DCN ARCHIVES

March 28, 2005

Photo courtesy MINISTRY OF LABOUR

Ontario Labour Minister Chris Bentley spoke following a graduation ceremony for the province’s 100 new health and safety inspectors at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre last week.

‘One last chance’

Labour minister lauds workplace safety strategy

The provincial government is giving 5,000 Ontario workplaces one last chance to voluntarily improve their health and safety records, however, the move has failed to impress a labour leader and an Opposition critic.

Labour Minister Chris Bentley extended the olive branch last week at a ceremony to mark the graduation of 100 new health and safety inspectors.

“We believe most businesses want to do the right thing and create a culture where health and safety are priorities,” Bentley told the inspectors.

Chris Bentley

“To achieve this, the ministry will work with our prevention partners to help 5,000 workplaces improve their health and safety performance. The result will not only be safer workplaces but also substantial savings to these businesses from increased productivity.”

The strategy is part of the government’s plan to cut workplace injuries by 20 per cent, or 60,000 incidents, by 2008.

As part of the mandate, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) and five health and safety associations will contact the 5,000 workplaces this year, offering assistance and support to make sites safer.

This assistance will be offered to the workplaces for five years. Regular ministry oversight will continue, even if the workplace accepts the assistance.

If the assistance does not result in significant improvement, the businesses will attract the heightened attention of the Ministry of Labour.

The workplaces chosen for assistance have had a health and safety performance marginally better than those firms with the highest injury rates.

However, Wayne Samuelson, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, was not impressed with the move.

He says the government must have a no-tolerance approach to workplace injuries.

“It’s too soft. It needs to be really tough,’’ he said.

“This is this mindset that somehow ... it’s okay if a few people die next year, because in a year from now we’re going to enforce the laws. I mean, it’s just outrageous.’’

The expected surge of students seeking summer jobs makes the issue even more pressing, said Samuelson.

“Kids will be leaving university and some of them will be injured and killed at work. It happens every spring,’’ he said. “We should be sending a clear message that if your workplace is unsafe, then you’re going to pay for it.’’

The province has to ensure that workers know they can refuse to do a job if they think it’s unsafe, Samuelson said.

New Democrat MPP Peter Kormos says hiring new inspectors is the right move, but there’s simply not enough of them after their numbers were cut in previous years.

“Adding 100 improves the dire position that we’ve been in but it certainly doesn’t bring us up to snuff,’’ Kormos said.

According to the government, the labour ministry intends to use additional enforcement measures with the 100 newly-hired inspectors for approximately 6,000 workplaces considered to be the highest risk.

The highest-risk sites will be inspected four times a year, with a focus on workplace hazards so the firms reduce on-the-job injuries.

Although the highest-risk workplaces represent just two per cent of all firms insured by the WSIB, they account for 10 per cent of all lost-time injuries and 21 per cent of injury costs in Ontario.

Bentley says the graduated approach, using education, assistance and enforcement, will reduce the number of workplace injuries and fatalities.

“This will result in less pain and suffering, and we estimate will save the WSIB about $300 million. As well, companies that work more safely will see a positive impact on their bottom line because the average lost time accident costs a business $58,000.”

On average, there are almost 300,000 workplace-related injuries per year, with about 100,000 serious enough to require people to miss work.

Five sectoral health and safety associations are involved in the initiative. They include:

— The Construction Safety Association of Ontario

— The Electrical and Utilities Safety Association

— The Industrial Accident Prevention Association

— The Ontario Service Safety Alliance

— The Health Care Health and Safety Association

The WSIB estimates the average lost time injury/illness costs were $72,000 per injury in 2003. This includes the direct costs to the WSIB of $14,000 in benefit payments, and an additional cost of $58,000 to the workplace.

With files from The Canadian Press

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