Deputy Minister of Labour emphasizes internal responsibility system at safety conference
Deputy Minister of Labour Sophie Dennis outlined the Ministry's priorities last month at the 2010 Partners in Prevention Ontario Health and Safety Conference and Trade Show in Mississauga.
During her presentation on the Safe at Work Ontario program (the province's current safety compliance strategy) Ms. Dennis outlined the "cornerstones of the strategy":
- focused inspections
- transparent enforcement
- working with system partners
- focus on the Internal Responsibility System (IRS)
- continuous improvement
Ministry of Labour inspectors will be placing focus on:
- workers' knowledge of the Occupational Health and Safety Act
- leadership commitment to creating safe workplaces
- a company's ability to address and deal with health and safety issues.
All of these aspects hinge on a functional Internal Responsibility System (IRS) being in place.
Ms. Dennis also pointed out that in the coming year there will be an increased emphasis on the "three Cs" of the IRS:
- competence and knowledge of the IRS
- commitment to creating appropriate policies and procedures to support the IRS
- the capacity to address workplace issues.
What is the Internal Responsibility System?
It was first conceived of in the late 1970s by Dr. James Ham as part of the royal commission he led on the health and safety of workers in mines. Since then, the IRS has become the foundation of health and safety legislation in the province, including the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Essentially, the IRS means that every individual in the workplace is responsible for health and safety and workplaces should be able to manage all aspects of health and safety without external oversight from government. Every worker, supervisor, manager and senior executive has specific responsibilities, within their roles, to maintain a safe workplace and improve unsafe working conditions when necessary.
When an organization works towards reducing risk, an injury-free workplace is the ultimate goal. A well-functioning IRS has the power to continuously reduce risk to all employees within an organization. It also empowers employees to improve safety, reduce risk and prevent injuries. When the IRS is functioning as it should, the result is risk reduction and injury prevention.
A well-functioning IRS should lead to regular inspections, safety procedures being followed, and the provision of time and resources to report, reduce, or eliminate health and safety risks.
Understanding the IRS is the beginning of better health and safety in the workforce. Every worker must know what the IRS is and be able to fulfill their part in it. The IRS must become an integral part of the way that the company does business; work is always done with safety in the forefront.
Fostering the IRS requires ongoing promotion and adjustment. Workers retire and new workers join the force. Management goes through structural changes and job placements are reassigned. As employees change positions, the understanding of where they fit in to the IRS must remain clear. Once the IRS becomes misunderstood, even well-intended actions may result in health and safety incidents.
In order to achieve a well-functioning IRS, companies may opt to provide training on health and safety responsibilities and regularly check to make sure the IRS within their organization is working properly.
How the Infrastructure Health & Safety Association can help
Participating in training courses and refreshing safety skills is an excellent way to maintain your IRS. The Infrastructure Health & Safety Association (IHSA) provides several training options for workers or supervisors on how the IRS should function.
- Construction Health and Safety Representative
- Simulated Hazard Analysis
- Certification Training Program – Part One (Electrical, Utilities, Transportation)
- The Workplace Specific Hazard Training Program – Part 2 (Electrical, Utilities, Transportation)
- Occupational Health and Safety Act
- Occupational Health and Safety Act and Industrial Regs
IHSA also offers an Internal Responsibility Audit. The IRS audit uses a survey with questions specific to the various levels of responsibility within an organization including workers, supervisors, joint health and safety committee members, and management.