Ontario’s new Chief Prevention Officer (CPO) Ron Kelusky was praised as a collaborator and innovator with exceptional skills in using technology to get results during an introduction ceremony at Queen’s Park March 7.
Kelusky becomes Ontario’s second CPO, replacing George Gritziotis. The position was created following recommendations by an expert panel report in 2010, in the aftermath of the tragic Toronto swing stage incident on Christmas Eve 2009 that killed four workers and critically injured a fifth.
“His experience makes him the ideal person for the job,” Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn said. “During his long history of public service Ron has been one of the province’s strongest advocates for health and safety.”
Kelusky has worked in health and safety in the public and non-profit sectors, with tenures with the March of Dimes, the Red Cross, the City of Toronto and most recently as president and CEO of Ontario’s Public Services Health and Safety Association (PSHSA), which is responsible for providing health and safety services to over 10,000 firms across the province.
He was also president of GestureTek Health, a health care startup that produced virtual reality medical technology, and has two patents to his name.
Flynn praised former CPO Gritziotis at the event but in describing the challenges facing Kelusky in an interview, the minister said he expected the new appointee to take the office to the next level from a “plateau” it had reached.
“George did terrific job, coming in as our first CPO, essentially defining the job,” said Flynn. “George was able to bring the health and safety file to a certain position but there was a feeling shared by George, not because of George, that we had plateaued, getting us to this acceptable level, but we could go much further than that. We weren’t going to go much further doing the same things.”
The CPO oversees the Prevention Office within the Ministry of Labour. Duties include reporting to the minister on Ontario’s occupational health and safety system, advocating to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses, and developing health and safety policy.
During his time in the job, Gritziotis created the Construction Health and Safety Action Plan and implemented working at heights training.
Flynn commented on Kelusky’s reputation for getting things done: “Tell him what you need and he goes out and finds a way to do it. What I need is no fatalities and no injuries. Ron is the person who will go out and do that.”
Kelusky said in an interview, “I am a consensus builder. I want to focus on actual outcomes, not outputs.
“I am a firm believer in research. And being able to measure. You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”
During his time with the PSHSA, Kelusky led a review of violence in the health care sector and developed strategies for first responders experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. In both cases, he said, the solutions involved digital tools that gave stakeholders immediate access to solutions.
“Health and safety should be on demand and not scheduled,” he said. “We’ve got workers that are in the 24-hour digital space. They learn in different ways.”
Prior to the appointment, construction stakeholders had worried the next CPO would have the status of assistant deputy minister, below that of an associate minister, which was the status Gritziotis had. Flynn call the changes mere “housekeeping, administrative.”
“Nothing will change,” he said. “Ron still acts in my stead when he goes out there, he has the powers of the minister.”
Council of Ontario Construction Associations president Ian Cunningham attended the ceremony to support the minister and meet the new CPO, he said.
He noted Kelusky did not have much experience dealing with the construction sector.
“I’m very confident that he will be highly competent serving as the CPO,” said Cunningham.
“However, it would appear that he has had limited exposure to the high-risk sectors, the sectors that employ vulnerable workers and the sectors that are comprised largely of small businesses.
“So the construction industry looks forward to working with him to provide him with an orientation, information, education, ideas and solutions to help him do his job to the best of his abilities.”