The future of OHS in Ontario: key messages from Partners in Prevention 2013

Jun 12, 2013

PiPEmbracing systemic and organizational change was a dominant theme among speakers at Partners in Prevention 2013 Health & Safety Conference and Trade Show, which took place April 30 – May 1 in Mississauga.

Canada’s largest annual health and safety event routinely draws a sold-out crowd to more than 60 conference sessions and 400+ exhibits. This translates into 4500 delegates, speakers and exhibitors who gather every year to learn, share and network. The common goal: helping implement health and safety solutions that reduce the personal and financial toll of injuries and illness, improve organizational performance, and grow the life of their business.

This year, several speakers spoke of developments that, with input from Ontario businesses, will help stimulate change and growth.

A new provincial OHS strategy

“One of the most challenging things about this job,” Ontario Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi told delegates, “is that every time there is a workplace fatality I get direct notification of it on my Blackberry. I can’t get used to that… We need to do everything we do, both as government and industry, as partners to ensure we prevent injuries and especially fatalities.”

Naqvi noted that Ontario has “an incredible culture of health and safety. We do understand, we do recognize that we need safe and healthy workplaces. That is becoming very much part and parcel of our culture.”

To facilitate this evolution, the ministry released a consultation document earlier this year inviting public input on a long-term occupational health and safety strategy. The document set out 10 priorities under three themes. The ministry was seeking public input, said Naqvi, “because it’s this kind of input that will help us ensure the strategy, the ideas, the methodology, are not a top-down approach, but an approach that we have learned from you.” (For more on the consultation document, see below — “Additional Reading: An overview of the consultation paper.”)

Formulating a new strategy was one of 46 recommendations made by an expert advisory panel appointed in 2010 to review Ontario’s workplace health and safety system and recommend improvements. The recommendations themselves resulted from extensive consultations with stakeholders. The minister of labour at that time accepted all 46.

“We are putting a lot of resources into making sure the recommendations are being implemented,” said Naqvi. He described the process as the most significant transformation in 30 years. “But we can’t do this implementation work in isolation. We are doing that work in partnership with you.”

Ontario’s OHS strategy as a business success factor

Elizabeth Mills, president and CEO of Workplace Safety & Prevention Services, spoke to delegates about the province’s strategy development process in the context of promoting business success.

“The strategy is intended to guide all of us and you in the development, delivery and evaluation of occupational health and safety programs and services,” said Mills. “But I believe there is also another purpose to this strategy… the strategy must set up [your business] for success, and it must be grounded in the realities of your business today and tomorrow… helping you compete in a crowded marketplace, enabling you to become an employer of choice – attracting, engaging and retaining skilled workers. It must help you manage risk and, most of all, it must help you grow.

“Ontario’s economic engine needs us to act as a fuel additive. We need to engage you in more meaningful and practical ways in order to enable you to achieve your business goals and to create a culture of health and safety in the province.

“We can’t continue working as we always have and expect a different result,” explained Mills. “We need to move away from the traditional way of defining our relationship — you as the customer, health and safety associations as service providers, the Ministry of Labour as enforcers, and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board as insurers.

“Those titles define our function, but they don’t capture the spirit and behaviour that is needed to achieve the results we’re looking for.

“This strategy presents a unique opportunity for us to begin working with each other in a new way… as business partners, with the shared goal of creating healthy, safe and vibrant workplaces in our province.”

Ontario's economic engine needs us to act as a fuel additive. We need to engage you in more meaningful and practical ways in order to enable you to achieve your business goals and to create a culture of health and safety in the province.

Elizabeth Mills, President and CEO, Workplace Safety & Prevention Services

Retaining what works well

Encouraging input into an OHS strategy is just one way in which the province is engaging workplaces and other stakeholders. The ministry is also facilitating a comprehensive review of the province’s prevention system.

Cordelia Clarke Julien, director of training and safety programs in the Ministry of Labour’s recently established Prevention Office, briefed delegates during a conference session dedicated to the review. It will explore all aspects of today’s prevention system from these four perspectives:

  • motivation-based programming, such as the Safe Communities Incentive Program, Safety Groups Program, and Workwell. Intent: to take what's working well and build on it
  • health and safety competencies. Intent: establish baseline skills and behaviours among all workers
  • accreditation for workplaces with policies, programs and outcomes that meet an established standard. Intent: create a roadmap for achieving superior health, safety and organizational performance based on recognized standards
  • a comprehensive system and program review, leading to a more integrated and consistent approach to programming. Intent: establish a more cohesive, efficient and accountable prevention system that better recognizes workplace needs, provides greater support, and strengthens protection of the most vulnerable and at-risk workers.

In an earlier conversation with WSPS Network Magazine, Clarke Julien noted that, although the ministry is managing the process, much of the development work is being done by workplace parties with support from system partners such as WSPS. “It’s about stakeholders saying, ‘This is what will work for us, this is what we want to happen, and these are our standards.’” (For more on WSPS Network Magazine’s conversation with Clarke Julien, see below, “Additional Reading: Member Firm Briefing…”)

Watch for continued coverage of the prevention system review and a new OHS strategy in upcoming issues of WSPS Network News or WSPS Network Magazine.


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