acts were passed that brought us to where we are today:

1.     Workman’s Compensation Act

In 1914, through the Workman’s Compensation Act, Ontario became the first province in Canada to introduce a state social insurance plan.

Prior to this legislation, the only recourse for employees injured on the job was to sue their employers for damages, but as lawsuits increased, employers turned to the government seeking an insurance plan for industrial accidents. With this act, a trade-off was introduced where workers gave up their right to sue in exchange for compensation.

2.     Labour Legislation

Established in 1919, the Ministry of Ontario developed and enforced labour legislation.

Through the ministry’s key areas of occupational health and safety, employment rights and responsibilities, and labour relations, the ministry’s mandate is to set, communicate, and enforce workplace standards while encouraging greater workplace self-reliance.

The Ministry also develops, coordinates, and implements strategies to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses, and can set standards for health and safety training.

3.     Occupational Health Act

In 1971 Saskatchewan passed the Occupational Health Act, considered the first legislation of its kind in North America.

The act makes health and safety the joint responsibility of management and workers, and sets the framework for future legislation, enshrining three important rights for workers:

  • The right to know about hazards and dangers in the workplace.
  • The right to participate in health and safety issues through a workplace committee.
  • The right to refuse unsafe work.

History of Health and Safety Act

In the late 1970s, the Government of Ontario began a process of updating the province’s health and safety laws.

The philosophy behind the law is known as the “internal responsibility system”. The Ministry of Labour’s guide to the act makes it clear that the government expects employers and workers to cooperate to control occupational health and safety hazards.

We are still making strides in this age of part-time employment in providing guaranteed safe work conditions for this growing segment of the workforce. Legislation, standards, and enforcement have proven to be necessary in protecting our workers from extremely dangerous processes and equipment. But we need to be able to adapt such compliances and regulation, and still be able to effectively function within the processes in which they are being applied.

Back when my kids were in elementary school, there was big controversy in the neighborhood. The school board made a decision to dig up its playground; it was deemed too risky as a number of safety hazards were identified. They eventually replaced it with more “compliant” safer equipment – equipment that was challenging by design but more ergonomically manageable, complete with softer landings. There was much debate within my circle of parent-friends of the necessity of the change. But the final result was the playground was safer for the children, and as important, the kids were not prevented of reaching the ultimate goal: having fun!

The hazards found in the manufacturing sector have much more potential to causing injury, and in many cases death. The objective in this scenario is for the manufacturer and owner of the equipment to be productive, and in turn, competitive in this global environment. To allow for this, our clients expect the incorporation of Creative Safety Design methods, Advanced Safety Technologies and Access-Conscious Machine Guarding methods. It all starts with a deep understanding of processes and workflow to ensure a balance is struck between guaranteeing the safety of our workers without sacrificing productivity and access by the operators.

At the end of the day, we want our children and all family members to come home safely. In the case of our working loved ones, we also want them to have job security.

>> Rotalec’s machine safety experts can help improve safety in your machine environment. Contact us to discuss machine safety solutions or to order products.

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