Ontario’s Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development Monte McNaughton responded to criticisms of his government’s health and safety programs oversight with a promise to act on the upcoming release of a report containing an operational review of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).
McNaughton was asked to comment on Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s critique of worksite inspections and program oversight, contained in her 2019 annual report, released Dec. 4.
“As minister of labour, training and skills development, one worker death or one injury is too many for me,” said McNaughton, speaking Dec. 5 after a morning address at The Buildings Show in Toronto. “We are going to continue improving and working with workers, labour leaders and businesses provincewide to improve health and safety standards across the province.”
Lysyk devoted one section of her report to “value-for-money” health and safety audits, concluding that the ministry has been successful at consistently maintaining the lowest lost-time injury rate in comparison to other provinces but identifying 13 problem areas that should be addressed.
One of the areas identified in the audits was oversight of health and safety associations.
The audit noted that although the ministry provides health and safety associations with about $90 million in funding per year, it does not know how effective the associations have been at helping to prevent occupational injury or disease.
The ministry has begun revising the management of funding health and safety associations
— Monte McNaughton
Ontario Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development
One passage targeted the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA), which administers health and safety training in the construction sector. The IHSA, the auditor general wrote, has “not been able to meet all their targets in any of the last five years, as they did not consistently provide the contracted amount of services agreed to for training, consulting and providing resource products.”
“Currently there is a WSIB operational review happening,” McNaughton commented. “I look forward to making that public very soon. I am always interested in how we can improve health and safety across the province at the same time ensuring there is value for taxpayer money.”
The auditor general’s report recommended the ministry “develop a well-documented, outcome-focused performance-measurement model including relevant, quantitative metrics that health and safety associations must be accountable for meeting as demonstrated through annual performance measurement.”
Offered an opportunity to respond in the auditor general’s report, the ministry stated, “The ministry accepts the recommendation and agrees that evidence-based, outcome-focused performance measurement is ideal for effective program management…
“The ministry has begun revising the management of funding health and safety associations to ensure the relevance and effectiveness of their initiatives and accountability.”
IHSA president and CEO Enzo Garritano said his organization has “no problem with the recommendations” but he could not say the same for the data presented.
“The data that we were singled out with, we noticed immediately there is a difference between that and what we report every year,” he said. “We have notified the attorney general and the CPO (Chief Prevention Officer) and the Ministry of Labour that there is a discrepancy that needs to be looked into.
“We have essentially met our transfer-payment service-level requirements every year, and the agreed-upon service-level requirement, so we aren’t sure why the discrepancies exist but we have asked them to look into it.”
Ian Cunningham, president of the Council of Ontario Construction Associations, said he supported more performance-based measures in the health and safety system.
“She was very complimentary about Ontario’s performance compared to other jurisdictions but pointed out that there’s lot of room for improvement and particularly she said there is a lack of accountability in the system,” said Cunningham. “That is not to say the system is performing poorly, but there are not the accountabilities in place that can measure how it’s doing and how the investment might be invested differently to be more effective.”
The report also criticized the ministry’s health and safety inspection system. Some companies were inspected at least three times during the past six years and issued orders for violations relating to the same type of hazard in multiple years. In particular, in the construction sector, 65 per cent of companies reviewed had repeatedly been issued orders relating to falls hazards.
McNaughton commented, “We know that most businesses in the province have an excellent track record when it comes to health and safety but there are bad apples out there. These are the ones that we need to crack down on and ensure that we are improving safety for workers in those companies.”
The ministry has increased workplace inspections to 80,000 per year, McNaughton noted — that’s 300 per day, he said.
And the new WSIB rate framework system, which comes into effect Jan. 1, will offer monetary incentives to companies to improve their health and safety records, the minister stated.
Follow Don Wall on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.