Ontario gives workplaces a 'last chance'

Province set to crack down on worst health and safety offenders, offer assistance to others with poor records

The Ontario government is giving a “last chance” to 5,000 workplaces to voluntarily improve health and safety.

Labour Minister Chris Bentley told a graduating class of 100 new health and safety inspectors that most businesses want to do the right thing and create a culture where the safety and health of workers is a priority.

“To achieve this, the ministry will work with our prevention partners to help 5,000 workplaces improve their health and safety performance,” said Bentley. “The result will not only be safer workplaces but also substantial savings to these businesses from increased productivity.”

The strategy is part of Ontario’s plan to cut workplace injuries by 20 per cent, or 60,000, by 2008.

Helping poor workplaces improve

The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) and five health and safety associations will contact the 5,000 workplaces this year, offering assistance and support to make these sites safer, the province said. The 5,000 workplaces chosen for assistance have health and safety records that are marginally better than those firms with the highest injury rates.

But if the assistance does not result in significant improvement, these businesses will attract the “heightened” attention of the Ministry of Labour normally reserved for high-risk workplaces.

These workplaces will be contacted by the WSIB and the relevant health and safety association, and offered education, assistance and support to deal with their health and safety challenges. This assistance will be offered to 5,000 workplaces per year for five years. Regular ministry oversight will continue, even if the workplace accepts the assistance.

Five sectoral health and safety associations are involved in this initiative:

•the Industrial Accident Prevention Association< (agri business, ceramics and stone, chemicals and plastics, food and beverage, high tech, leather, rubber and tanners, metal trades, printing trades, textile and allied industries and woodworking);
•the Ontario Service Safety Alliance (wholesale, restaurant and food, hospitality, office and related services);
•the Health Care Health and Safety Association (nursing care, homes for residential care, hospitals, nursing services, group homes, treatment clinics and services);
•the Construction Safety Association of Ontario (construction)
•the Electrical and Utilities Safety Association (generation, oil, power and water distribution, power line clearing and telecommunications lines contracting and communications industries).

The associations will work with the workplaces in their sectors, first offering assistance to deal with immediate problems. They will then work closely with the workplace parties to refocus them toward self-reliance in health and safety through continuous improvement. The ultimate goal is to have these workplaces embrace the Occupational Health and Safety Act and dedicate themselves to a better working environment, the province said.

Cracking down on worst offenders

For the highest-risk workplaces, estimated to be about 6,000 in Ontario, the province is using additional inspection and enforcement measures with the 100 newly hired inspectors.

These high-risk sites will be inspected four times a year with a focus on workplace hazards so these firms reduce on-the-job injuries, the province said.

It said that although these firms represent only two per cent of all firms insured by the WSIB they account for 10 per cent of all lost-time injuries and 21 per cent of injury costs in Ontario.

“This graduated approach, using education, assistance and enforcement, will reduce the number of workplace injuries and fatalities,” said Bentley. “This will result in less pain and suffering, and we estimate will save the WSIB about $300 million. As well, companies that work more safely will see a positive impact on their bottom line because the average lost-time accident costs a business $58,000.”

The WSIB estimates the average lost time injury/illness costs were $72,000 per injury in 2003. This includes the direct costs to the WSIB of $14,000 in benefit payments, and an additional cost of $58,000 to the workplace. Workplace costs could include such items as management time spent on injury/illness related issues, employee replacement costs, injury investigations, staff communication, overtime for other employees, production delays, equipment repair, compliance with Ministry of Labour orders, WSIB audits, and possible fines.

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