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A conversation with Ontario's Chief Prevention Officer

July 2021 and September 2021 marked two notable developments for workplace health and safety for Ontario: the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development released Prevention Works, its new 5-year strategy, and then Dr. Joel Moody assumed the role of Chief Prevention Officer and Assistant Deputy Minister. The office of the Chief Prevention Officer is tasked with implementing the strategy.

In a recent conversation with eNews, Dr. Moody explained that Prevention Works builds on past successes - the accomplishments of the previous 5-year strategy, as well as extensive research and consultation with stakeholders - to map out a safer and more productive future for Ontario workplaces.

We’ve listed below six ways in which the strategy could offer direct benefits to Ontario workplaces, but first, here’s more on our conversation with Dr. Moody.

Describe for us the role of Ontario's Chief Prevention Officer.

The Chief Prevention Officer has a couple of key roles. One is championing the prevention of workplace injury, illness, and death in Ontario. To do that we use data and evidence to identify the leading risk factors. What are the leading harms, and how can we target those harms to reduce injuries, fatalities and illness-related deaths?

Another key role is working with our stakeholders because they have a very important voice in not only identifying issues but also identifying opportunities to create interventions that will make a meaningful difference. This collaborative approach is very near and dear to me.

Who are these stakeholders?

Our stakeholders include health and safety associations such as WSPS, employers, employees, union leaders, small business owners, other government partners, including the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, Ministry of Health and Public Health Ontario, and anyone else with a role in occupational health and safety in Ontario.

Our stakeholders were instrumental in developing Prevention Works under my predecessor, Ron Kelusky, a great individual. Prevention Works sets the vision for occupational health and safety in Ontario for the next five years and contains four strategic objectives, or pillars.

Could you describe these pillars?

Pillar number one involves using evidence-based data to develop risk-based prevention programs. As a physician and an epidemiologist by training, I want us to use the data we collect to better understand the risk factors for injury, illness, and death in Ontario workplaces. We've been very good so far at understanding how unfortunate events have happened. But we want to go to the next level of understanding. What are the characteristics of the employers where these incidents happen? What are the characteristics of the employees? Was there a certain risk factor related to age? Gender? How did risk factors intersect at a particular outcome?

Once we understand the risk factors, we can create an intervention or program, and then measure and evaluate it to see how we can make our prevention efforts even more effective.

Pillar number two is helping workplaces comply with health and safety laws and standards. We want to find new ways to help businesses be compliant because we know that compliance does lead to better safety.

Pillar number three is for those workplaces that go above and beyond the minimum performance standards and want to achieve health and safety excellence. For example, in November 2019 the Chief Prevention Officer launched Supporting Ontario's Safe Employers, a voluntary incentive program that helps employers reduce injuries and illness by implementing an OHS management system.

Pillar number four is helping small businesses. How do we help them better manage health and safety, not only in terms of compliance, but also in understanding their roles and responsibilities, reducing the burden of compliance, and implementing effective programs? Small business owners are in a unique position in that they wear so many different hats - business development, production, sales, marketing, HR, health and safety. For example, in July, 2021 we launched the Small Business Health and Safety Training Program (https://www.app.grants.gov.on.ca/sbhstp) to help small businesses improve their workplace health and safety, by reimbursing eligible employers for the cost of training of their health and safety representatives over the next three years.

From your perspective, how well have Ontario workplaces responded to the pandemic?

Until a couple of years ago, few employers had any experience with outbreaks of communicable respiratory disease. In this context, we’ve seen great dedication, creativity and flexibility in responding and adapting to the pandemic. The situation changes frequently and rapidly, and we know that this puts a lot of pressure on workplaces. We recognize that it hasn't been easy, and that it has identified gaps, barriers and inequalities, but everyone is working together, and we’ll keep on working together to keep Ontario workplaces safe.

Mental health and wellbeing were already a priority for Ontario's health and safety system before the pandemic introduced a new set of challenges. How do mental health and wellbeing fit into Prevention Works?

The mental wellbeing of individuals, as well as combatting violence, harassment and discrimination, are threads that weave through all four pillars. These issues exist across all industry sectors, and the challenges of the pandemic have helped raise awareness of them among the public at large.

Based on our consultations, research findings, and our experiences with COVID-19, Prevention Works has two areas of systems focus, which will involve stakeholders from within and outside the OHS system: work-related mental health and workplace violence and harassment as well as occupational Illness. Ontario’s four health and safety associations already provide training and resources on work-related mental health and workplace violence and harassment policies and programs. With additional data and input from the health and safety community we will continue developing practical resources and tools.

What are you hoping to achieve by the end of Prevention Works' five-year timeframe?

At the end of the day, we want to have tangible, measurable outcomes - reductions in X, increases in Y. We're having discussions right now with stakeholders to help us identify goals and targets, which we will announce soon. From there we will operationalize a way to meet these goals and targets.

How workplaces could directly benefit from Prevention Works

As the strategy unfolds over the next five years, it will offer Ontario workplaces these benefits and more:

  • more actionable information on top safety risks by sector and how to control them
  • more targeted, affordable and consistent training
  • more effective joint health and safety committees (JHSCs)
  • more support for small businesses; most recently, a COVID-19 workplace safety plan builder, particularly useful for small businesses 
  • CPO employer recognition under Supporting Ontario's Safe Employers program and rebates through the WSIB Ontario Safe Employers Rebate Program
  • more help dealing with occupational disease, work-related mental health, and violence and harassment, partly through better access to resources being developed by system partners such as WSPS.

For more on each of these benefits, read 6 ways Ontario's new Prevention Works strategy will benefit workplaces.

 

The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.