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Transforming OHS performanceIn response to a public consultation led by Ontario's Ministry of Labour, Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS) has submitted a series of recommendations that we believe could dramatically change the prevention system's approach to eliminating workplace injuries and illnesses.

Recommendation #1 calls for recognizing you - Ontario's employers and workers - as leading partners in any new strategy, so that the elements of the strategy support you in your work to improve health and safety.

Advancing your interests

WSPS's recommendations promote a system-wide transformation toward "value-driven safety" that would help all of us build a safer, more profitable Ontario. These recommendations are based on conversations we had with you.

To gain your perspective on how to make Ontario's prevention system function better, WSPS conducted meetings, one-on-one interviews with OHS community leaders, group surveys, and a webinar that generated input from over 140 businesses and other organizations. In the process, we also consulted with our own staff as well as our Board of Directors, nine sector-based Advisory Committees, and Volunteer Council. Everyone in these groups either belongs to a WSPS member business or affiliated organization, or in the case of our staff works closely with our customers.

The results: 24 recommendations designed to help Ontario's prevention system support the ongoing efforts of employers and workers to improve their health, safety and organizational performance. But first, the premises on which we based our recommendations.

We believe the strategy must

  • have a strong and articulate vision that is participatory, offers workplaces a clear journey of solutions and checkpoints, and has a goal of zero injuries, illnesses and fatalities
  • establish performance-based outcomes
  • engage all Ontarians - the private sector, prevention system partners, and communities - in a strategy that ensures a role for everyone.

WSPS's recommendations promote a system-wide transformation toward "value-driven safety” that would help all of us build a safer, more profitable Ontario. These recommendations are based on conversations we had with you.

WSPS Consultants

A sampling of WSPS's recommendations

The following are key recommendations in WSPS's submission to the Ministry of Labour (for a link to the full submission, see "Additional reading," below). These recommendations would help workplaces boost their health, safety and organizational performance by various means, including

  • more integrated, cohesive support from prevention system partners, including harmonized policies, programs and incentives
  • providing prospective workers with a health and safety foundation before they enter the workforce
  • targeted initiatives aimed at hard-to-reach groups, such as small business owners
  • performance-based standards for priority hazards, providing workplaces with tools and processes that complement existing management systems
  • a transformation of public attitudes and behaviours.

WSPS recommends the following:

  • the new strategy recognize the workplace parties - employers and their workers - as the leading partners. A strategic approach oriented to building a strong OHS culture places the workplace parties at the forefront of initiatives, asks what they need to accomplish the objective, and then aligns the other stakeholders - the government, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), safety associations, other resource providers - behind them in support.
  • the work, programs and accountabilities of the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry's Prevention Office and the WSIB continue to be integrated and harmonized in order to provide employers and workers with a single, transparent, consistent set of policy signals. Clear and consistent signals from regulatory authorities is a necessary first step in providing stronger motivation to employers. These signals must seek to build a culture of workplace safety by encouraging employers to include OHS directly in their business and corporate planning.
  • all Ministry of Labour and WSIB health and safety programs be reviewed to align incentives and common metrics of accomplishment, including both leading and lagging indicators. The goal would be to make all initiatives work together toward common objectives, using common metrics of accomplishment. Taking a long view, such a realignment could eventually be extended to all ministries that touch Ontario workplaces - transportation, environment, health and long term care, education, colleges and universities and municipalities.
  • the Ministry of Labour explore the concept of a mandatory qualification of knowledge of core health and safety facts and workers' rights before an individual may enter the workplace. Alongside the Ministry of Labour's recently introduced mandatory worker and supervisor awareness training, this "license to work" would ensure all workers receive a consistent message, allow employers to focus their orientation of new workers on the specific risks and hazards of their environment, and create a greater capacity for developing a health and safety culture in every workplace. The licence would be earned by all middle school, high school, college, university and apprenticeship entrants to the workforce. Several programs already exist elsewhere in Canada, so an equivalency standard would be a good starting point.
  • building compulsory occupational health and safety into Ontario's educational system, including the curriculum of grades 6 to 12, trade and apprenticeship training, professional qualifications in engineering and medicine, and business schools.
  • vigorous outreach to newly formed and existing small business operators, focused on building their awareness and understanding of the importance of health and safety and providing training in bite-sized modules appropriate to the ability of these organizations to digest them. As many WSPS members noted during our consultation process, small business owners don't know what they don't know. Educating new business owners is a critical first step, helping them to understand the business implications of health and safety. The best way to do this is to meet business where they are with a suite of tools that respond to their level of sophistication, in styles that they value. Our experience suggests that the most successful approach includes a mix of self-serve, 24/7 accessibility, online availability, and at a price that is achievable for the business owners.
  • as an integral part of the business registration process, providing information on employers' responsibility for the health and safety of their workers, and services available to help fulfil this responsibility. Because new small business owners represent a particularly challenging group to reach, designing a system to support them may require dramatic structural shifts in responsibilities. One option worth exploring would involve having new small businesses register and pay for WSIB coverage through their relevant OHS association. Connecting businesses with their association at the start would allow for the business to automatically receive information and services tailored to the needs of start-ups in that sector. Having the associations transfer the registration information and compensation premiums to the WSIB would enable it to retain oversight and premium revenue. Implementation of the single business registration number (SBN) in Ontario would help to integrate this initiative as well as all the other licences and registration activities required by federal departments, provincial ministries and municipalities.
  • developing a family of performance-based standards for specific high hazard activities and exposures to complement CSA Z1000 - Occupational Health and Safety Managed Systems and CSA Z1001 - Occupational Health and Safety Training Standards, which we support. As a management resource, standards can help workplaces improve business performance and reduce the risk of injuries and property damage. Suggested priorities include:
  • working at heights/fall arrest
  • elevated powered platforms
  • electrical awareness/arc flash
  • confined spaces
  • lockout/energy control
  • hazardous/toxic substances
  • cranes and hoists
  • machine guarding
  • occupational exposures resulting in
    • dermatitis
    • respiratory illness
    • noise induced hearing loss
  • psychosocial hazards.

These more detailed standards should be performance-based rather than prescriptive, empowering workplaces to implement them in a way that is most effective for them.

WSPS has included psychosocial hazards in this list to reinforce the importance of integrating mental health into the prevention efforts of workplace parties. The government has a substantial role in raising awareness and addressing employee health, wellness and particularly mental health. Mental illness is a leading cause of disability in Canada costing an estimated $51 billion per year, almost half of which is directly related to workplace losses. Beyond the socio-economic costs, workers with mental illness represent one of the most vulnerable populations that the OHS system ought to serve to its fullest extent. The release of CSA Z1003-12 - Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace and other initiatives in support of this standard have spotlighted these issues. WSPS helped develop the standard, which we see as an important step toward generating much-needed dialogue and increasing awareness in aid of eliminating the stigma attached to mental health. However, only an integrated awareness strategy that involves and engages stakeholders from within and outside of the prevention system can ensure that the information will reach workers and their families.

  • WSPS recommends raising public awareness of workplace injuries and deaths and building public consensus for developing a culture of health and safety via a 5-10 year communications campaign using a variety of media, including social media. The use of social marketing to promote healthy lifestyle choices is a proven tool for achieving broad-based change. Smoking and driving while under the influence of alcohol are two notable examples of once-acceptable behaviours that, through communications campaigns, are now considered unacceptable. Consistent investment in similar multi-year campaigns could significantly affect the way Ontarians perceive workplace injuries and death, and would support workplaces with their own initiatives.

    WSPS is already participating in two such campaigns, both focused on driving safety. More than 38% of all traumatic worker fatalities in Ontario involve motor vehicle incidents. The first campaign used a positive community norms approach to build a culture of support for workplaces to reduce six risky driving behaviours. The second pilot tested a "Courageous Voices Create Safe Roads" campaign. This campaign involves a personalized toolkit containing communication tools, posters, and materials for posting throughout the workplace.

  • WSPS recommends involving all workplace, community and government stakeholders in developing an integrated awareness strategy for employee health, wellness and mental health.
    Stakeholders would identify priorities for action, focusing on prevention and getting critical information to workers and their families and communities.
WSPS's place in the new strategy

WSPS's mission is to put health and safety solutions within reach of every employer and employee in Ontario. We do this by serving as a business partner and expert in risk management, providing industry-specific health and safety solutions that help our customers achieve their goals and grow the life of their business.

Because of the nature of our work and our direct relationships with customers, we understand your needs, requirements and potential as well as or better than any other partner in the system. Through our alliances with other centres of innovation, we can also offer you access to complementary products, services and expertise. Examples of these other centres of innovation include:

  • standard setting bodies such as the Canadian Standards Association and Electrical Safety Authority
  • industry groups such as Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, Canadian Agricultural Safety Association, Landscape Ontario, and many others
  • information providers such as the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).

We also push-pull, link, and exchange to mobilize knowledge. Through knowledge brokering, we connect the research community with our stakeholders - staff, advisory committees, and clients - to engage in research projects, promote their use, and encourage the uptake of practical evidence-based tools. Acting as a conduit and taking a hands-on approach to connecting workplaces with research, as well as helping them understand the value and impact it can have on their business, is critical to an integrated OHS strategy.

In recognition of the role of research, our submission to the ministry includes a series of recommendations that focus on how research conducted on behalf of the prevention system can further benefit Ontario businesses.

Lastly, we bring our customers' challenges and concerns to the table when working with the Ministry of Labour and WSIB on government policy and processes, such as a new OHS strategy. To learn more about our work with other organizations on your behalf, see the related article, "Behind the scene: supporting customers through strategic partnerships."

Additional reading