MISSISSAUGA, ONT. — Elizabeth Witmer, chair of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), is the latest recipient of the Doug Chalmers Award for Safety, presented recently by the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA).
The award, which recognizes Witmer’s dedication to workplace health and safety throughout her career, was presented at the association’s annual Leadership Conference in Mississauga, Ont.
“This award belongs to all those that I have had the privilege to have worked with since I became the Minister of Labour in 1995,” said Witmer as she accepted her award.
“I have been educated, I have been inspired by so many of you. By working together, we have been able to move the health and safety standards forward but it’s you that have done the heavy lifting and I thank you for that.”
The award is named after former chairman of the board Doug Chalmers, who championed workplace safety over 30 years ago. Because of Chalmers’s dedication, safety has and continues to be a priority for the OGCA, the association states.
The criteria for the award, according to the OGCA’s website, is “a person who has performed exceptional service in the cause of construction safety by their actions, contributions or in a manner considered worthy of recognition by the judging committee.”
Witmer served as MPP for the Kitchener-Waterloo area from 1990 to 2012. During that time, she held positions as deputy premier, minister of labour, minister of health and long-term care, minister of the environment and minister of education.
As minister of labour, Witmer was appointed to review the workplace health and safety system and introduced Bill 99, the Workers’ Compensation Reform Act, that created the WSIB. She was appointed chair of the WSIB in May 2012.
“From the minute I started working with the OGCA, I could tell they had a strong commitment to ensure that all workers return home safely at the end of the day,” explained Witmer.
“One of the first visits that I had when I became chair of the WSIB was a visit from Clive Thurston (president of the OGCA) and David Frame (director of government relations for the OGCA). They wanted to stress the importance of the WSIB to continue its focus on health and safety.”
She said she is especially inspired by Rob Ellis of MySafeWork. Ellis founded MySafeWork after losing his son in a workplace incident so that other young workers would know how to deal with unsafe situations.
“I don’t think anybody has inspired me more than Rob,” said Witmer. “Every time I hear him I am inspired to do more. One of the focuses I’ve had since 1995…is to focus on raising the awareness of young people, to help them understand that when you get a job you have the right to be trained, you have the right to know what your responsibilities are and you have a right to refuse unsafe work.”