Occupational health and safety rules overhauled

Everton McLean
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Province unveils revamped legislation

The province's occupational, health and safety regulations are getting a much needed update on Sept. 1, more than 30 years after the old regulations came into effect, Government Services Minister Kevin O'Brien announced Wednesday.

The new regulations address many more areas than the old legislation did, with 518 sections as opposed to 186 in the old set of rules.

Kevin OBrien, Minister of Government Services, provides a demonstration on the proper way to put on fall protection equipment in this 2008 photo. Wednesday, OBrien unveiled changes to the provinces occupational health and safety regulations. Telegram fil

The province's occupational, health and safety regulations are getting a much needed update on Sept. 1, more than 30 years after the old regulations came into effect, Government Services Minister Kevin O'Brien announced Wednesday.

The new regulations address many more areas than the old legislation did, with 518 sections as opposed to 186 in the old set of rules.

O'Brien said the regulations are more clear, comprehensive and explicit, calling it "a first-rate document that is forward thinking and complements safety-minded workplaces."

"It was a priority for us that new regulations meet the needs of employees and employers," he said.

Some the highlights include new procedures for working in enclosed or partially enclosed spaces; general fall-protection requirements and required support systems such as guard rails; ergonomics rules that require workplaces to identify and assess risks and provide education and training to workers; and violence-prevention language that requires employers to conduct risk assessments and establish procedures to control violence in the workplace.

While O'Brien noted the changes may mean some upfront cost for employers to equip their workplaces with the necessary equipment and to provide training, he said it's an investment in the workforce.

While he said the Sept. 1 effective date gives employers only a short time to get ready for the changes, O'Brien said department officials will enforce the rules more softly until Jan. 1.

"This gives groups a short amount of time to get up to speed on any new requirements that they have to become familiar with."

'Practical, pragmatic, professional'

Wayne Pardy, chairman of the advisory council that helped develop the changes, said the new document is the "most practical, pragmatic, professional piece of legislation within the country today.

"If used and used intelligently and wisely, it can certainly advance the cause of occupational health and safety for all employers and workers within the province," he said.

"I guess it's our hope and our belief that the legislation we have today is the starting point and the basis for where this province would like to go and needs to go," Pardy said.

For Jerome O'Keefe, president of United Steelworkers local for North Atlantic Refinery, the changes mean rules for safe work that have been followed piecemeal over the years, are finally being used across the board.

"I recognize one simple phrase, the word 'hot work,' for us has been an issue for years," he said, referring to work using ignition sources, such as welding, near flammable materials.

He said that type of work is described in the legislation, which makes the required precautions more established.

He said confined-spaces guidelines have set rules to make it safer to work in a facility like his, where access to small places is sometimes required.

O'Keefe said he's seen first hand what the effect of being employed in a dangerous workplace can be.

"I've witnessed death. We had two people who died there a number of years ago (in a fire). We lost two and another person was seriously injured from that fire," said O'Keefe.

"That hit every one of us hard and we'll never forget it."

Lana Payne, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, said her group took part in the consultation process and she was pleased with the outcome.

"The consultation process was very good," she said.

She said the changes represent a "massive undertaking and what we have here are some significant improvements."

She said this province is behind many others with regard to the number of workplace injuries each year, averaging between 7,000 and 8,000.

However, she said the new guidelines and regulations should help improve that number.

In addition, she said about 20-25 people die each year due to incidents at work, with many of those due to occupational disease.

She said the new regulations put the onus on employers to do proper health surveillance and to assess risk in the workplace.

"I think that's going to be key to preventing occupational disease in the future," she said.

Part of the job now is making sure workers and employees are aware of all the new regulations

"We've got a big job to do in terms of education and working with people."

While the changes will require some effort on behalf of employers, Newfoundland and Labrador Employers' Council executive director Richard Alexander said the province's businesses are happy with the overall document.

"We are pleased with these new regulations and believe they are a step in the right direction, clarifying a number of grey areas in the previous regulations," he said.

emclean@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Government Services, Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

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Recent comments

  • Paul
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    I'm sure this will make it a whole lot easier to get any work done! No doubt people will have to spend half their day at safety meetings to make sure the OHS guy gets his work done while the real work is considered of lesser importance. And employers will now have to hire another non-working OHS type to sort through all the new sections on a daily basis. While safety is a good thing, sometimes the burden of regs makes it so inefficient to work that jobs will go elsewhere!! 518 vs 186!! Wow, the OHS guys have really pulled out the stops. Their jobs will be secure forever, or at least until their employer goes bankrupt.

  • Stan
    July 02, 2010 - 13:29

    Paul from St.Johns, NL, safety IS more important than getting a job done. try getting a job done with a bunch of dead guys!

  • Florence
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    Wow if Lana Payne is pleased it has to be good she is never pleased about anything. That alone causes me to be concearned. Oh its poll time Danny wants all of us to be very pleased.

  • Tom
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    This is a badly needed overhaul. There are way too many fly-by-night home renovators in the St. John's area, gone developer mad, to work in unsafe conditions. What's further galling is they are accessing federal make work funds to hire people for minimum wage (yes 1/2 by the us the taxpayer)

  • Harry
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    Well now all these good news announcements is a great thing for sure, but I find it very interesting that they are all being made while a company is conducting a poll to ask us are we happy with our Governments performance. All of a sudden the Williams Government has discovered rural Newfoundland & Labrador. I am impressed. Brownie points for everyone. No wonder their looking for a big raise. They all work so very had following Dannys instructions and trying to remember to say only what he has instructed them to say.

  • Tim
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    It is about time this province came into the mainstream of things. Maybe now workers will not need to learn the proper safety culture when working in other locations in Canada if they need to do the same here before hand.

    For years I needed to re-train many from Eastern Canada so that they would be able to work under Alberta law and regulation. Not just Newfoundlanders but other provinces as well. Maybe now less will be injured or killed to support families.

    We can hope that the workforce and employers follow the updates to create a safe working environment for everyone.

  • Andy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    Well said, Paul. Finally someone who has the guts to stand up for the employer. Profits first, safety second. There is a position for you on Bay Street.

  • jonathan
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    Hey Paul, tell that to the families of the 25 people that die each year while at work in this province. The regs are there for a reason.

  • George
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    Paul's attitude is exactly why you need tougher regulations and more effective training.

  • W
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    They have to.....because if you get injured God help you, the WHSCC sure won't.

  • Paul
    July 01, 2010 - 20:18

    I'm sure this will make it a whole lot easier to get any work done! No doubt people will have to spend half their day at safety meetings to make sure the OHS guy gets his work done while the real work is considered of lesser importance. And employers will now have to hire another non-working OHS type to sort through all the new sections on a daily basis. While safety is a good thing, sometimes the burden of regs makes it so inefficient to work that jobs will go elsewhere!! 518 vs 186!! Wow, the OHS guys have really pulled out the stops. Their jobs will be secure forever, or at least until their employer goes bankrupt.

  • Stan
    July 01, 2010 - 20:17

    Paul from St.Johns, NL, safety IS more important than getting a job done. try getting a job done with a bunch of dead guys!

  • Florence
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    Wow if Lana Payne is pleased it has to be good she is never pleased about anything. That alone causes me to be concearned. Oh its poll time Danny wants all of us to be very pleased.

  • Tom
    July 01, 2010 - 20:09

    This is a badly needed overhaul. There are way too many fly-by-night home renovators in the St. John's area, gone developer mad, to work in unsafe conditions. What's further galling is they are accessing federal make work funds to hire people for minimum wage (yes 1/2 by the us the taxpayer)

  • Harry
    July 01, 2010 - 20:02

    Well now all these good news announcements is a great thing for sure, but I find it very interesting that they are all being made while a company is conducting a poll to ask us are we happy with our Governments performance. All of a sudden the Williams Government has discovered rural Newfoundland & Labrador. I am impressed. Brownie points for everyone. No wonder their looking for a big raise. They all work so very had following Dannys instructions and trying to remember to say only what he has instructed them to say.

  • Tim
    July 01, 2010 - 20:02

    It is about time this province came into the mainstream of things. Maybe now workers will not need to learn the proper safety culture when working in other locations in Canada if they need to do the same here before hand.

    For years I needed to re-train many from Eastern Canada so that they would be able to work under Alberta law and regulation. Not just Newfoundlanders but other provinces as well. Maybe now less will be injured or killed to support families.

    We can hope that the workforce and employers follow the updates to create a safe working environment for everyone.

  • Andy
    July 01, 2010 - 19:58

    Well said, Paul. Finally someone who has the guts to stand up for the employer. Profits first, safety second. There is a position for you on Bay Street.

  • jonathan
    July 01, 2010 - 19:58

    Hey Paul, tell that to the families of the 25 people that die each year while at work in this province. The regs are there for a reason.

  • George
    July 01, 2010 - 19:54

    Paul's attitude is exactly why you need tougher regulations and more effective training.

  • W
    July 01, 2010 - 19:44

    They have to.....because if you get injured God help you, the WHSCC sure won't.