Workplace safety to be enforced at tourist camps
The Ontario government will be intensifying efforts this year to make sure tourist camp operators across the province are doing their best to maintain safety standards at their places of business.
That was the message delivered at the North Western Ontario Tourism Association’s annual spring meeting in Nestor Falls last Thursday by Ministry of Labour rep John Reid and Dave Santi, a health and safety consultant for Workplace Safety & Prevention Services in Ontario.
“The initiative’s goal is to encourage employers to identify hazards related to workers,” Reid told the small audience on hand, which included area camp operators as well as local Progressive Conservative candidate Randy Nickle.
Reid stressed ministry inspectors will visit workplaces during the summer months, with the most attention being given to those places the ministry has not previously checked, places where complaints have been received, places with a history of non-compliance, and workplaces with what Reid described as “highly-hazardous processes and equipment.”
Fly-in camps, as well as those only accessible by boat or sub-standard roadways, can expect to be high on the ministry’s priority list, Reid noted.
“If we can make workplaces safer, it makes the costs for the employer lower,” he reasoned.
To that extent, Reid stressed basic occupational health and safety awareness training should be completed by all camp owners and their employees by July 1, if possible.
Inspectors will be allowed to ask for machinery on-site to be activated and used to demonstrate their safety qualities if they have concerns.
“You don’t have to think it’s a bad experience,” Reid said. “It can definitely be a good experience.”
He added any negative inspector reports can be appealed by camp operators to the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
Inspectors also will be under orders to train their sights on frequent hazards, such as indoor propane-fuelled machines without proper ventilation, chainsaw operation, and the use of boats, ATVs, and even snowmobiles at each camp inspected.
Even the basics of water safety will come under close examination.
“If you have an employee working on the docks, as a camp owner, I would get employees to wear a personal flotation device [life jacket],” said Reid.
Santi, meanwhile, said there were certain things camp owners can do to help the inspection go smoother for themselves and the inspector.
“Conduct self-assessments of your business, make sure to develop a health and safety policy, and assess and manage risks,” advised Santi, whose message about making sure employees even are wearing the proper level of sunscreen was too much for one camp owner.
The camp operator barged out of the meeting hurling expletives, exiting by uttering, “If they show up at my camp, the inspector better be wearing a life jacket.”
Other highlights from last Thursday’s meeting included:
•Ralph Horn, acting supervisor of resource management for the Fort Frances branch of the Ministry of Natural Resources, confirmed the proposed construction of a road around the Northwest Bay area, planned to help logging trucks gain easier access to timber in the area, is “not off the table” despite the indefinite closure of the Resolute pulp and paper mill in Fort Frances.
Horn said no decision about the road’s feasibility in the future has been made at this time.
•Canadian Border Services Agency superintendent Kevin Begin said the agency was ready to go for the summer tourism rush at the Fort Frances-International Falls border, with several new staff having recently joined the local office.
Begin added there are staffing issues, with 30 percent of the CBSA workforce set to retire in the next five-10 years.
That has sparked a national hiring process, which now allows CBSA officers to be hired from anywhere in Canada, not just the local area.
•Bemidji State University professor of economics Patrick Welle detailed the ongoing economic survey centering on the impact of the rule curve changes implemented in 2000 for tourism resort owners on Rainy Lake and Namakan Lake.
Welle said early returns on the survey have revealed algae blooms are less frequent in the areas due to water levels, which also has helped lower the mercury content in fish found in the regions’ lakes.
He added a full report on the survey results should be ready at this time next year.
•Gerry Cariou, executive director of the Sunset Country Tourism Association, restated the already-announced possibility of the re-opening of the tourism information centre in Fort Frances.
He put the likelihood of that happening at “75 percent.”
•And Laurie Marcil, executive director of the Northern Ontario Tourism Operators, commented on the importance of moving forward with the provincially-regulated spring bear hunts, which got underway the same day as the NWOTA meeting in eight areas around the province.
“We have already had some cancellations by hunters who are deciding to go to different wildlife management units in the province to hunt bears,” noted Marcil, who would like to see the spring bear hunt eventually be allowed province-wide, as it was before its cancellation in 1999.
“That means significant financial losses for the camp owners who have to absorb the cancellations,” Marcil said.
“This is pitting operator against operator.”