Submission to the Hon. Dr. Bette Stephenson, Minister of Labour, Concerning Proposed Occupational Safety and Health
Legislation for the Province of Ontario.

Publisher:  United Electircal, Radio & Machine Workers Union, Canada
Year Published:  1977
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX366

A letter regarding workplace safety in Canada. The letter discusses Canada's relative lack of legilsation that promote preventative safety measures in the workplace.

Occupational safety and health is a top-priority issue for labour unions today. The old emphasis on compensation after injury and disease has taken its toll; it needs to be replaced by a preventive-attitude and approach. According to the International Labour Organization in Switzerland, Canada has the highest incidence of death by industrial accident among ten Western industrialised countries, and has twice as many construction deaths as any other Western industrialised country. One need not fear that employees will abuse the right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions; it is their lives that are at stake. In the event a worker is discharged or disciplined by an employer for refusing to perform work judged unsafe, there should be an appeal system within the proper division of the Ministry. The Ontario Labour Relations Board appeal route delays justice and is too costly. The full onus of proof should fall on the employer, not the union or the employee. Nor should the employer have the right to reassign work to another employee that has been refused by the initial worker. The worker should have the clear right to be assigned to other work at a comparable rate while the unsafe job is being investigated. Much of Canada's poor record in the industrial safety field has been due to the denial of the right of the worker to refuse to perform unsafe work. The matter of safety should not be handled by labour-management joint committees. They have not worked in the past and are unlikely to work now simply because the fundamental interests of business and workers at the point of production are diametrically opposed. Business seeks highest possible profits and high-cost safety measures come in direct conflict with that aim. Safety and health representatives should be selected by the local union or, in unorganised establishments, by the employees.
The introduction of toxic chemicals poses special concerns. Today, millions of workers in North America are being routinely exposed to hazardous substances at work. The signs are all around but workers get used to them. Little will be done until workers learn to recognize and understand the hazards and until government assists them in identifying the dangers and banning their use.
Canada and the United States are the most lenient countries in the world, when it comes to prosecuting top corporate executives and holding them legally responsible for on-the-job fatalities and disabling accidents at their facilities. A number of European jurisdictions have accepted the concept of corporate responsibility including jail sentences, heavy fines and measures that specify that top managers bear formal responsibility for workers' safety. This is in sharp contrast to the attitude in North America where foremen and other low-ranked employees have generally borne the blame for accidents and their punishment restricted to nominal fines.

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