Mandatory awareness training: 4 essential facts to counter misinformation

Nov 13, 2013

True and False directional sign"There's a lot of misinformation out there about the proposed mandatory health and safety awareness training for workers and supervisors," reports Workplace Safety & Prevention Services consultant Kirsi Henry. "I'm hearing this directly from the customers I work with."

The misinformation ranges from compliance requirements to compliance deadlines, says Henry. "People are telling me they're hearing different information from different sources, such as 'We have to comply by such-and-such a date,' and 'We'll have to sign up for a particular course.'" Neither is true.

Henry is also concerned that the misinformation is distracting businesses from the bigger picture - the purpose behind this training, and the broader benefits it and health and safety training in general can offer business.

The truth about health and safety awareness training

Based on current information, here are four basic facts about the proposed training.

  1. Late last year, the Ministry of Labour released for consultation a proposed regulation that would make specific types of training mandatory for all workplaces covered under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. In its proposal, the ministry indicated that awareness training for workers and supervisors would be the first training required. Other types of mandatory training would follow.

  2. No compliance deadline has been set because the ministry has not finalized the regulation. The ministry must first file a final version of the regulation with the Registrar of Regulations and publish it in the Ontario Gazette. Filing in early 2014 is a possibility, but the regulation may set a later date for actual compliance.

  3. Courses are not expected to be part of the compliance requirements. Instead, the ministry has already published free, downloadable worker and supervisor workbooks and companion employer guides to help workplaces meet the proposed requirements.

  4. The awareness training will help employers meet existing obligations, rather than impose new obligations.

What's in the proposed mandatory training

According to the proposed regulation, workers and supervisors would receive awareness training on

  • rights and responsibilities of workers and supervisors under the Occupational Health and Safety Act
  • roles of workplace parties, health and safety representatives, and joint health and safety committees
  • roles of the Ministry of Labour, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, and health and safety partners such as WSPS.

Workers would also receive training on

  • hazard recognition
  • right to be informed of hazards
  • an employer's obligations to provide information and instruction to workers about controlled products as required under Regulation 860 (WHMIS) of the act
  • latency and illness related to occupational disease.

Supervisors would also receive training on

  • recognition, assessment, control and evaluation of hazards
  • where resources and assistance are available.

What would be expected of employers

The regulation would require employers to

  • provide basic health and safety training to
    • all workers and supervisors already in place
    • new workers who have not already completed an awareness training program, as soon as practicable after starting their work duties
    • new supervisors who have not already completed an awareness training program, within the first week of assuming supervisory duties
  • maintain records of training completion to demonstrate compliance.

The regulation would NOT require employers to retrain workers or supervisors who had taken the training elsewhere. However, it would require employers to verify that the training has occurred and meets the minimum proposed requirements.

Employers who provide awareness training programs that meet the minimum proposed regulatory requirements prior to the effective date of the requirements would be considered to be already in compliance.

Sandra Miller, WSPS's vice president, Innovation & Knowledge Mobilization, describes awareness training as an extension of the Occupational Health and Safety Act's general duty clause for employers, "so if you're already complying with the clause, then mandatory awareness training poses no additional burden. It isn't extra. It's already mandatory. The Ministry of Labour is just providing employers with more tools to help employers deliver the training successfully.

"For employers who have never had tools for this before, now you do. And if you have already implemented awareness training on your own, you can compare what you have against the ministry tools to make sure you're covering the content."

The intent behind awareness training

"In one sentence," says Andrew Harkness, key account manager - OHSW Management Systems, "occupational health and safety awareness training will encourage workers and supervisors to participate more in protecting themselves and the people they work with.

"In day-to-day terms, it will help them recognize hazards and follow safe work practices. From a broader perspective, workplaces need to provide workers and supervisors with the basics before offering more specialized training.

"It's like building a house without a foundation. Basic awareness training in conjunction with higher levels of training will help reinforce the workplace's health and safety culture and reduce the emotional and financial toll of injuries. It will also help all workplace parties meet their duties under the act. It's a building blocks approach."

According to Sandra Miller, awareness training is "just the beginning of the health and safety training journey. As people move up in an organization, they require training to take on responsibilities for protecting the workers that they oversee. As for people who start a company, they require training on their responsibilities as employers.

"Looking at the big picture," continues Miller, "we're constantly learning these days. It never stops, and it's no different for health and safety. New hazards are constantly being recognized or introduced into workplaces, so workers and supervisors who understand the fundamentals of identifying and assessing hazards and establishing controls are in a much better position to protect themselves and the business."

How mandatory training came about

The ministry drafted the regulation in response to two recommendations made by the Expert Advisory Panel on Occupational Health and Safety as part of a comprehensive review of Ontario's occupational health and safety system completed in December 2010. The panel included representatives from labour, employers and academics who conducted a series of public consultations.

According to the panel's report, its consultations revealed

  • a lack of foundational, basic information about Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act, and about the rights and responsibilities of owners, employers, supervisors and workers. In the view of the panel, everyone needs to be aware of these rights and responsibilities, regardless of their role within the workplace.

  • how pivotal the supervisory role is in setting the tone of health and safety in a workplace. "Supervisors are instrumental in reinforcing safe work procedures and in establishing a culture of safety," the report says. "However, the panel also heard that, due to an absence of information and training, many supervisors are not prepared for this responsibility. It is imperative that supervisors have, at a minimum, a basic understanding of workplace health and safety and of their responsibilities under the legislation."

WSPS's Kirsi Henry encourages customers to act now rather than later. "The proposed training has not yet come into effect, which from the perspective of pre-planning and due diligence gives businesses greater flexibility in meeting the intent and spirit of the training."

Henry also encourages customers to take the longer view. "Regardless of the compliance aspect, awareness training is an important facet of any health and safety program. For those who already provide it, the MOL resources serve as useful refresher. All training, whether it's health and safety or related to production standards, benefits from reinforcement.

"It's really about continuous improvement and employee engagement," says Henry. "The ministry resources can help us determine whether we could be doing this better and more effectively to support our business. The more awareness workers and supervisors have, the more able they are to contribute to the Internal Responsibility System, which is all about preventing injuries in the first place.

"As for engagement, awareness training helps enable employees to do what you're asking of them. Giving them the information, skills and other resources they need allows them to contribute fully to the organization. This benefits everyone. Employees who are engaged are more committed, more productive, and more satisfied with their jobs."

MOL awareness training resources

The Ministry of Labour has free, downloadable prevention awareness resources in place now that could help employers meet the requirements or assess their existing training. These include:

  • Worker Health and Safety Awareness in 4 Steps and Supervisor Health and Safety Awareness in 5 Steps, workbooks and employer guides
  • Health and Safety at Work: Prevention Starts Here. PLEASE NOTE: Displaying this poster in workplaces has been mandatory since October 1, 2012.