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Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce

Legislative update: What proposed changes to the OHSA mean for your workplace

Employers can expect to see several changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) in the near future as Bill 190, Working for Workers Five Act2024 makes its way through the legislature, says Kristin Onorato, WSPS Health and Safety Consultant. “Some of the amendments will impact employers’ duties under the OHSA, which may, in turn, affect health and safety policies and procedures.”

Introduced into the Ontario legislature on May 6, 2024, the Working for Workers Five Act, 2024 is the latest in a series of bills designed to “open pathways into the skilled trades, remove barriers to employment, protect frontline heroes and workers and support women at work,” says the Ontario government. The bill also amends other legislation including the Employment Standards Act (ESA) and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act.

“Some of the amendments contained in Bill 190 reflect the evolution of workplaces since COVID-19 and support a virtual first work environment,” says Kristin. “We now have virtual workplaces, hybrid workplaces, and traditional workplaces that are increasingly adopting virtual technologies.”

“At the moment, Bill 190 is in second reading,” says Kristin, “But it is expected to pass. We won’t know the fine details until that happens, but employers should start preparing for the changes that affect them now.”

Understanding the amendments

Bill 190 contains five key amendments to the OHSA. Kristin explains what they are and what they may mean for you.

1. Employers can now post copies of the OHSA and other MLITSD health and safety posting requirements electronically. As the legislation stands now, explains Kristin, employers must post a physical copy of these documents in the workplace where they are easily accessible to workers. “Although you can now post documents virtually, you still have to ensure they are easily accessible to workers,” says Kristin. “That means providing direction on where and how workers can access them and ensuring that workers are comfortable on the platform the documents are posted on.”

2. The definition of harassment is being modernized to include protection against virtual harassment, including virtual sexual harassment. “This change is significant,” says Kristin. “Virtual harassment continues to increase in workplaces.” The amendment in all likelihood will apply to any virtual platform that allows remote and hybrid teams to communicate and collaborate, such as Teams, Zoom, or Google Meet,” says Kristin, “as well as social media, such as email, Facebook, Linkedin, X, etc.”

“Companies will need to update all policies and programs as well as training related to harassment to include the new definition. The change could also potentially change the way companies are dealing with and investigating harassment at work.”

3. Joint health and safety committee (JHSC) meetings can now legally be held virtually. The law currently says that JHSC meetings must be done in person. But the rise in home offices and remote work means some committees are not able to do that anymore, says Kristin. “The law is catching up with the reality of what people are doing.”

“If committee members are physically in the same place, I would encourage them to continue to meet in person,” says Kristin. “Face to face meetings are very valuable, and are often more focused, interactive, engaging and productive than virtual meetings.”

4. Washrooms for workers must be kept clean and sanitary, with records of cleaning. This change is designed to support women at work, says the government, and would make Ontario the first province in Canada to require a record of cleaning in its health and safety legislation. “The move is in direct response to advocacy from tradeswomen and other sector stakeholders who have cited better washroom facilities as a key policy to encourage more women to join the building trades.”

“We don’t know how often cleaning will be required or if the cleaning times will be mandated,” notes Kristin, “but employers may be required to adjust procedures, train staff, and develop a system of documentation.”

5. Asbestos-related data will be incorporated into the ministry’s forthcoming occupational exposure registry. “This move is designed to prevent future asbestos-related illnesses,” says Kristin. “The Ontario government is working with the Ontario Centre for Cancer Research (OCRC) to develop the registry.”

Ontario says the goal of the registry is to track harmful exposure levels, help diagnose diseases faster, improve workers’ compensation, and reduce costs to the healthcare system. “We’ll provide updates on the registry as soon as they are available,” says Kristin. “I don’t anticipate that this amendment will affect the employer’s day to day activity. ”

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The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.

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