Ontario hiring 200 new health and safety inspectors

Province wants to cut injuries by 20 per cent in four years, plans to target worst offenders

The Ontario government is almost doubling the number of health and safety inspectors in an effort to cut the number of workplace injuries by 60,000 by 2008.

Labour Minister Chris Bentley said the province’s goal in hiring 200 new enforcement staff is to cut workplace injuries by 20 per cent in four years.

“This will result in less pain and suffering, a reduced burden on the health-care system, savings to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) of an estimated $300 million and a level playing field for safe companies,” said Bentley.

The government said eliminating 60,000 injuries annually will also translate into savings for businesses of up to $960 million per year, based on the average cost of a workplace injury.

The 200 new enforcement staff, to be paid for by the WSIB, will be hired during the next two years. Recruitment of 100 new inspectors is to begin immediately. Currently the province has 230 inspectors.

The inspectors will initially target 6,000 workplaces with the highest injury rates. Inspectors will visit these sites four times a year, focusing on workplace hazards to help firms reduce on-the-job injuries. Although these workplaces represent just 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.

“We are taking decisive action to make a real difference in the lives of Ontario workers,” said Bentley.

Almost 300,000 workplace injuries per year in Ontario

On average there are almost 300,000 workplace-related injuries per year in Ontario, with about 100,000 serious enough to require people to miss work.

The cornerstone of Ontario’s enforcement initiative will be the hiring of new staff, including the 100 new health and safety inspectors this year, to reduce workplace injuries by targeting firms with high injury rates and high injury costs.

In a press release announcing the strategy, the province said workplace injuries “create untold human suffering and add costs to the Ontario economy. In addition to the direct effect on injured workers, their families, their employers and their communities, workplace injuries place a substantial and unnecessary burden on Ontario’s health-care system.”

The recommendation to hire more enforcement staff came from a health and safety action group consisting of employers, employees and other stakeholders set up by Bentley. All parties agreed more health and safety enforcement staff is required.

Fatality rates not dropping

While the rate of lost-time injuries has declined substantially over the past 10 to 20 years, the rate of progress has slowed in recent years, the province said. As well, the number of workplace fatalities has stopped declining.

In order to deal with these issues the province is developing an integrated approach to workplace health and safety focusing on aggressive enforcement, education, training and legislation.

Part of the strategy is to increase awareness of workplace health and safety initiatives. The Ministry of Labour will work closely with the WSIB and the 15 health and safety associations across Ontario to provide education and training tailored to the needs of workplaces in specific sectors throughout the province with a special emphasis on young workers.

The province will work to increase compliance with occupational health and safety regulations by providing businesses with web-based information so they can easily learn about their rights and responsibilities. The ministry’s Workplace Gateway project will provide businesses with easy access to comprehensive information about workplace health and safety compliance.

The government is also moving ahead with changes in regulations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to improve workplace health and safety such as enhanced safety training for mining smelter workers, revised regulations affecting deep mining, new standards for training of commercial divers and a new system to ensure limits for exposure to chemicals in the workplace are updated and improved regularly.

By the numbers

•In 2003 Ontario had the lowest ration of health and safety inspectors to workforce in Canada (3.8 per 100,000 workers.) With the addition of 100 new inspectors, Ontario’s rate will rise to 5.4 per 100,000 workers, placing it ahead of Alberta (5.0 per 100,000 workers) and Saskatchewan (4.9 per 100,000 workers), but lower than British Columbia (9.2 per 100,000 workers).

•Since 1996 the number of inspectors fell from 278 to 205.

•In January 2004 the province recruited 25 new inspectors who have now completed their training, raising the number of inspectors to 230.

•This new enforcement initiative will result in another 100 inspectors being hired this year with recruitment beginning in July. The inspectors should be hired by November 2004 and trained by February 2005. Another 100 enforcement staff will be added in 2005.

•The annual cost of the 100 inspectors being hired in 2004/2005 is $14 million, which will be funded by the WSIB.

•Every year there are about 100,000 lost-time injuries and another 200,000 injuries occur where people need medical aid but do not result in time being lost from work.

•A 20 per cent reduction over four years would result in about 20,000 fewer lost-time injuries and 40,000 fewer non-lost time injuries per year by 2008.

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