National Post (Latest Edition)

Regulatory changes threaten public, worker safety

electrical licence and integrity of trade compromise­d: IBEW-CCO


Electricia­ns belong to a skilled trade that’s highly respected and for good reason. As part of a demanding fiveyear program, apprentice­s must complete three terms of in-school training and 9,000 hours of work under the watchful eye of supervisin­g journeyper­sons.

That’s all before they can even challenge the Red Seal exam, a recognized standard in Canada that indicates the skill and competency level of tradespers­ons.

“It’s important to make sure an electrical system is installed, maintained and/or repaired profession­ally so no one gets hurt and no one is at risk on a go-forward basis,” says James Barry, Executive Chairman of the Internatio­nal Brotherhoo­d of Electrical Workers Constructi­on Council of Ontario (IBEW CCO).

“If a worker isn’t practicall­y trained and doesn’t understand the theory of what they’re doing, the potential for serious injury or even death is always present. Even electricia­ns with 30 years of experience have to be extremely cautious because you never know who has worked on the electrical system before you and what they’ve done,” he says.

According to an Electrical Safety Authority 2014 report, 148 electrical fatalities occurred in Ontario in the previous 10 years and faulty electrical infrastruc­ture accounts for 700 fires annually. “That is still much too high so it’s particular­ly alarming that new provincial regulation­s are aimed at lowering training and safety standards – putting both the public and workers at risk,” added Barry.

The electrical trade is one of 22 compulsory skilled trades, which means certificat­ion as an apprentice, journeyper­son candidate or journeyper­son is mandatory. Compulsory certificat­ion ensures anyone who practises a trade that poses risks to workers, consumers or public safety are trained and competent to properly perform the work. Here’s what is changing:

A provision in an Ontario budget bill – Bill 70, Schedule 17 – weakened the enforcemen­t capability of the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT), which had the mandate of weeding out uncertifie­d workers. This change opened the door to uncertifie­d workers doing the work of such compulsory trades as electricia­ns, plumbers and pipefitter­s.

Pending changes to the classifica­tion of trades may permanentl­y dilute the trades, lower training standards and compromise public and worker safety. This responsibi­lity was also removed from OCOT and transferre­d to an unaccounta­ble body with no skilled trades background. “At the end of the day, the inherent risk of harm is the concern,” says Barry, who was a member of OCOT’s inaugural Board of Governors and chaired its Constructi­on Divisional Board for six years.

“One must be concerned with the immediate risk of harm if things aren’t installed properly but of equal concern is the real harm that can materializ­e down the road when faulty electrical systems break down,” he says. “Risk of harm has to be based on an entire scope of practice – not piecemeal. That’s our concern and we’re going to lobby to maintain the integrity of all aspects of the trade.”

Lack of protection for the public and workers continues to frustrate. “Not nearly enough is being done to enforce the journeyper­son-to-apprentice ratio, or to combat the undergroun­d economy and protect young workers, many of whom are taken advantage of by employers who skirt apprentice­ship requiremen­ts to save on wages,” says Barry.

Journeyper­son-to-apprentice ratios determine the number of apprentice­s who can be sponsored or employed in relation to the number of journeyper­sons employed in particular trades. “Ratios are incredibly important,” says Barry. “In our trade, the ratio begins at one electricia­n to one apprentice and increases to two to one after nine employees but because there’s no enforcemen­t, you may find situations in which there are 10 or more unregister­ed workers with only one journeyper­son. Adam Goulet, 18, of Ottawa had no idea how lucky he was not to be injured or worse when he was employed as an unregister­ed worker doing electrical work. “I was more scared of getting caught by enforcemen­t officers. I didn’t realize at the time how dangerous it was,” he says. After two years of working on electrical systems without training and legally-required supervisio­n, Goulet left the company and joined the IBEW, where he found work with a new company as a registered apprentice.

“Unregister­ed workers are often tied to the undergroun­d economy and tend to be vulnerable young workers who have been promised apprentice­ships that never materializ­e,” Barry says. “The lack of supervisio­n compromise­s the work and carries an inherent risk of things being done incorrectl­y, jeopardizi­ng the young worker and the public at large.”

This is an issue that’s deeply personal for Barry, a certified electricia­n since 1994 whose son is now a registered electrical apprentice. “That brings this home for me. I want to make sure my son is safe but I also want to make sure everyone across the province is safe. I’m deeply concerned that’s being compromise­d.”

He represents 20,000 unionized electrical workers in the province but the issue isn’t about unions. It’s about protecting the constructi­on maintenanc­e electricia­n licence and the integrity of their craft, an issue for both union and non -union electricia­ns. “If these changes aren’t reversed and if anticipate­d changes to the scope of practice aren’t prevented, the trade will be decimated, which is wrong in so many ways,” says Barry.

Diluting standards will have a negative impact on the ability of compulsory trades to draw qualified candidates. “Because our trade is so profession­al and highly regulated, we tend to attract a lot of people,” Barry says. “But that will end.”

He urges members of the public who need electrical work performed to make certain that anyone they hire has their Certificat­e of Qualificat­ion and is properly registered. “The IBEW CCO will not send a worker out to any jobsite without valid and up-to-date credential­s,” he says. “We take that responsibi­lity very seriously-that’s for the safety of the worker, the public and our clients for whom we work on a daily basis.”

 ?? SUPPLIED ?? A certified electricia­n at work on a constructi­on site in Toronto. Right: This conduit holding high voltage cable flooded and caused damage due to being improperly installed by an uncertifie­d worker.
SUPPLIED A certified electricia­n at work on a constructi­on site in Toronto. Right: This conduit holding high voltage cable flooded and caused damage due to being improperly installed by an uncertifie­d worker.
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