Will you be "Workwelled"?

Apr 02, 2012

Will you be "Workwelled"?Any time now, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) will be mailing out letters to firms subject to a 2012 Workwell audit. The letters go to firms whose compensation experience indicates a greater risk of injury compared to other firms conducting similar work.

“The intent behind the audit,” explains Stephen Shaw, a regional manager for Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS), “is to have employers take a hard look at their health and safety program, understand where it’s coming up short, and make changes that will ultimately reduce the risk of injury.”

Shaw understands the process inside out, both from the perspective of a WSPS consultant working with firms undergoing an audit, and also from hands-on experience prior to joining WSPS, as an employee of an audited firm.

“The first reaction of most firms that receive a Workwell letter is alarm,” says Shaw. “Few recipients realize how poor their health and safety performance really is. But what I advise these firms, and any other firm wanting to improve its health and safety program, is to view the Workwell audit as an opportunity.”

This is the approach that Shaun Whitehead, site manager of Ford of Canada's manufacturing operations in Windsor, took after receiving a Workwell letter in 2010 (for a brief look at Ford’s response, see “One employer’s experience: Ford of Canada, Windsor” below.) Before considering the viewpoint taken by Ford of Canada, take a look below at an outline of the audit process, including features and benefits.

Who gets audited?

Expect to be audited if you have a

  • higher number or an above-average lost-time-injuries (LTI) rate for two years in a row, compared with your industry
  • serious injury or amputation in any calendar year
  • total injury cost of $20,000 or more in any calendar year
  • fatality in the workplace

Firms may also be referred to the Workwell program following a random or targeted inspection by the Ministry of Labour.

What happens when Workwell comes calling

The process typically follows several steps:

  • You receive notification that you've been selected for a Workwell audit.
  • You receive a call from a WSIB auditor to set up an appointment, usually within the next two weeks.
  • The auditor arrives to perform the audit, spending a half to full day onsite depending on the size of the firm. If you have multiple locations, the auditor may visit more than one.
  • During the visit, the auditor examines documents and records detailing your workplace’s health and safety policies, procedures and practices, observes the practices and procedures in action, inspects the workplace, and interviews workers.
  • Two to four weeks after the audit, you receive an audit report with your score and recommendations.
  • You have six months to implement the recommendations.
  • You are instructed to call your health and safety association, such as WSPS.
  • If you fail the first audit, then six months later the WSIB performs a second audit.
  • Two to four weeks later, you receive your final score.
  • You must score at least 75% in order to pass. If you score less, an additional charge is applied to your compensation premium, ranging from 10% to 75% of your premium.

Recommended next steps

  • Contact WSPS to find out what support is available (for examples, see “How WSPS can help”).
  • Download a copy of the Workwell audit from the WSIB website and conduct a self-assessment.
  • Get your ducks in a row. Form a team, allocate staff, and establish a budget.
  • Vow to build a top-down and bottom-up approach. To succeed, both senior managers and staff must embrace the plan.

“Many clients wait until after the first audit before taking steps,” says Shaw “but why wait? You don’t need the audit results to know there’s a problem. The WSIB has already identified that there is one, and so I encourage clients to start developing or improving their program now. The best part about being proactive,” continues Shaw, “is the autonomy that comes with it. You can implement change on your terms, at your pace, bearing your brand. You may also avoid a surcharge penalty, and a second Workwell audit.”

Benefitting from the experience

Auditing your firm’s health and safety performance, Workwell-driven or otherwise, offers substantial benefits for the entire organization. For example, audit-generated improvements:

  • help promote alignment and commitment of management and employees with organizational objectives, goals and action plans
  • support effective planning for new projects and changes
  • promote the development of effective and safe operating procedures
  • reinforce the value of training that helps workplace parties fulfill their responsibilities effectively and safely
  • stimulate employee problem solving and other skills
  • stimulate effective communication between management and employees, processes for giving and receiving performance feedback, and processes for holding people accountable for their performance

As a result:

  • operating costs diminish. The operation is more reliable, the risk of property loss and business interruption due to health and safety issues falls, and the direct and indirect costs of dealing with regulatory or legal fallout from incidents and injuries is eliminated.
  • safe and optimum operation is no longer a matter of luck or chance. It is an achievable goal, based on good organization and planned activities, backed up by a shared management and employee commitment to the goal.
  • employees and management learn new skills that can be re-applied to help improve other business concerns. For example: incident root cause analyses can be used to determine the root cause of quality and reliability incidents, job and/or process hazard analyses can be used to identify potential production, quality and reliability issues and improve the process, and comprehensive orientation training can shorten the start-up productivity curve.
  • all levels of employees participate in health and safety goal setting and planning processes, helping establish a richer, safer and more productive workplace culture.

“I often recommend the Workwell standard to clients who want to build a health and safety program,” says Shaw. “It covers the basics, and it shows you’re doing your due diligence. From a logistical perspective, you can build it gradually. And in the event you get ‘Workwelled’ — and this can happen despite the best of intentions — your processes and documentation are already built to the Workwell standard.”

“Ultimately,” says Shaw, “putting Workwell in place helps guide the whole organization into becoming a healthier, safer and more productive workplace.”

One employer’s experience: Ford of Canada, Windsor

“When the WSIB notified us that we were going to be audited,” recalls Shaun Whitehead, site manager of Ford’s Windsor operations, “my first reaction was, ‘Why us? Why do we need to be audited?’ We definitely weren’t expecting it.

“Before we received notification, and really started analyzing where we were, my impressions of our safety system were that we had made continuous moderate improvements over a number of years. We had definitely increased the amount of time we were spending on safety, whether on introducing new processes or improving what was already in place.

“But after the notification, we started to strongly rethink our impressions of the safety system. First, our joint leadership team, which has management and union leadership, reviewed the WSIB data. This helped us understand why we were being audited.

“Then we started having open, honest discussions, and began recognizing that there were more opportunities than we had previously realized, from both a process and cultural standpoint. We then started to treat the audit as not just an audit but as an opportunity to improve.

“We had one goal in mind, to address our current state honestly and candidly. We started thinking about health and safety as a quality goal, where we wanted to be best in the industry. We also started to form a more strategic vision of what safety at Ford could look like in the future.”

As the joint leadership team prepared for the audit, they engaged all 700 employees. “We weren’t prepared to just put three people in a room and plan the audit. We wanted to engage the workforce at different levels to understand what we could do to improve our safety system and, in turn, achieve better results in the audit.”

“We assigned core teams to specific elements of the audit. These teams included people who regularly performed the jobs involved in the elements. They really dove into understanding Workwell, analyzing what we already had in place, came up with suggestions, and implemented them.

“We also worked closely with partners. One of them was WSPS, which helped us to understand the Workwell audit itself, and to conduct our own mock audits in advance. WSPS helped coach us through the whole process.

“Preparing for a Workwell audit is a tall order for any organization. You have to prove you have a process in place, and that you’re executing it.”

Ford’s advance preparations paid off, earning itself a score of 85% on the first audit. “But this was just the first step in a longer journey,” says Whitehead. “It’s not just about health and safety. It’s about organizational performance. Our goal is to be the best in the industry.”

How WSPS can help

View available resources on the Health & Safety Ontario website