A Brief History of Occupational Health and Safety in Canada

The Labour Day holiday 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, is the leader 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 advancing in this era of part-time employment by ensuring guaranteed safe working 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. Although, it is important 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.

The hazards found in the manufacturing sector have much more potential to causing injury, and in many cases death. To prevent such dangerous or risky situations, industries expect the integration of creative safety design methods, advanced safety technologies and machine protection awareness methods, while maintaining the objective of remaining productive and also competitive in this global environment.

It all starts with a deep understanding of processes and workflows to ensure a balance between ensuring worker safety, without sacrificing productivity and access to operators.