The COVID-19 pandemic put occupational health and safety (OHS) back into the headlines. At the height of the crisis we read about ‘essential workers’ who were put in positions where they were likely to experience increased risk of exposure, but who did not feel their employers provided adequate protections, whether through the provision of personal protective equipment or barriers, or through measure in insure social distancing was maintained. These challenging conditions put our OHS regime through a stress test and revealed both strengths and weaknesses.
Concern with OHS of course is hardly new and not confined to pandemics. In 2019, the last year for which we have national statistics, Canadian workers’ compensation boards accepted around 270,000 lost-time injuries and illnesses and 925 work-related fatalities. For reasons we will discuss, these figures under-estimate the toll that work takes on workers’ lives and health, but it is also likely the case that work is less hazardous now than it has been in the past.
In this seminar we will explore how occupational health and safety regulation has contributed to improvements, where they have been made, but also the ways in which regulation still fails to all protect workers.
We focus on legal and policy dimensions of regulating hazardous working conditions. The nature of the subject matter lends itself to a multidisciplinary approach, including economic, scientific and sociological perspectives, which are considered, as appropriate, throughout the course.
Topics to be examined may include: (1) the human cost of work-related disability; (2) theoretical perspectives on occupational health and safety regulation; (3) historical development of OHS regulation in Canada; (4) current dimensions of work-related injury, disease and fatality, and problems with existing statistics; (5) overview of the internal responsibility system mandated by statute, including worker rights to know, to be consulted and to refuse unsafe work; (6) the role of external enforcement including the powers of inspectors; (7)prosecuting and defending regulatory offences under the OHS Act; (8) the role of criminal sanctions; (9) comparative perspectives; (10) current law reform initiatives. Of course, we will also consider the special circumstances of OHS regulation in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The seminar will be taught on Zoom, however, opportunities for in-person class meetings at times when there are no regularly scheduled courses have been set aside. More details on how we will combine Zoom teaching and in-person meetings will be available at the beginning of the semester. However, students will have the option of attending in-person meetings virtually.