COR is back.
After a lull during the pandemic when the Ontario construction sector’s occupational health and safety (OHS) focus was on dealing with COVID-19, the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association’s flagship Certificate of Recognition safety program is now firing on all cylinders.
IHSA vice-president for market development Ken Rayner said COR had continued growth during the pandemic and now has close to 700 certified participants. But as the pandemic raged, firms contacted by the IHSA as part of outreach efforts said their priority was combatting COVID, and with some sectors shut down at different times, COR audits could not take place in some cases anyway.
“The focus had to shift to some degree from COR to the pandemic, and with the pandemic hopefully in our rearview mirror, that attention now can shift back to the programs that we were doing before the pandemic came about,” said Rayner.
“Only in the past six months or so have we really started to re-engage with the buyers of construction, the different associations, and really getting back on that path again and reaching out.”
COR is a voluntary audit-based employer certification program intended to motivate employers to upgrade their OHS programs. It was founded in Western Canada and introduced to Ontario in 2012.
Rayner said COR has measured its progress several ways including the number of certified companies — as of mid-March, there were 672 COR certifications — the number of firms registered or working towards COR — currently 1,735 — and certification in COR as a pre-bid requirement by public project owners including the City of Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Vaughan, Milton, Ottawa, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority and, more recently, the City of Richmond Hill.
And as of last July, the IHSA received the research proof it needed that COR certification saves lives and prevents injuries.
A University of British Columbia study found on average, participation in COR was associated with a 28-per-cent reduction in the lost-time injury rate and a 20-per-cent reduction in the high-impact injury rate, relative to the change in non-COR firms.
Matched against other provinces, Ontario COR participants benefited the most. Compared with Ontario’s finding of 28 per cent, there has been a lost-time injury-rate reduction of nine per cent in B.C. and Alberta and 19 per cent in Saskatchewan.
The study was prepared by the Partnership for Work, Health and Safety at UBC for the IHSA and Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).
“The larger effect estimates in Ontario may be driven by differences in the program and types of firms it typically enrols. For example, COR firms in Ontario are much larger than observed in other provinces,” wrote the authors.
“This may be a reflection of the pre-bid qualification requirements for contracts in public and private sector construction projects.”
Rayner remarked, “That for us was another bolstering that we’re taking this program in the right direction, that we’re doing the right thing to help protect workers, that COR works.
“The system itself has demonstrated that it can send workers home safely.”
Right before the pandemic hit, in November 2019, COR received a significant boost when the WSIB and the Ontario Ministry of Labour both announced support for COR through financial incentives.
COR now meshes with the WSIB’s Health and Safety Excellence program with firms being reimbursed for embarking on the COR program. The maximum reimbursement in a single year is $250,000, Rayner said.
“That’s obviously the maximum and those are for very large organizations. But, boy, that really does help offset the cost.”
The WSIB and government endorsements “aided the momentum that much more because it was an added level of legitimacy and credibility.”
Since the restraints of the pandemic were removed, the IHSA has engaged in a billboard and bus ad marketing campaign with 82 billboards erected last September to December; a new mandatory auditing tool called AuditSoft was introduced effective Jan. 1 of this year that will ease administration and provide valuable data; and the IHSA has continued to develop its outreach to smaller business, as recommended in the UBC report.
“We understand those small companies have less resources, that they’re going to need a little bit more hand-holding and a little bit more guidance,” said Rayner. “We’re looking at ways to do that.”
The IHSA has also developed a program of 46 podcasts to guide firms through the certification process and there have been LinkedIn articles and videos created.
“It’s just that continual message that I don’t think we’ve strayed from too much from the beginning, that COR will help to keep your workers safe,” said Rayner.
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