Written by Naomi Lai
In honour of Canada’s sesquicentennial, let’s take this opportunity to explore the evolution of health and safety in the workplace since Confederation.
A lot has changed since the birth of the Great White North – from labour laws and standard safety precautions, to popular building materials and healthcare research. Canada has made leaps and bounds towards creating a country - and a world - where occupational health and safety is a priority for workers and employers.
When the British North America Act, 1867 was signed making Canada an independent country, health and safety for workers was not a priority. Some health legislation was included in the act that vaguely outlined the responsibility of both the federal and provincial governments.
But since 1988, there has been a nationwide requirement for employees to follow Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) regulations. This has dramatically increased workplace safety, and now each province has their own specific guidelines, like Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Let’s look at some important health and safety milestones since Canada’s founding:
1867 – The British North America Act is signed, but contains few regulations regarding health and safety in Canada’s workplaces.
1876 – Chrysotile asbestos is found in Quebec and large-scale mining begins.
1889 – The Royal Commission on the Relations of Labour and Capital is created, who acknowledge that a significant number of workers are being injured across many different industries. The Commission provides recommendations for improvements.
1914 – The Ontario Workmen’s Compensation Act is implemented, making Ontario the first province to offer compensation to injured employees regardless of responsibility in the incidents.
1948 – Canada assists in founding The World Health Organization, and Ontario’s Dr. Brock Chisholm is elected Director-General.
1971 – Saskatchewan implements the Occupational Health Act that makes health and safety the shared responsibility of both employers and employees. Three major rights are granted to workers: the right to know about hazards in the workplace, the right to participate in a workplace committee dedicated to health and safety issues, and the right to refuse unsafe work.
1978 – Following Saskatchewan’s lead, Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act is passed.
1978 – The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety is created, and states that all Canadians have “…a fundamental right to a healthy and safe working environment”.
1988 – Canada establishes WHMIS as the national standard for health and safety in the workplace.
1996 – Health Canada is founded and assumes responsibility for public health on a national scale.
2011 – The last of Canada’s asbestos mines cease operations in Quebec.
2017 – The federal government moves forward with their pledge to ban asbestos by 2018.
Canada has an interesting history when it comes to asbestos. In 1876, chrysotile asbestos was found in Quebec, and the world’s largest asbestos mine was quickly established. For years, the material was used in products like brake lining and cement pipes, but mainly as a means of fire resistant insulation.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that asbestos was proven to be a cause of serious illnesses like mesothelioma, creating an uproar of concern in the construction industry. Now, testing and safe asbestos removal procedures are available, and awareness of the dangers of exposure are widespread.
The asbestos mining industry in Canada came to an end in 2011 with the closing of the last mines in Quebec. Asbestos is now banned in 50 countries around the world, and Canada is set to join the growing list by 2018.
There is no doubt that health and safety has come a long way in 150 years, yet workplace injuries and fatalities still occur. Extensive research and technology has uncovered important information about occupational health and safety that was not available in 1867. Since then, workplace health and safety education has become more accessible, ultimately leading to safer working environments for Canadians.
Together, we can continue to make great strides towards a safer work environment for all.
https://www.rotalec.com/blog/a-brief-history-of-occupational-health-and-safety-in-canada/ http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/asbestos-ban-announcement-1.3895843 http://www.cpha.ca/en/programs/history/achievements/01-sdh/milestones.aspx https://www.asbestos.com/asbestos/history/ http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/asbestos-mining-stops-for-first-time-in-130-years-1.1103672