How MOL's new OHS strategy puts workplaces first

Jan 10, 2014

Action Changes ThingsA "blueprint" for occupational health and safety released in late December identifies strategic actions for all stakeholders in Ontario's prevention system, including workplace parties. These actions are intended to improve service delivery and support those with the greatest needs, such as small business and vulnerable workers.

"Preventing occupational illnesses, injuries and fatalities requires immediate action," says George Gritziotis, the Ministry of Labour's chief prevention officer, in a statement released with the document. "This strategy calls on the health and safety leadership to move forward with exceptional resolve. It sets out a cohesive vision, goals and priorities for the next five years that will help us collectively maximize the resources available to prevent tragedies by addressing areas of greatest need."

Details on the strategic plan, including the role of Ontario businesses in implementing the strategy, appear below. But first, how the strategy came about, and Workplace Safety & Prevention Services' (WSPS's) response.

The development process

The Ministry of Labour developed a draft strategic plan in consultation with 1,250 businesses, labour groups, health and safety associations, and individuals. After releasing a consultation paper in March 2013, the ministry received and took into consideration a further 220 responses.

Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS) actively participated in the consultation process on behalf of our member firms. In crafting our response to the draft plan, WSPS engaged over 140 member firm representatives through our board, advisory committees, associations, volunteers, and community leaders.

"We were pleased to see many of our recommendations reflected in the final plan," said WSPS Board Committee Chair Normand Côté shortly after the plan was released. "The strategy lays the ground work for a flexible, performance-based system rather than a prescriptive one, and truly responds to and supports the diverse needs of our 154,000 member firms, partners and associations in the manufacturing, rural and service sectors."

WSPS president and CEO Elizabeth Mills commended the final plan for its "workplaces first" approach. "The strategy shows leadership in government as it recognizes that the traditional top-down approach to health and safety planning must be flipped to a workplaces first approach, where workers and employers take the lead and are supported by the traditional system partners," said Mills.

WSPS's response to the draft plan advocated recognizing Ontario's employers and workers as primary partners in any new strategy, so that the elements of the strategy would support them in their work to improve health and safety.

The impetus for improvement

On Christmas Eve 2009 a swing-stage scaffold on a highrise building collapsed. Four workers fell 13 storeys to their deaths and a fifth sustained serious injuries. Within days, the ministry launched a 3-month enforcement blitz of suspended platforms at construction sites. Within weeks, the minister of labour appointed an expert advisory panel to conduct a comprehensive review of the province's occupational health and safety prevention and enforcement system.

In December 2010, the panel submitted a report containing 46 recommendations. The minister of labour committed to implementing each one, describing the process as "the largest overhaul of Ontario's occupational health and safety system in 30 years."

Many recommendations involved systemic change to the province's entire prevention system, affecting the Ministry of Labour, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, health and safety associations, workplace parties, and others.

"To ensure that there is real benefit to workplaces," the panel report noted, "the workplace parties must be actively engaged in the design and implementation of proposed improvements. Effective leadership coupled with the engagement of all the workplace stakeholders contributes to improved health and safety performance." The ministry's new strategy embraces this approach.

What's in the plan

"This inaugural province-wide strategy," writes chief prevention officer George Gritziotis in an introductory message, "is our blueprint for realizing the vision of healthy and safe Ontario workplaces over the next five years." Gritziotis emphasizes that "this is not just the Ministry of Labour's strategy... It is a strategy for all organizations involved in occupational health and safety, including those providing enforcement, training, awareness, advisory, insurance, clinical, outreach and research services. Leadership at all levels will be fundamental to achieving this vision. We are all in this together."

The strategy will be the basis for system partners working in an integrated and collaborative fashion, explains Gritziotis. "It will guide the planning, coordination and delivery of integrated activities, programs and services over the next five years to achieve common goals."

The strategy has two goals:

  • target the areas of greatest need - identify opportunities to reduce the health and safety risks that workers face, which can be influenced by individuals, employers and/or job tasks. Priorities include:
    • assisting the most vulnerable workers
    • supporting health and safety improvements in small businesses
    • addressing the highest hazards that result in injuries, illnesses or diseases.

  • enhance service delivery - improve the way system partners use available approaches to maximize their impact. Priorities include:
    • building collaborative partnerships
    • integrating service delivery and system-wide planning
    • promoting a culture of health and safety.

This framework is supported by four guiding principles:

  • shared leadership and responsibility. All system partners and workplace parties share leadership and responsibility for healthy and safe workplaces. The ministry provides leadership in enforcing the legislation. The Chief Prevention Officer, with input from the Prevention Council, provides leadership in coordinating system partners and providing guidance to workplaces across the province. Leadership responsibilities extend beyond the ministry and system partners to business and labour leaders and workplace parties.

  • stakeholder engagement. "All Ontarians have an interest in occupational health and safety," says the strategy. "By listening to all voices, we can learn how to improve the system and improve the impact of our services and initiatives. We will engage those within the system, as well as those beyond the system, to ensure we are aware of different perspectives and are able to meet diverse needs."

  • best available evidence. All decisions should be supported by the best evidence available. To identify situations that put workers at risk, guide system activities and drive continuous improvement, the system must improve its ability to collect and use data.

  • transparency and accountability. System partners are all working to achieve the same outcomes. Being transparent will enable system partners to learn from each other, improve together, and hold one another accountable.

System partner roles and responsibilities

Each system partner has specific roles and responsibilities, states the strategy:

  • Ministry of Labour - legislation, enforcement and prevention
  • Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) - workers compensation and return to work supports
  • health and safety associations, including WSPS - training, consulting and clinical services for workers and employers.

The strategy also identifies other groups and organizations that contribute to, or increase, the prevention system's capacity to deliver services. These include:

  • workers
  • employers
  • labour organizations, unions and training centres
  • business and industry associations
  • research organizations
  • non-governmental organizations
  • other ministries and levels of government
  • private occupational health and safety service providers
  • community colleges.

What your business can do

The strategy directly and indirectly outlines a number of steps businesses can take to make their workplaces safer. Here are some examples:

  • meet all health and safety requirements set out in the Occupational Health and Safety Act and its regulations. These are minimum requirements intended as a starting point, not an end point.

  • make health and safety a business priority. To achieve results, says the strategy, more organizational leaders must make health and safety a high priority. The financial costs alone make a compelling argument for preventing injuries and illnesses: in 2012, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) paid out $2.67 billion in benefits drawn from employer premiums. This figure does not include indirect costs, such as reduced production, lower productivity and property damage. In 2008, the Institute for Work & Health estimated the annual economic cost of workplace injuries in Canada at $17 billion.

  • align your policies, programs and initiatives with the strategic priorities:
    • assisting the most vulnerable workers
    • supporting health and safety improvements in small businesses
    • addressing the highest hazards that result in injuries, illnesses or diseases
    • building collaborative partnerships
    • integrating service delivery and system-wide planning
    • promoting a culture of health and safety.

  • ensure all workplace parties - especially vulnerable workers and their supervisors - understand and act on their roles and responsibilities under the act. Start with

  • respond to health and safety issues and hazards, and adopt best practices. Health and safety associations such as WSPS offer extensive resources, from the strategic (hazard identification and assessment) to the tactical (1-hour e-courses on a wide range of topics).

  • influence other businesses through procurement requirements or by mentoring and sharing best practices via WSPS's Networking and Knowledge Exchange functions, other volunteer opportunities, and annual Safety Group program.

Additional reading

The following resources can help you better understand the ministry's strategy, the context in which it will operate, and your place in the process: