Workers Health & Safety Centre

Ontario safety authority leaves workers unprotected too

Ineffective oversight of public safety was a central concern raised by Ontario Auditor General’s year-end report released in December 2018.

The Technical Safety and Standards Authority (TSSA) and the Ministry responsible for it were the targets for criticism. Given their mandate though, clearly Ontario worker safety is in jeopardy as well.

“Our audit concluded that the TSSA does not have the required oversight processes in place to be effective in promoting and enforcing public safety in the sectors it is responsible for regulating,” wrote Bonnie Lysyk, Ontario’s Auditor General, in the 2018 Annual Report. “In addition, the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, which oversees the TSSA, has not fulfilled its oversight responsibilities to ensure that the TSSA is actually enforcing public safety through its safety programs.
 
“For example, the Ministry does not regularly collect sufficient operational information to review the TSSA’s licensing and inspection activities,” Lysyk added, “so it does not fully know what the TSSA inspects, how many inspections the TSSA performs each year, and the quality of these inspections.”

The TSSA is a private entity completely self-financed through collection of money charged for registering, licensing and inspecting the manufacturing, installation, maintenance and operation of the devices and companies it regulates in four sectors:
  • Boilers and Pressure Vessels and Operating Engineers
  • Elevating Devices, Amusement Devices and Ski Lifts
  • Fuels; and
  • Upholstered and Stuffed Articles.

Oversight inadequacies in all sectors

Among the many process and operational inadequacies shared in the Auditor General’s Annual Report is the practice of renewing of operating licenses without regard to safety standards. In fact, the computer system used by the TSSA to process license renewals is separate from the system used for inspections and there is no reconciling of information between the systems. The only requirement for license renewal is the payment of a set fee.
 
As a result, the TSSA renewed the operating licences in 2018 for more than 300 elevators despite TSSA deeming them unsafe to operate. The 2018 audit also found 80 per cent of elevators failed TSSA inspection. Incidents involving elevators not operating in compliance with safety laws tripled from 2013 through 2018. These incidents resulted in three deaths, eight permanent and 137 non-permanent injuries.
 
The audit also uncovered the TSSA has done very little since 2001 to promote and enforce safety for the 65,000 boilers and pressure vessels operating in Ontario. This in addition to the reality, Ontario is the only province where boilers and pressure vessels (and elevating devices) used in agricultural operations are exempt from safety laws. Incidents involving these devices can pose serious, even deadly, consequences for the public and workers in every sector.
 
Questions were also raised about the TSSA’s need for self-finance versus their mandate to ensure safety. The Auditor General found cases where the TSSA has focused on areas where it can recover its costs even though the activities have little effect on public and worker safety. On the flip side, where they have not generated revenue, they have done little to enforce safety, even the risks to safety exist.

TSSA scrutiny not new

The TSSA first came under scrutiny in 2008, after an explosion at the Sunrise Propane facility in north Toronto. Early in the morning of August 10, 2008, a dangerous and illegal “truck to truck” transfer was happening prior to several explosions. Two years before the explosion, the TSSA issued orders to the company to stop the dangerous transfer practice. The practice continued and there was no TSSA enforcement.  
 
Parminder Saini, 25, a new Canadian who juggled part-time work at the facility with college studies, was killed. Firefighter, Bob Leek, who rushed to the scene on his day off, suffered a fatal heart attack battling the blaze. More than 12,000 area residents were also forced to evacuate their homes.
 
A Propane Safety Review Panel was convened in response to this tragic incident leading to new requirements including risk and safety management plans. These plans must contain information about the specific safety hazards associated with each location and the danger to surrounding communities.
 
However, this recent audit found continuing concerns with the propane sector including the TSSA’s failure to use the information from the risk and safety plans to determine the frequency of inspections of bulk propane storage and filling plants and refill centres contrary to the Panel’s recommendation. Further still, not all of the critical information from these plans were even entered into the TSSA’s database.

TSSA scrutiny ongoing

The TSSA was established in 1997 by the then-Mike Harris government as a private, not-for-profit corporation charged with assuming public safety oversight from the then-Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations. Significant concerns were raised about the transfer of governmental functions and authority to a private entity.
 
Following the deadly propane incident in 2008, questions were again raisedabout the logic of off-loading government oversight of public, worker and environmental safety to the private sector.
 
The 2018 Annual Report of the Auditor General again calls into question whether or not a private entity can provide adequate oversight. The report also provides many recommendations including the need for development of “a clear, evidence-base decision-making framework” for inspections, tying license renewals to assurances of safety, and eliminating the exemption for boilers, pressure vessels and elevating devices in the agricultural sectors.

WHSC-related training opportunities

WHSC offers several propane training programs along with training for pressured systems. This includes awareness and competency-based training on propane handling, storage and use. The WHSC’s program for construction heater operators (Propane for CH-02 ROT) is also available and meets TSSA accreditation standards.

WHSC can also assist workplaces in meeting additional training obligations ranging from JHSC Certification and Working at Heights to GHS WHMIS and general Worker Awareness. For details, please review the WHSC training catalogue.

Don’t see the training you need or unsure of your workplace training obligations? Call us at 1‑888‑869‑7950 and ask to speak to a training services representative.