Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board introduced a new safety program Nov. 1 that replaces three older ones and, thanks to a push by construction stakeholders, achieves alignment with the construction sector’s COR safety program.
The new voluntary WSIB Health and Safety Excellence program continues the best features of the obsolete programs, Work Well, Safety Groups and Small Business, explained Rod Cook, vice-president of workplace health and safety services for the WSIB. It encourages Ontario employers to embark on a three-step “roadmap” leading to WSIB safety validation and features a modified track for premium rebates.
Construction firms can align with COR by successfully showing mastery of 36 “topics” in the Foundation, Intermediate and Advanced program phases.
“We’re optimistic,” commented David Frame, director of government relations for the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA). “It looks like it offers a lot for construction employers and we are going to work with our members to use it and take advantage of it.”
Alignment with COR was important, said Frame. The first version of the new program presented to the OGCA for comment last year missed the mark, he said.
“We offered quite a bit of feedback, and the program has been significantly improved,” Frame said. “Initially it wasn’t integrated with COR, which was a concern, and obviously they have done that now.”
COR (Certificate of Recognition) is a national program with Ontario’s Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA) having the jurisdiction to grant COR certification in the province. Cook said the WSIB consulted extensively with the OGCA and the IHSA.
“Our partnership with the IHSA was extremely strong because wanted to ensure clear answers,” he said. “Not be seen as competitive, we wanted to be seen as supporting COR. To not cause confusion but to cause integration.”
Frame explained that until now COR has tended to be beyond the reach of smaller firms.
If you work on the excellence program, that can help you with your future premium rates,
— Rod Cook
Workplace Safety and Insurance Board
“Close to 400 companies have COR now but the problem we face is large companies have resources and existing health and safety people to implement COR but with smaller companies the resources aren’t there and you don’t have the personnel with expertise to develop it,” he said. “So many aren’t doing COR.
“But with a program like the excellence program, excellence is built so if you do all the excellence modules you should be in a position to move forward and get COR certified.”
The reforms stemmed from a 2016 review of the WSIB’s existing programs by the Chief Prevention Officer of Ontario. The CPO’s 15 recommendations formed the basis for the redesign, Cook explained.
Both Cook and Frame said they anticipate the Ministry of Labour will unveil a new health and safety accreditation program shortly. The new excellence program will dovetail with that program, which would be aligned with ISO 45,001, in addition to COR, Cook explained.
“An employer working toward ISO or COR, if they are interested in accreditation if and when that gets launched by the Ministry of Labour, a health and safety professional can help you,” said Cook. “We have mapped our program to existing standards so we can support employers on the journey they are choosing to go on.”
About 1,700 Ontario employers were enrolled in one of the three WSIB health and safety programs. Cook said the WSIB expects enrolment in the new excellence program to be up 10 per cent over the previous programs.
The new program was introduced as the WSIB prepares to launch its new rate framework system of categorizing employers and creating incentives to improve health and safety performance. The reforms take effect Jan. 1.
“With the new rate framework, if you don’t like the premiums you are paying, there is a solution,” said Cook. “If you work on the excellence program, that can help you with your future premium rates, it can help you earn rebates now by implementing these changes.”
The rebate system has two tiers but is not significantly different from what existed previously. There are now minimum and maximum rebates — a minimum $1,000 per topic, up to 75 per cent of annual premiums, and a maximum of $50,000 per topic.
Besides the premiums rebates, there will be non-financial rewards upon validation such as digital badges on the WSIB’s Compass site and/or printed certificates indicating years of participation, topics completion and level completion.
Non-financial recognition helps employers build their health and safety brand, said Cook.
There will also be a culture survey instituted that measures improvements in workplace culture and encourages employee participation.
“We are not just looking for a policy binder, we are looking for things that are taking root in the system,” said Cook.
“The validation process will include pictures and evidence that change been implemented. And we have created a health and safety cultural survey, it’s voluntary but we are encouraging employers to use it. This will help us follow changes that have taken root and that workers have voices in this.”
Follow Don Wall on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.