PEO still pressing forward to win repeal of industrial exception

With the completion of a research report into worker safety in Ontario, PEO council is now weighing its options in the effort to win repeal of the industrial exception.

The exception, section 12(3)(a) of the Professional Engineers Act, allows non-licensed workers to perform engineering acts on machinery or equipment used to make products in their employer’s facilities.

PEO council has been awaiting the research report to buttress its longstanding argument that the exception represents a gap in worker safety in Ontario’s manufacturing/industrial sector. Ontario is the only province in Canada with an industrial exception in its engineering legislation.

Whatever decision council follows, the effort to repeal the exception remains a priority for many PEO members.

The push for repeal suffered another setback in June with news of government legislation that will essentially remove the repeal from the government’s books. The Ontario government’s introduction of proposed amendments under the Burden Reduction Act, 2016 would remove the chance for PEO to enhance workplace safety by having all manufacturing premises in Ontario covered by the Professional Engineers Act.

Meanwhile, PEO President George Comrie, P.Eng., FEC, and PEO Registrar Gerard McDonald, P.Eng., met July 14 with representatives from the premier’s office, Ministry of the Attorney General, Ministry of Economic Development and Growth, and Ministry of Labour, to discuss the cancellation of the proclamation of the repeal of the industrial exception. PEO maintains the view that the repeal is a safety issue and is not red tape as the government has determined.

At PEO’s April 30 annual general meeting (AGM), for example, members supported a member submission urging the regulator to “continue discussions with the government and others to ultimately eliminate the Ontario industrial exception and align PEO with other engineering regulators.”

Presented by Peter Broad, P.Eng., FEC, the long-time chair of PEO’s Repeal of the Industrial Exception Task Force (RIETF), the submission said Ontario has a higher accident rate than provinces with no industrial exception in their engineering statutes, and that this province is the “least safe” regarding accidents in industrial settings. In putting the submission forward, it’s not certain if Broad had access to the recently completed research study on worker safety in the province.

Member submissions put forward at AGMs are not binding on PEO council but serve to give leaders an idea of member priority.

The PEO AGM was also a forum for the outgoing and incoming presidents to raise the repeal issue. “Repealing the industrial exception is in the best interest of the public to ensure the safety of all Ontarians where engineering is practised,” said Past President Thomas Chong, P.Eng., FEC. “If repealing the industrial exception were to save just one life, wouldn’t it be worth it?”

Similarly, President Comrie said at the AGM that the problem of the industrial exception is compounded by the fact that there is a prevalent belief in many industries that all of their engineers are exempt from the requirement to be licensed. “This leads to the untenable situation in which unlicensed and licensed co-workers are working side by side on the same engineering tasks that fall outside the exception,” Comrie said. “This constitutes a violation of the act, but PEO’s ability to enforce against this illegal practice is hampered by the difficulty of discovering, investigating and prosecuting such infractions. Further complicating the problem is the fact that much engineering work and product is being imported from offshore and used in Canadian jurisdictions without the involvement of a licensed Canadian engineer.”

The industrial exception issue also came to the fore May 3 at the AGM of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE). There, Vic Fedeli, MPP for Nipissing and finance critic for the provincial Conservatives, cited the exception situation as an example of the government not listening to its engineers. “We [the opposition] once questioned the ministry of labour in an order paper about why repeal of the industrial exception was abandoned,” Fedeli said. “We also asked what evidence did the government have that the costs of the repeal outweighed the safety issue of allowing non-engineers to do engineering work in manufacturing facilities, and what confirmed the validity of that data?

“The answer I got, sadly, was not an answer at all. And, in fact, it was so disappointing, that one of your groups wrote to the minister and said, ‘We have received your response to the question that was asked and it unfortunately does not provide the answer to what was posed.’”