Ontario safety groups: 11 years later

WSIB program has grown in the past decade

When Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) launched the Safety Groups program in 2000, it began with just 400 employer members.

Now, 11 years later, participation has bloomed to 3,200 member companies.

The Safety Groups program aims to provide an incentive for members to invest in and implement effective health and safety and return-to-work programs in their workplaces. The initiative offers a pool of resources, including mentoring and networking opportunities so companies can learn from each other’s experiences and best practices. 

According to the WSIB, the Safety Groups program had a total lost-time injury (LTI) reduction of 12.1 per cent. In comparison, the total LTI reduction for all Schedule 1 employers — those not individually liable to pay benefits directly to workers or their survivors under the insurance plan — was 9.4 per cent.

“We are very proud of the role the Safety Groups program plays in driving positive safety behavior in Ontario’s workplaces,” Steve Mahoney, chair of the WSIB, said in an email interview.

"That's why the WSIB's board of directors recently decided to keep the program in place for another year as we transition responsibility for Prevention to the Ministry of Labour.”

One of the main benefits of the program is participating firms become more proactive about workplace health and safety, said Tom Welton, director of northwest and south regions of prevention services at Workplace Safety North, an organization that sponsors the Safety Groups program.

“The program prompts members to work towards expanding and improving components in their health and safety management system on an ongoing basis,” said Welton. “Otherwise, you just work on health and safety as time permits.”

Companies that enroll in the Safety Groups program join a group related to their industry. Each year, the group sets five goals, which include items like developing return-to-work programs, incident investigation procedures, and workplace inspection systems.

Individual companies are then rated on how well they complete each item. If the whole group achieves the objectives, the WSIB rewards the firms with rebates on their insurance.

The Safety Groups’ focus on helping companies build their programs step by step makes Ontario stand out.

Provinces like British Columbia and Alberta, for example, only offer certificate recognition programs that focus on assessing full programs, said Welton.

That kind of system tends to favor larger companies with established health and safety resources, but smaller firms may need more mentorship.

“The Safety Group programs’ intent is to allow firms to build over the five years, to advance and develop through mentorship and sharing of best practices,” Welton said.  “A lot of our members are smaller firms. It’s unique in that we provide members with assistance and guidance that they might not have otherwise.”

Millson Forestry Service, a Timmins, Ont.-based company with about 35 full-time employees, is one such example. When it first enrolled in Safety Groups about nine years ago, it already had a workplace health program. But Mark Joron of Millson’s forestry operations said participating in Safety Groups has made program implementation even easier.

He points to the Safety Groups program’s resource manual, which “starts with really simple stuff like what kind of documentation you require, and outlines all of your legal requirements.

“It puts it into a nice logical format, where you can just go down the checklist,” he said. “It asks things like, do you have a copy of your safety meeting minutes available on site? Are you checking your first aid kit monthly?”

Throughout its 11 years, the Safety Groups program has evolved and adapted to changing circumstances.

For example, one of the major changes has been with how rebate rewards are measured.

The calculation of companies’ rebates now accounts for how well members maintain safety elements from previous years — something that wasn’t factored in before, said Welton.

“It’s become a little more elaborate compared to what it was in the first years of the program. And that’s been a good thing, because you’re checking if those elements are being advanced on an annual basis,” he said.

In addition, the Safety Groups program’s online resources have come a long way. Joron recalls how, in the program’s early days, he had to log on to different government websites in order to access Safety Groups information.

Now, the Safety Groups website is a convenient stop for users to find policy information, training materials and industry alerts, he said.

“It’s a great way to be informed about something that happened in your industry,” said Joron. “You don’t want to make the same mistakes as someone else, so you learn about them and try to prevent it from happening again.”

Still, there’s still room for these digital tools to grow. They may be used to intensify conversations among Safety Group companies in the future, Joron said.

“The Internet is only going to get better, so maybe we’ll start tweeting about incidents and accidents to keep everyone informed in the future,” said Joron. 

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