The Nova Scotia Department of Labour has introduced proposed amendments to the Workplace Health and Safety Regulations under the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act. The proposed amendments would unnecessarily increase the training hours for members of Joint Occupational Health and Safety (JOHS) Committees; and lower the acceptable threshold limits for hearing and respiratory exposure to levels that are not seen in the majority of Canadian provinces. Equally troubling is the fact that the government has not engaged in meaningful stakeholder consultation to understand the strengths, weaknesses and possible ramifications stemming from these proposed changes. Some of these proposed amendments would subject retailers to significant new costs and administrative red tape while not achieving a safer and healthier workplace. Employers were recently told that government was going to compress the consultation period for these changes from the end of February 2015 to the end of December 2014.
Government will commit to an improved consultation process and a reinstatement of the February 2015 deadline for submissions.
Government will lower the proposed training hours for JOHS Committee Members while raising the acceptable threshold limits for hearing and respiratory exposure. These levels will be harmonized with best practices across Canada.
Current Status / Next Steps:
RCC Members are concerned that the proposed threshold limits for hearing and respiratory exposure are so low that regular noises within a retail establishment could result in an entire staff of retail employees having to have their hearing and breathing frequently tested. Government will not definitively state the type of testing that would be required, however any such change will result in increased administrative and financial burden for retailers. For larger retailers, this could result in having to keep an audiologist/audiological technician or a respiratory therapist/respiratory technician on retainer in order to deal with the extensive amount of testing that would have to occur.
RCC has been an active participant in the stakeholder consultation sessions on these proposed amendments.
RCC has also been informing its members of the proposed regulation changes through its position as a Board Member with the Nova Scotia Office of the Employer Advisor (NSOEA). The NSOEA is also concerned with the government’s lack of consultation on these proposed changes and has asked Nova Scotia employers to join in its correspondence campaign calling for amendments to the draft regulations and an improved consultation process. See the attached letters from the NSOEA. RCC members are encouraged to sign the templated letter from the OEA and return it to the NSOEA offices before December 23, 2014. RCC has already submitted its letter in solidarity with the NSOEA.
On December 17, 2014, RCC met with Hon. Kelly Regan, Minister of Labour and members of her senior staff to discuss this issue. The Minister committed to speaking with staff about the importance of gathering the opinions of employers and stated that the government will not rush the consultation process. She also stated categorically that the consultation process will continue until the end of February 2015.
RCC will continue to point out the need for improved consultation while vigorously opposing the amendments dealing with JOHS Committee training as well as hearing and respiratory exposure.
Respiratory Protection Program: the definition of ‘respiratory hazard’ is vague. RCC and the NSOEA have stated that there should be an objective description of the trigger point at which the definition applies for a ‘respiratory hazard’. This should align with the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienist’s (ACGIH) Threshold Limit Values (TLV). Under the proposed amendments, a hazard assessment would need to occur and this assessment would include whether a person is able to perform tasks without a risk to health. Again, RCC and the NSOEA are worried that not enough information has been provided on how government would expect an employer to determine ‘risk to health’.
RCC is concerned that government has yet to list any proposed hazard levels for wood dust. Depending on the level, there could be significant issues for home improvement retailers.
Noise Protection Program: In every other province in Canada, a noise of 85 decibels (dba) over an eight hour period is the level at which an employer must ensure that employees are wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and posting hazard signs. The proposed amendments would change the threshold to 82 dbas. If noise surpasses 82 dbas, the employer would have to institute a hearing conservation program. At 85dbas, the employer would have to provide training teaching the employees how to use the PPE.
First Aid Regulations: The proposed regulations are already out of date with too many unnecessary requirements. For instance, retailers do not feel that they need to have cervical collars in every business of over 100 people. In the case of a serious injury, an employer is not going to attempt to attach a cervical collar to an injured employee. An employer in Nova Scotia would call Emergency Medical Services (EMS = ambulance) and the injured employee would be dealt with by a medical professional.
JOHS Committees: Part 27: Training Requirements: Committee members would need 21 hours of training and Representatives would need 7 hours of training within 90 days of accepting their JOHS positions. There would be requirements for recertification after 5 years even though this committee will be active throughout the five year period. RCC and the NSOEA have argued that these proposed training requirements for the JOHS Committee are too lengthy given the responsibilities of the committee. The training would be administratively burdensome as it could result in an employee receiving a greater amount of training to sit on this committee than for any other purpose, including job training.
RCC and the NSOEA are opposed to the prescriptive nature that government chose for the required training hours. Some businesses have argued that they can conduct the training programs in a manner that is not only faster but more comprehensive than the prescriptive, study that stated the need for 21 hours of training. RCC is also opposed to the requirement for JOHS committee meetings to be held in a separate, private room. This would be extremely difficult for some small businesses to achieve.
RCC has noted that the extra training burden will likely drive people away from participating in the JOHS Committee. The result will likely be smaller committees with a lesser cross section of employees participating. This will create a lack of interest in the JOHS committee.
If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact: Jim Cormier, Director (Atlantic) at: [email protected] or (902) 422-4144
Retail Council of Canada