H&S Training: Training Standards

Since the appointment of a Chief Prevention Officer in Ontario, health and safety training standards are high on the MOL’s priority list.   It’s about time, I say.  During my years as an Inspector I found that many training programs were inadequate or downright dangerous.  Dangerous because they did not provide all the information workers needed to work safely.  Inadequate because they did not provide workers or supervisors with critical information about their rights, duties or responsibilities under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) or it’s Regulations.

Take WHMIS for example.  In my last post about training, I wrote that suppliers of chemicals often would perform WHMIS training in workplaces that purchased their  industrial chemicals.  Workers, when asked how they would  use a chemical safely, or what to do in the event of a spill, didn’t have a clue.  And if language wasn’t enough of a barrier to their knowledge, their knowledge of what protective equipment they should use, the health hazards, first aid or how to store or use the chemical, was sadly lacking.    But would the development of training standards help?  Perhaps by ensuring that only training providers who meet a certain criteria could provide training, and secondly by ensuring that trainers themselves met certain qualifications.

Standards developed or legislated by the MOL over the years have been a welcome addition to health and safety programs for safety professionals.  First there were  standards set out in the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) document entitled “Certification Standards for Joint Health and Safety Committees.  The current JHSC Certification Training Program Standard specifies the criteria that a program must meet in order to be approved by the Chief Prevention Officer (CPO).

As well, workers who work at heights in construction had until October 1, 2017 to complete the training program under the Working at Heights Standards.  A listing of training providers and trainers is on the MOL website, if you’re looking for an approved training program.

We know that under the OHSA,  a supervisor must be a competent person.  But therein lies a problem;  in 2005 during an investigation it was plain that a particular supervisor was not competent.   As an inspector, I could not write an order on competency, because perhaps the supervisor was competent when hired.  The supervisor in question, when queried, had no idea of the dangers or potential hazards in the workplace and was not familiar with the OHSA.  I had to write the order under another section of the OHSA to guarantee that the employer provided training to the supervisor.

To make certain that, as a minimum, supervisors and workers are at least familiar with the OHSA,  the MOL developed Health and Safety Awareness Training which came into effect July, 2014.   Every worker and supervisor in Ontario must complete this training, either online or in booklet form.  Once completed, they never need to take it again.  I’m not certain if there is any research into whether it has been effective or not.   It’s intent was good though.  At least if workers and supervisors actually complete the training they will be aware that the OHSA exists.  And that’s a boon for workers from other countries where even discussing health and safety is cause for dismissal.

The CPO training standards for training providers and for trainers will hopefully bring uniformity to the multi-million dollar training industry.   Training providers must meet certain criteria and in turn must ensure that the Instructors they hire are qualified to train and are knowledgeable about the subject they are teaching.

I’d say it’s a pretty good start.

Here’s the link if you want to comment or contact Gloria


There ought to be a law: H&S Training

On August 3, 2017, the Toronto Star’s Headline “Coroner’s jury calls for better de-escalation training for police” came as no surprise to many. Year after year, and always after another citizen with mental health issues is shot dead by an officer, we continue to read the same recommendations for training – none of them legally binding.

Ministry of Labour (MOL) Inspectors are all too aware of the necessity of training in de-escalation techniques. Inspectors themselves are often confronted by angry and potentially violent people; employers who believe it’s their god given right to do whatever they want in their workplaces, and workers who are terrified that the Inspector will shut the workplace down and destroy their livelihood. I’ve been verbally threatened myself, as have many of my former co-workers.

When I commenced my job with the MOL, new Inspectors received excellent training at the Police Academy in Alymer. De-escalation techniques were a part of that training. When someone holds a rifle in your face, as what happened in Aylmer, de-escalation becomes a very important skill. But as for any training, it should be reviewed at least annually and assessed for effectiveness.

Health Care Workers are at high risk for violence, perhaps at an even higher risk than Police Officers. And similar to MOL Inspectors, they have no weapons. I recall reviewing one facility’s Violence Protection Program and their training. Workers had all undergone de-escalation training, but unfortunately the rest of their program was lacking and workers were still being injured on the job. A review of their policy and program along with measures and procedures to protect workers from violence was found to be ineffective.

Training for workers is not just about violence or de-escalation techniques. There are many hazards in the workplace that need to be assessed and training planned for. Training is and has always been a major focus for MOL Inspectors. If not performing almost annually blitzes for new and young workers to ensure they have received appropriate training prior to starting their new job, Inspectors proactively review an employer’s training records to ensure workers are trained in subjects that are relevant to the job.

While the MOL Policy is that Inspectors do not assess whether an employer’s policies or training programs are adequate, there are a few things they can look for when making a reasonable judgment on whether or not to write an order or even to prosecute.

As Provincial Enforcement Officers, MOL Inspectors first look to the ACT and to Regulations made under the ACT. The all encompassing section 25 (2)(a) of the ACT is pretty clear: employers must provide information, instruction and supervision to protect workers health and safety; that means training – not just handing them a sheet of paper and telling them to go home and read it.

Inspectors rely on specific Regulations, such as the Regulation for Health Care and Residential Facilities, Regulation 67. Contravention of section 10 of that regulation means that Inspectors can issue an order to an employer to instruct and train their workers who wear respirators in their use, care and limitations, as well as ensuring workers are fit tested for the respirator they will wear.

Workplace Hazardarous Information System (WHMIS) or Regulation 860 section 7 requires that all workers that work with or in proximity to a controlled product are trained. This should include training in and understanding of the hazard symbols. It’s not uncommon for workers to be questioned by an Inspector about the chemicals that they work with, how they are used and stored, what protection is required if needed, and what the hazards of the chemical are.

Often suppliers will provide a workplace with free training in the chemicals that they sell; employers should ensure that the workers are being informed in clearly understood language about the hazards and how to protect themselves. Training on the safety data sheets should be a part of that training.

Other requirements for training are found in Regulation 297/13 where all workers and supervisors must have basic Occupational Health and Safety awareness training.

Workers often asked me if the employer could make them pay for their own training, or make them take their training on their own time at home. My answer – it depends. The employer must pay if it was a legally required training program made under the ACT or Regulations – for example Certification Training. If training is not enforceable under the Act but is simply a recommendation, for example, as in the Police Officers’ cases, then chances are they will be ignored. At a minimum, any training program must be reviewed and assessed for effectiveness at least annually.

During my tenure as an Industrial Inspector with the Ministry of Labour, I was often disappointed to see the poor quality of training that workers received. Many times the training was not developed by the employer. Companies that claimed to provide training to meet employers’ needs were often more interested in making a few bucks than they were at keeping workers safe. Then again, some training programs I reviewed went over and above the minimum standards.

Inspectors may expect a workplace to follow standards such as the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Standard Z94.4-02 with respect to respirator fit-testing but can not write an order under that Standard. It is not enforceable. An order can still be issued under the ACT, section 25 (2)(h)but the order cannot mention the CSA Standard.

In the case of the police, should mandatory de-escalation training be enshrined in law? If so, what would it include? Should that law include frequent and at least annual reviews of the training program? An annual review can identify if the training they currently receive is adequate or inadequate. It could also identify those officers (they are workers too) who need to be retrained or reassigned.

Before developing any training program, the developer must ensure that the training meets the needs of the target audience. For most workplaces a Job Hazard Analyses should be undertaken where possible. A good developer will define the audience and ensure that the training program provides relevant information and skills. The program must include information and instruction to workers in what they need to know, then ensure that they are supervised once training is complete. And don’t forget – keep meticulous records. When an Inspector comes a calling – they can and probably will ask for them.

For More Information or comments you can contact Gloria.

West Nile Virus: A Pesty Subject

Maybe nothing causes more dismay to a person on the brink of sleep than the persistant, zzzzzzzz of a mosquito near their ear. Every camper, hiker, and sunset watcher has something in common – hatred for public enemy number one, the mosquito.

Mosquitos are responsible for malaria, dengue, many forms of encephalitis, as well as passing the Zika virus and the West Nile virus onto humans.

Mosquito borne illnesses cause close to one million deaths annually and affect almost 700 million people globally.

With climate change a reality, West Nile Virus (WNV) has become endemic in North America. Mosquitoes thrive in the weather conditions Ontario and the rest of North America is experiencing.

Continued rain and rising water levels along with pools of stagnant water provide a perfect cradle for mosquito larvae to breed.

Outside workers who work in areas when mosquitos are present are at risk of being bitten from the potentially virus carrying pest including, farmers, foresters, landscapers, groundskeepers and gardeners. Also at risk are painters, roofers, pavers, construction workers, labourers, mechanics, entomologists and other field workers who conduct surveillance and other research activities outdoors.IMG_1008

It’s not only outside workers that are at risk. When performing diagnostics for the West Nile Virus, medical or laboratory workers may also be at risk of infection if they are accidently stuck while testing for the virus or sustain a cut while handling infected tissue.

Organizations and employers that have workers who may be at risk of being bitten must develop and maintain a program that will minimize the risk to workers from contracting WNV. Ministry of Labour Inspectors are informed of WNV and proactively inspect sectors where workers may be exposed to the Virus. That includes golf courses, parks, farms, recreational facilities and other workplaces where mosquitoes are present or water can collect and become a breeding ground for the rapacious pest.

Because mosquitos need a standing body of water for larvae to develop into mature insects, stagnant pools that can found in troughs, ditches, rain barrels, ponds, and tires, must be emptied at least every 4-5 days, or treated with larvicides to reduce the mosquito population.

A WNV Policy and Program to protect workers must include measures and procedures, and workers must be trained in the employer’s steps to protect them.

For outside workers at low risk, a program that informs workers of the risks in addition to insect repellant provided by the employer might suffice. For others, a more comprehensive program is in order.

In Ontario, any WNV program should run during the time that mosquitoes are most likely to be active – usually from July to September and from dusk to dawn. But, as hikers and outside workers know all too well, mosquitoes are also active in the woods, fields or meadows at any time of day if there is sufficient foliage. Covering all parts of the body is a partial solution. In hot humid weather, it could cause another problem – heat stress. Therefore a workplace program must take into consideration all likely outcomes of their decision.

If you are a worker, or employ workers who might be at risk of being bitten by a mosquito, ensure you have performed an assessment of the risk then develop or review your WNV Policy and Program. If you have a Joint Health and Safety Committee, it would be wise to involve them in the process from the beginning.

Date your policy, and have the highest level person in the organization sign off. Ensure all workers are informed of the policy and program and are trained in the steps being taken to protect them from West Nile Virus.

As always, more information can be found on the Centre for Disease Control Website as well as the Ontario Ministry of Labour.

Contact Gloria Bergen if you want assistance with any health and safety policy or program.

Heat Stress: A Year Round Concern

When the first warm days of summer arrive, if you are like most Canadians, you race to your garage, dust the cob webs off the barbecue, grab a six pack and hurry outside to enjoy the warm weather. For many others, summer can be a time of anxiety.  Instead of going into air conditioned offices, they’re dreading the thought of the oven like heat they will be spending their eight hour working day in.  Similar thoughts are on the mind of workers – even in the winter.

Bakers, foundry workers, laundry clerks, commercial kitchen and fast food workers and others who toil in environments where heat, often combined with humidity, can become deadly, know only too well what hell feels like.  Outside workers, exposed to the intense heat of the summer sun, are also negatively affected by heat.

I’ve investigated heat stress in various industries over the years. It was never an easy visit to walk into a workplace where workers are sweating, feeling dizzy or faint, and the temperature reads well over what the human body can endure.

I recall one instance where a woman called the Ministry of Labour (MOL) complaining of heat in a workplace. When I attended, I found a young summer student working alone in an ice cream parlour. The air conditioner had broken down days previously. The temperature in the store measured over 95 degrees Fahrenheit. There were no fans, and no way to cool the workplace. It seemed ironic that the freezers holding the ice cream were all in perfect working order while the young worker said she was “melting”.

37 degrees C = 99.14 degrees F
Too Hot to work

Heat Stress is a serious, and often life threatening physical reaction to heat beyond what the human body is capable of handling. In 2011 a baker in Barrie, Kim Douglas Warner,died of heat stress when the bakery reached approximately 49 degrees Celsius. His core body temperature was measured at 42 degrees. The workplace was later fined $215,000 under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. In today’s legislative climate the employer could be facing a jail sentence.

If you don’t know much about heat stress or want additional information on how to protect yourself or your workers, there are a multitude of web sites that cover the subject in detail:  The Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers Inc.  (OHCOW) has developed a resource for protecting workers from heat stress; the Ministry of Labour’s site also has resources, or just goggle heat stress; there are hundreds of sites where you can find information.

In Ontario, every workplace must have a health and safety policy. To implement that policy, employers need a program that contains all the elements required for that particular workplace. Where heat is or could become a health and safety issue, the employer must have a heat stress program.

The type of program needed for each workplace is different. Is it a factory, a mine, a greenhouse, a coffee shop, a farm, a fast food outlet, or an office on the 12th floor where the air con might go out during an electrical shortage?
Each workplace requires their own policy and program that outlines procedures and measures the employer has taken to protect workers from heat stress.

As an Inspector during a visit, I would expect to see the policy, ensure that all workers were aware of and trained in the policy and understood the procedures in place to safeguard their health and safety. I would review the measures and procedures: are there allowances for leaving the area and going to a cooling down station? Is water freely available?  What clothing are they required to wear? Are there adequate fans, if needed? Is the HVAC system working properly?

As a part of any inspection I would look at and often test equipment such as water fountains, HVAC systems, protective clothing, and temperature gauges, to ensure they were maintained in good working condition. Orders to an employer were rarely welcome but were often issued. It meant someone was not doing their job, didn’t know any better, or just didn’t give a dam about workers.

Often, I would find other issues while performing the inspection. At one golf course I attended, after receiving a complaint about heat, I noticed a picnic table near a pleasant little river under the shade of a lovely oak stand. Perfect place for lunch I thought, until I saw a hose from the river pumping water onto the lawns. Mist from the water was settling onto the picnic table as well as on the sandwiches the workers were eating while on their break.

The water was sent to be tested. It came back as laden with E.coli, a potentially harmful or fatal bacterium. You never know what the Inspector will find when she comes a-calling.

So now, with the summer sun blazing down, ensure that your workplace is safe, that policies and measures and procedures are in place, and that all workers can go home at the end of their shift,  pull out the barbecue and settle down to relax for their hard earned rest.

It’s Summer – Do you know where Your Children Work?

I remember quite clearly a number of investigations I performed during my years at the Ministry of Labour (MOL). The incidents that bothered me the most were those involving young workers.  One young girl – a summer student, was injured when the metal plate she lifted to add chemicals to the wading pool fell onto her hand and crushed it.

Another investigation involved a young man who lost an eye and suffered a shattered face while assisting his supervisor to perform a task.   The supervisor, a contractor,  picked up an angle grinder with a speed of 12,000 RPM and began to smooth the rough edge on a piece of granite.   The grinding wheel had a maximum speed of  7,700 RPM and hence exploded sending chunks of shrapnel into the space where the young worker was standing.

Neither worker had received training.  Neither worker could have known of the danger of the work they were asked to perform.

The young female pool attendant was not advised of the danger of lifting by hand the heavy metal plate, nor was there a piece of equipment to prevent the plate from slamming shut.  In the second case, the employer had not bothered to read the safe operating instructions of the angle grinder and ensuring the contractor knew how to use the angle grinder before using it.  As well, the guard was still in the box along with the SOP.

The MOL frequently has ‘blitzes’ where Inspectors are sent out into the field to perform new and young workers inspections.  Unfortunately, with the small number of Inspectors compared to the thousands of workplaces in Ontario, not all workplaces can be inspected proactively.  It’s usually only after an event that the Inspector shows up.

Lack of training is a recurrent underlying cause of accidents that Inspectors investigate.   Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act training means providing information, instruction as well as supervision to a worker.  Most summer students are provided with little if any safety information or supervision.  They may be told how to serve a burger, how to work the cash, how to greet customers, where to place the boxes, how fast to work, or how much chlorine to add to the swimming pool.  It’s just not good enough.

When working with a slicer in a deli, the worker needs to ensure there is a guard, and that they have been provided with training on the safe way to use it.  Lock out is imperative if they are asked to clean it.

Meat slicer

All workers must receive Workplace Hazardous Materials Information (WHMIS) training if they work or near chemicals.  And if truth be known, most WHMIS training is inadequate.  It’s all well and good to be able to read labels, but how about training in the chemicals workers are actually using?   Are they poisons?  Are they toxins?  Are they Explosives? What safety measures are in place?  Is there adequate ventilation in the workplace?  What protective equipment or respirator should they wear  if any?

More than one worker has been critically or fatally injured when asked to pull something out of a compactor that is blocked.  No worker should ever operate or attempt to clean a compactor or baler without training and without a lock out procedure in effect.


In retail as well as in health care, a major cause of accidents are slip, trip and fall hazards.  The front area of many large shiny pharmacies or grocery stores that customers see is clean and neat.  But, in the back room, out of sight of the paying customers it’s often a nightmare.  Sheets of paper or plastic are strewn on floors.  Boxes block aisles, workers are often forced to climb over discarded objects or products due to lack of space.    Grease and water on  restaurant floors lead to hundreds of slip and fall incidents.

How to retrieve safely
How did that box get up there?

Ask if the worker will be asked to place or remove objects:  climbing and carrying objects on ladders is a no no.  No worker should climb a ladder while removing or placing objects.  Both hands are needed to carry most objects.  Workers should always remember to use “two hands, one foot, or  Two feet, one hand”.  Ladders are for gaining access to height,  platform ladders are used for work.

Before starting work, all employers should inform new hires of safety policies and procedures.  as well, all workers in Ontario must receive mandatory  health and safety training .

If you are a parent of a teen who has a summer job, ask what the job entails.  Even though employers are responsible under the ACT,  you might want to assume that they won’t tell your child how to stay safe.  When your child comes home all excited that they landed their summer job – ask – “what tasks will you perform and what safety training will you receive before you start your job?”

Make sure your summer student is safe and goes home at the end of the day to enjoy the lovely weather with friends and family.