Ontario’s construction sector has achieved new heights in workplace health and safety during the pandemic, but contractors were recently told there’s much more to aim for as the sector strives to get as close to zero injuries as possible.
That was the message delivered by Ontario’s Chief Prevention Officer (CPO) Ron Kelusky and other executives in the health and safety sector during the first day of the Annual Leadership Conference presented by the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA) and the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA) earlier this month.
“There’s still so much to do and so much opportunity and I think we’re only scratching the surface,” said Kelusky.
“I think that we should never forget going forward what is the art of the possible when it comes to something as major as COVID, but if we translate what we’ve been able to accomplish into our day-to-day efforts to manage our health and safety, I think zero is now more a possibility than ever before.”
IHSA president and CEO Enzo Garritano launched the virtual session by congratulating the OGCA for the leadership it showed during the first weeks of the pandemic in March 2020 and then onwards under the guidance of former OGCA president Clive Thurston, current president Giovanni Cautillo and director of government relations David Frame.
The OGCA was key in getting the first messages out to the industry on how to deal with COVID-19 and working with the IHSA and the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development to produce the first information packages with health and safety protocols.
“That was phenomenal given the shutdown within the first couple of weeks of March, so I want to commend the industry for helping everyone in Ontario get moving,” said Garritano.
Minister of Labour Monte McNaughton also addressed the session, praising the construction sector for its determined actions to keep Ontario’s half a million construction workers safe.
“Your leadership and work with our government have kept sites safe during these difficult times,” McNaughton said.
Kelusky noted in his address the numerous health and safety initiatives that have been developed during the pandemic come against a backdrop of a half dozen current and proposed reforms to the overall system in the province.
“The past couple of years have been really important from a prevention office point of view,” he said.
“We are pending the launch of a strategic plan that will be engaging in a lot of new opportunity in terms of our focus on prevention, our focus on a public health model, our focus on outcomes and really understanding why things happen.”
The work is being undertaken by a “very robust and rejuvenated prevention council that’s starting to get into really significant issues that are going to help us move forward with our prevention strategy,” Kelusky said, noting the support of the construction sector through Section 21 committees.
One key reform will be moving the management of first aid responsibilities from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) to the prevention office, Kelusky noted. That will give the CPO the ability to start working on programs such as understanding occupational injury as opposed to system or sector injury, he said.
“We have done some studies that identify that certain occupations tend to have greater injuries than others and we’re going to really focus on those,” said Kelusky.
In future, the CPO said, the office will expand its sources of data beyond the WSIB to be able to better determine the causes of injuries.
The CPO, with the private sector and large employers, is working towards being able to identify injury trends.
It’s also working with data from the coroner’s office and government inspectors to provide “more timely and effective information” to introduce a systems approach to data collection.
Integration of information from the WSIB, system partners, large employers and other ministries will also provide “epidemiological research” on injuries, Kelusky noted, referring to training courses currently being conducted.
“We can then start looking at the courses and saying, are we teaching the course to the occupation in touching all the bases when it comes to covering injury? This is really closing the loop on everything. This is our plan in our five years, to be more data focused but also more evidence based,” he explained.
Questioned by OGCA safety committee chair Craig Lesurf, Kelusky also outlined planned reporting reforms. Lesurf pointed out that stakeholders have difficulty addressing new trends in health and safety with data from the Ministry of Labour or the CPO that is only issued every three or six months.
“Our ultimate goal is to be able to at least move that three-month window to a one-month window down to a one-week window, to be able to get a handle on things to give you useful information for you to manage your workforce,” Kelusky said. “I think real time is within reach.”
Another source of reform is the coroner’s office, Kelusky noted. Under legislation, the coroner investigates every construction fatality, but the coroner has indicated the office was considering setting up a technical panel for every construction fatality that would meet and report within a year as opposed to having an inquest that occurs years later.
“In the case of the Metron inquest, we’re still waiting 11 years later, so I think anything that we can do to accelerate those things is going to be important,” he said.
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