Ontario to Strengthen Workplace Harassment Rules

November 24th, 2015

In late October, the Ontario government introduced Bill 132, which is called the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act 2015. Bill 132 is intended to augment Bill 168, which came into force five years ago and required employers to draft, design and fully implement workplace violence and harassment policies and procedures under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).

Since Bill 168 became law, many critics have noted that it was a great start, but it did not go far enough to protect workers from workplace harassment. As more incidents have happened to prove that notion true, Ontario officials created what they called an “Action Plan,” which is what led to Bill 132. Here are some of the major changes:

  • A clarification of the definition of “workplace harassment” in the OHSA to say that “reasonable” performance management and direction to workers will not be considered “workplace harassment,” which is good news for employers who have faced frivolous harassment complaints from workers who considered a poor performance appraisal to be harassment.
  • Workplace harassment programs will be expanded and changes made to procedures currently in place so that workers don’t have to report incidents to someone who may be the alleged harasser and to make sure that information about the complaint is not disclosed unless such disclosure is necessary for investigative purposes or for the purpose of taking corrective action.
  • New, more specific duties will be added to the OHSA to require an employer to conduct a thorough investigation into incidents and complaints and to make sure both the alleged victim and the alleged harasser be fully informed in writing of the results of the investigation and any corrective action taken.
  • All workplace harassment programs will require an annual review, in order to ensure that the employer’s workplace harassment policy is being implemented adequately.
  • It will also grant inspectors from the Ministry of Labour more power to investigate a workplace harassment incident. They will also have the discretion to appoint someone they believe is qualified as an “impartial person” to conduct an investigation and issue a written report. The inspector will also have the discretion to order the employer to pay the costs incurred by bringing in that “impartial person.”

Bill 132 will bring changes, so employers should be ready if and when it does. Employers will have to amend their policies and procedures, so as to  specifically include “workplace sexual harassment” and they will have to strengthen those harassment policies and procedures and be fully prepared to take every complaint seriously and investigate thoroughly. The target date for putting Bill 132 into force is July 1, 2016, which may seem far away, but it really isn’t. It might be good to prepare now.

Manitoba Investigating Safety of Winnipeg Trash Men

November 24th, 2015

Since 2013, Emterra, the company the City of Winnipeg has contracted with to pick up garbage and recycling, has seen 85 claims filed with the Manitoba’s Workers Compensation Board for a number of injuries, some of them relatively serious. In addition, the Manitoba Ministry of Labour has issued 13 stop-work orders, two administrative penalties and 58 improvement orders to the company, including a number for failure to follow safe work procedures, as well as their failure to provide personal protective equipment and competent worker supervision.

Also, earlier this month, the City of Winnipeg announced their intent to investigate the company and noted that they have responded to five serious incidents and received 23 complaints from employees and the public since the company took over trash collection in the city. Among the serious incidents include one in which a temporary worker was run over by an Emterra trash collection truck, another in which a worker became caught between a truck and a hydro pole and yet another in which a worker suffered smoke inhalation and a serious head injury in a fire.

Some officials suggest that the safety issues may be rooted in the fact that Emterra relies on subcontractors who hire temporary day labourers, who may not receive the proper training or the proper clothing or protective equipment. They point out that one key reason for all of the claims is that workers are not using the truck’s mechanisms to lift things safely. Some have pointed out that these health and safety issues were not present when Winnipeg city employees operated garbage and recycling pickup services.

This issue has been festering for a while. For example, every day, Emterra hires as many as 20 workers to haul trash through a company called EZ Workforce, but back in June, the province issued a stop-work order to EZ Workforce based on what they found to be problems with the provision and required use of personal protective equipment, most specifically, the requirement that all workers wear steel-toed shoes.

It is not known how long the current investigations will continue.

OSHA Upholds $75,000 Fine for Filming Tragedy

September 18th, 2015

Two locomotivesYou may recall an accident that occurred in February 2014, as a crew was making a movie about rock star Gregg Allman, there was a horrible train accident that left one member of the film crew dead and eight others injured.

Soon after the accident, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) conducted a thorough investigation and determined that the producers of the film, Film Allman LLC, showed “blatant disregard” for the safety of the cast and crew. In August 2014, OSHA cited the company for one willful and one serious safety violation because they exposed workers to fall and struck-by hazards and fined them a total of $75,000. Immediately after the citations and fines were announced, the company contested them.

Well, Earlier this week, Judge Sharon D. Calhoun upheld the citations and fines, which delighted OSHA officials and gave them a chance to reiterate just what led them to cite the production company in the first place. In a statement after the ruling, Kurt Petermeyer, OSHA’s regional administrator for the Southeast, noted that bad management decisions have negative and tragic consequences for everyone, and that the death of 27-year-old crew member Sarah Jones was “particularly disheartening because it was entirely preventable.” OSHA noted that the producers knew the tracks were live and that they knew they didn’t have permission to film at the time.

Once again, you have an employer that is trying to cut costs and it is the workers who end up paying the price for that. As OSHA noted, nothing they do can reverse what happened last year or bring anyone back, they hope that the citations and fine will remind others in the film industry that safety is an important component of every workplace. As a side note, the director of the film, Randall Miller, pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass last year and is currently serving a two-year jail sentence, so there are often other consequences to not keeping workers as safe as possible.

Manitoba Creates New Safety Initiative for Truckers

September 17th, 2015

trucksLast week, the Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation Ministry announced a new initiative called RPM Trucking Industry Safety, with RPM standing for “Risk. Professionally Managed.” The new initiative was launched by the Manitoba Trucking Association (MTA) and SAFE Work Manitoba (SWM). The Ministry noted that the teamwork was part of a commitment the province made in 2013, to foster an atmosphere that supported more cooperation and teamwork between safety associations, in the belief that cooperation makes things safer.

The purpose of the initiative will be to encourage greater health and safety practices in the trucking industry through support services and training initiatives. The initiative is in recognition of the fact that trucking is a major industry in Manitoba, primarily because of its central location in Canada, and because the trucking industry has seen an increase in injuries and fatalities in recent years, due to accidents and unsafe contact with the equipment.

The 1,100 trucking sector injuries seen every year in Manitoba alone cost the industry more than $90 million, according to SAFE Work Manitoba data. As a result, there has been a significant increase in workers’ compensation premiums in the last few years, which caught their attention and spurred them into action.

While the industry has mostly been focused on drivers and road safety, the new RPM initiative hopes to take the principles and practices already learned and incorporate them into new training requirements, new policies and procedures and new certification requirements. They also hope to harmonize trucking certification across all jurisdictions.

The Ministry hails RPM as part of its “Five-Year Plan for Injury and Illness Prevention,” which is intended to create more industry-based safety associations in Manitoba that are focused on keeping workers safe and secure and to create a culture of safety throughout the province.

WorkSafeBC Increasing Silica Awareness for Oil & Gas Workers

September 16th, 2015

Fracking sandWith the proliferation of hydraulic fracturing, better known as “fracking,” as well as seismic drilling and construction activity, silica exposure has become a major concern for workers in the oil and gas industry; one that is growing as a threat every year. For that reason, WorkSafeBC has begun to increase its efforts to warn oil and gas workers of the risk associated with silica exposure and to raise awareness of the need to reduce that risk.

One of the biggest concerns the agency has surrounds what is called “completions work,” which increases the risk of exposure to silica to monumental levels, based on the volume of silica sand that is used in the operation, as well as the speed at which the sand is pumped into the well bores and the resulting dust that is produced through that process. In a single fracking attempt, the workers may actually use more than 630 tonnes of silica sand, and much of that becomes airborne after that.

The health risks associated with silica are many for those who are regularly exposed to it. The most common condition that can develop is silicosis, which is a disease that can lead to severe and chronic coughing, and which can eventually create scar tissue in the lungs, and has been known to lead to lung cancer. Sometimes, it can develop in a matter of weeks or months, but in some cases, it can stay in the system for decades, undetected, and can eventually become fatal.

It is because of these health concerns that WorkSafeBC is working to increase awareness of the problems associated with silica and, by doing so, reduce possible exposures. They have come up with a clear set of guidelines designed to better assess the risk of exposure and to offer specific strategies to reduce said exposure. Companies will now be obligated to use a specific series of controls to bring down the risk.

WorkSafeBC knows they have their work cut out for them because it will be necessary to change the culture of an entire industry. While the oil and gas industry has a strong record when it comes to working to prevent the type of injury that is obvious, it is a much bigger challenge to get them to see long-term health consequences the same way. They hope their approach, which is to try to raise awareness in workers as they enter the workforce and to make sure they have the right health and safety information regarding silica exposure, will eventually change that culture and get workers themselves to be more proactive when it comes to reducing their exposure.

Can Driverless Crash Trucks Save Workers’ Lives?

September 15th, 2015

driverless crash truckThanks to a support from the state Department of Transportation, driverless crash trucks are set to make their debut at high-traffic construction work zones in some parts of Florida later this year. However, the Pennsylvania company that is at the forefront of developing these vehicles, Royal Truck & Equipment, Inc., held a demonstration last week at a Bethlehem, PA municipal pool. The demonstration showed a lead truck sending information to the crash truck’s attenuator, which resulted in the crash truck perfectly mimicking the lead truck’s movements, including its speed, turning and braking, meaning the crash truck stayed a safe distance behind the lead truck and provided protection without placing a driver at risk.

The attenuator technology has been around for more than 30 years. However, now that technology has been modified to use a combination of remote control technology, GPS and specialized leader/follower programming technology to make the attenuator more advanced. The U.S. military has employed the same type of technology in unmanned large vehicles for years, and it’s not being applied for civilian use.

Likewise, the use of lead crash trucks fitted with attenuators and crash barriers to protect workers who are perhaps inspecting a bridge, repaving a road or putting in traffic lights is not a new one. The difference is, they have always been operated by construction workers, who are basically just sitting ducks, waiting to be struck by another vehicle. While it can’t be denied that crash trucks have saved many lives by protecting workers doing their jobs behind them, eliminating the driver from those vehicles will remove the last bit of risk from the job.

It will be interesting to see just how well this works in keeping even more workers safe in the Cone Zone.

Auto Shop Owner Charged with Criminal Negligence

September 14th, 2015

welding torchIt is becoming apparent that a greater number of agencies across Canada who are charged with keeping the workplace safe are starting to take the authority given them by Bill C-45 more seriously. Bill C-45 is also called the Westray Bill because it was passed in the wake of an accident in which 26 workers in the Westray mine in Nova Scotia were killed in an explosion caused when methane ignited.

Bill C-45, which was passed in 2004, established new responsibilities for employers for maintaining safe workplaces and allowed those enforcing occupational safety and health laws to impose much tougher criminal penalties for those individuals believed to be responsible for devastating accidents, including fines and even jail time.

In Nova Scotia last week, the owner of an auto body shop in Halifax, 41-year-old Elie Phillip Hoyeck, who owns the Your Mechanic Auto Corner, became the first employer in the province to be charged under Bill C-45. He was charged with criminal negligence causing death for an incident in which one of the company’s mechanics was killed when a car he was working on suddenly caught fire as he was welding beneath it.

The accident that led to the charges occurred in September 2013 when, according to RCMP, the mechanic, 58-year-old Peter Kempton, was operating a welding torch under the car when it caught fire and flames engulfed the vehicle very quickly. An investigation by the Nova Scotia Labour Department has alleged that the accident became deadly because the shop failed to provide flashback arrestors between the torch and the fuel supply, which are designed to prevent reverse flow and to keep a flame from burning back into the fuel supply lines.

In addition to the federal criminal charge, Hoyeck’s company also faces 12 charges for violations of Nova Scotia’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, which could being more penalties. His first scheduled court appearance will be in Dartmouth on Oct. 6.

Trench Collapse on Video Goes Viral

September 11th, 2015

youtubeA video that the Oregon Occupational and Safety Health Administration (Oregon OSHA) actually posted on YouTube in 2009 was re-posted last week on the social networking site Reddit and suddenly went viral, gaining more than one million views. The video, which was taken by  Tim Marcum, a former Oregon OSHA compliance officer, shows him as he approaches a trench that is more than 20 feet deep, in which at least one worker is working away.

As he approaches the site, Marcum introduces himself and asks who’s in charge before noting that the trenching project has a serious shoring problem because the trench walls weren’t properly reinforced to prevent a cave-in. When he sees a worker standing in the trench, Marcum orders the other workers to get him out of there. As they are trying to get him out, the walls begin to collapse, and the worker escapes, barely.

Over the years, the video has been used throughout the country as part of occupational safety training, particularly trench safety training, but since the video was posted on Facebook, and then Reddit, it has taken off. The video was re-posted by an administrator from Oregon OSHA named Michael Wood, who claims he first saw it a few years ago as part of a training session on construction safety, and it never left him. Wood thinks it’s a great video, because it gets workers’ attention and illustrates the hazards inherent in trench work, and it shows just how quickly a situation can turn deadly if proper precautions are not taken, and does so without actually depicting a death.

Go Here to see the video so many workers can’t stop talking about.

Hamilton Grocer Out $75,000 for Grinder Incident

September 10th, 2015

meat grinderIn a prime example of how failing to make sure all machines in the workplace are properly monitored for safety and to train and properly supervise workers to make sure they consider safety a major priority comes this story, in which Nations Fresh Foods, a grocery store in Hamilton, Ontario, pleaded guilty last week and was hit with a fine of $60,000 for its role in an accident that happened on August 15, 2013, in which a worker was critically injured while operating a meat grinding machine.

On that date, a supervisor at the store, located on King Street West, told the worker to use a meat mincing/grinding machine to grind chicken. The machine, a table-top model, operates by pushing pieces of meat into a small inlet that leads into a shaft and to an auger, which grinds the meat and pushes it out of the front of the grinder.

The machine is equipped with a specially designed guard that is installed with screws and is supposed to keep the operator’s fingers out of the inlet area, and a plunger actually pushes the meat through the machine into the auger area. Unfortunately, at the time the accident occurred, the guard was not in place and the worker was feeding meat directly into the inlet area by hand. As one can guess, by doing this, the worker’s hand came in contact with the moving auger, which resulted in what was only described by the court as “a critical injury.”

An investigation by the Ontario Ministry of Labour revealed that the guard had been missing from the grinding machine for some time before the date of the accident, possibly since the store began operation in July 2013. Since the manufacturer’s operating instructions for the machine included a specific warning regarding using the grinder without the guard installed, they were not using the machine as designed.

As a result, Nations Fresh Foods was charged with violating the Occupational Health and Safety Act, specifically Section 25 of Ontario Regulation 851, which is the Industrial Establishments Regulation, to which the company pleaded guilty. The $60,000 fine was imposed by Justice of the Peace Ivana Baldelli at the Provincial Offences Court in Hamilton, and she also added the 25 per-cent victim fine surcharge as required by the Provincial Offences Act, which brings the damage for this failure to keep workers safe to $75,000; all because they perhaps found it inconvenient to run a grinding machine without a guard.

How much is basic safety worth to your business? Can you afford a $75,000 hit for something so simple?

OSHA Still Trying to Pass New Silica Rules

September 9th, 2015

judgementOver the past 41 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been recommending that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) strengthen its rules regarding silica exposure and, for 41 years, OSHA has largely failed to do so, even though the agency estimates that the measures recommended by the CDC would prevent more than 1,600 silica-related illnesses and save about 700 lives annually.

Experts cite this level of inaction as part of a pattern at OSHA that makes it difficult for the agency to address a number of problems that should be relatively easy to solve. The problem, according to many, is OSHA’s relatively small budget and the number of hoops it has to jump through in order to toughen its regulations. According to officials at the Department of Labor, the Obama Administration made strengthening silica rules a priority from the beginning, in 2009, but it still takes seven or eight years to get movement; they are still hopeful that the stronger rules will be in place before Obama leaves office in 2017, although there are no guarantees.

The agency actually started working on silica regulations during the George W. Bush Administration, and it announced a schedule for publishing the stronger proposed regulation in December 2009, which it hoped to have ready by July 2010. Finally, in February 2011, the agency sent a draft rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for what is called a “90-Day Review,” where it languished for almost three years, as it became caught up in the larger debate about what to do about the balance between regulations and the economy.  According to many inside and outside the government, the slowness of the process is deliberate, to make sure the standards that are approved are well-thought-out.  When Congress created OSHA in 1970, they gave the agency some authority to deal with known dangers, including hazards posed by substances that kill workers over time, but the courts have also weighed in and left OSHA with a grueling 48-step process that must be followed when creating a new rule.

The difficulty of that process has been obvious when it comes to strengthening silica standards. Although OSHA and the Department of Labor believe the new rule would cost about $664 million per year and reap more than $5 billion in economic benefit every year by cutting the number of chronic illnesses and deaths, business trade groups tell Congress the changes will cost more than ten times that much and cost the economy 27,000 jobs over a decade besides. That creates tension and makes the rule difficult to approve.

Public comment on the new silica standard was supposed to complete in June of this year, but Republicans in Congress have proposed a budget for OSHA that includes an amendment, from a Senator from North Dakota, a state that has benefits greatly from the fracking boom, which depends greatly on the use of silica, that will require new studies to be conducted, from scratch, before OSHA can finalize its silica rules. President Obama has threatened to veto that budget, but the heat may put new silica standards on hold for another period of time. Many believe that, if OSHA loses on silica this time, the agency will lose its ability to set health standards on pretty much anything from here on out, unless they develop a streamlined rule-making process and more support from the White House and Congress.