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New Prevention Organization

  • Issued: December 16, 2010
  • Content last reviewed: December 2010

Ontario’s OHS system is complex, and its system of delivery is distributed through different organizations with distinct cultures. This has been further complicated by gradual changes in the locus of responsibility for the delivery of some important services.

While the enforcement role carried out by the Ministry of Labour has been relatively consistent over time, the structure that supports the delivery of prevention services has evolved over the years. The following chronology illustrates this evolution.

  • 1914: The Workmen’s Compensation Act was enacted, creating the Workmen’s Compensation Board, and permitting the establishment by employers of sector-specific safety associations.
  • 1915: The first association (Electrical Utilities Safety Association) was formed. Over the next half-century, several additional industry-specific safety associations were formed and received funding from the Workers’/Workmen’s Compensation Board (WCB), but the mandate of these associations was not explicitly outlined in the Workers’/Workmen’s Compensation Act (WCA).
  • 1964: The WCA was amended to explicitly identify “education in accident prevention” as the purpose of the safety associations. While this clarified the primary purpose of the associations, no explicit recognition of the WCB’s role in governing prevention was enshrined in legislation.
  • 1965: The WCB established the Safety Education Department to integrate resources and co-ordinate the programs of the associations.
  • 1984: The Department was succeeded by the Occupational Health & Safety Education Authority (OHSEA), a tripartite oversight body for the safety associations.
  • 1990: Bill 208 created the Workplace Health and Safety Agency and outlined its explicit prevention mandate in the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The OHSEA was disbanded, and responsibility for the safety associations was transferred from the WCB to the WHSA. The Agency’s prevention responsibilities, codified in Bill 208, included the establishment of standards regarding certification, development and delivery of education and training; the funding of occupational health and safety research; and the oversight and funding of designated entities (the industry-specific safety associations, training centre, and medical clinic).
  • 1997: Bill 99 (the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997) abolished the WHSA and transferred the prevention function (including responsibility for the HSAs) to the prevention division of the newly created Workplace Safety and Insurance Board as of January 1, 1998.

Since 1998, the province’s OHS system has been centred on the dual authority of the WSIB (responsible for prevention, including oversight of the HSAs) and the MOL (responsible for inspection, investigation and enforcement).

A number of stakeholders, both internal and external, have advised the Panel that the current structure no longer meets the needs of the province or of individual workplaces. Issues most commonly raised include role clarity, accountability, and integration.

Role Clarity

All of the organizations involved in delivery are working hard and achieving results. There has been no criticism of the capacity, commitment or performance of any organization. The majority of comments about delivery involved the relationships between the organizations, role clarity and the need for greater integration.

There is considerable lack of clarity regarding the roles and services provided by the system partners, particularly in the area of prevention. Workplace engagement by multiple system partners would not, in itself, be a concern if it were planned and orchestrated towards common goals or clearly identified priorities. However, this does not always appear to be the case, leading to internal tension between delivery partners and confusion in both the business and labour communities as to who is providing what services.

Improving role clarity will be an important driver of a more connected system, leading to the provision of better support, training and enforcement services. This is especially true for Ontario’s small-business community, which often does not have the time or resources to interpret and navigate the mostly unconnected services provided by several delivery organizations.

Stakeholders and staff of the delivery organizations frequently cited several concerns about role clarity:

  • There is insufficient knowledge within the delivery organizations of the roles performed by their counterparts.
  • Employers and unions do not have a sufficient understanding of the roles of the delivery organizations; this is particularly true where workplace audits overlap with workplace inspections.

    The WSIB’s Workwell audit program was frequently mentioned as an example; many stakeholders believe Workwell to be overly prescriptive and involved in evaluating occupational health and safety compliance (and issuing administrative penalties). This is viewed as being in conflict with the clear responsibility of MOL inspectors to evaluate occupational health and safety compliance.

  • The Panel heard about inconsistent advice and approaches being provided by partner organizations in responding to the same workplace incident.
  • Approaches to service delivery and key business processes across the prevention organizations are also inconsistent (for example, in charges for services and the length and content of training programs).

    While sector-specific sensitivity to client needs is important, so is a commitment to achieving clearly defined system-wide priorities and core programs. There must be an appropriate balance between these two priorities.

  • There was a view that while the roles of MOL inspectors’ are clear, their mandate to inspect, investigate and enforce should be supplemented with an ability to consult and advise employers on approaches to compliance.

    Some employers and inspectors support this broader role; employers have told the Panel that it would help to receive advice on approaches to compliance while an inspector is on site and has perhaps issued an order.

  • There was a view that inspectors should play a more active role in the process of addressing complaints about alleged employer reprisals where workers have raised health and safety concerns. This is considered in detail under the “Improved Protection from Reprisals” section of this report.
  • With respect to the overall prevention function, there is a strong and widespread belief that the responsibility should be removed from WSIB.

    Employer and labour stakeholders contend that the Board’s insurance functions and challenges posed by the unfunded liability detract from a focus on prevention, arguing that prevention services should therefore be consolidated into a separate organizational management structure. Some suggested establishing a separate entity dedicated to prevention, while others favoured the idea of transferring prevention to the Ministry of Labour. There are examples of both of these models elsewhere in Canada.

System Integration

Like many other widely distributed delivery systems, the current delivery organizations have developed distinct, and in some cases, sector-specific cultures, and some have legacies that stretch back for decades. While there is some recognition, at all organizational levels, that each organization is part of a “system,” there is not a strong culture or tradition of collaboration across boundaries.

The OHS system currently lacks a singular authority to drive and be accountable for integration and direction, though efforts have been made in recent years to develop common strategies. These efforts are outlined below.

  • In 1999, the Occupational Health and Safety Council of Ontario was established as a forum for senior executives to meet regularly and provide collective leadership and strategic direction for the OHS system.
  • The recent realignment and consolidation of the HSAs from 14 associations down to 6 was undertaken in the spirit of improving integration and performance, and focused on reducing administrative expenses and redirecting them to increased staff presence in the field.
  • The system partners have successfully collaborated with employers and labour unions on many joint initiatives. For example, following the December 2009 amendments to the OHSA to address violence and harassment in the workplace, the system partners collaborated to create guidance material and a “toolbox” for employers.
Notwithstanding these individual collaborative efforts, the system partners and stakeholders recognize that further significant improvement can only come with a clearer accountability framework and better integration. To that end, a series of fundamental principles were identified as essential for an optimal OHS system. These key principles include:
  • A system-wide occupational health and safety strategy led by a central authority.
  • A formal, inclusive, transparent and meaningful consultation process with employers and unions on the system strategy, with the central authority ultimately responsible for its content and implementation.
  • Sectoral and regional input on how priorities are to be implemented.
  • A commitment to achieving a level of performance that exceeds basic compliance with legislation and regulations.
  • Greater attention to cross-sector priorities (for example, vulnerable workers and small business).
  • A commitment to minimizing duplication and improving co-ordination of workplace interventions, with greater transparency for stakeholders about the roles of partners and about the models they use to target such interventions.
  • Efficient use of resources.
  • Improved sharing of data, information and solutions across the system, to help identify appropriate interventions for particular workplace circumstances and worker needs.
  • Links to organizations outside the system that can contribute to improvements in occupational health and safety.

System Structure

In considering alternative options for delivering prevention services, the Panel identified the following necessary governance and operational features as critical elements of an optimal model, regardless of its location:

  • The creation of a chief executive position, responsible for the effective integration, operation and performance of the prevention system. This position and its key responsibilities would be enshrined in the OHSA. The Chief Executive would report to the Minister.
  • An annual report to the Minister from the Chief Executive on OHS system performance regarding priorities, objectives and targets. This report would also be made available to the public.
  • A single, integrated, strategic plan with one set of priorities for the OHS system partners.
  • High-level involvement of employers, labour and other major stakeholders through a new Prevention Council.
  • A unit responsible for co-ordinating central prevention functions, including
    • data management and standardization
    • performance measurement
    • knowledge management
    • reporting and communication
    • evaluation of workplace health and safety practices to support WSIB incentive programs
    • establishing standards for
      • the certification of persons for the purposes of the Occupational Health and Safety Act
      • first aid training
      • occupational health and safety training programs and providers
      • the operation of safe workplace associations, the training centre, and the occupational health clinic
      • the accreditation of employers who implement successful workplace health and safety management systems

Having regard to these key elements of an optimal delivery structure, and the benefits of a model that would maximize integration, communication and collaboration, the Panel concluded that the responsibility for both prevention and enforcement should be located within one organization. Moving this responsibility to the Ministry of Labour, with an appropriate governance framework, would accomplish these goals and would also avoid the costs and time involved in building a new stand-alone prevention organization.

Recommendation 1

A new prevention organization should be created within the Ministry of Labour.

The new organization would be headed by a Chief Prevention Executive, and would feature a multi stakeholder Prevention Council; each would have specific powers explicitly defined in the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The Chief Prevention Executive would be appointed for a five-year term, would report to the Minister of Labour, and would have a status effectively equivalent to that of the Deputy Minister of Labour.

Members of the Prevention Council would also be appointed for a fixed term, and appointments would be staggered to ensure continuity of the council membership from year to year. Members could also be reappointed at the Minister’s discretion.

A key function of the Chief Prevention Executive, to be enshrined in law, would be to provide an annual report to the Minister on the performance of the integrated OHS system. This report would also be made available to the public.

The Council would provide input and advice to the Chief Prevention Executive as the new prevention organization and functions are being developed, as well as on major matters of planning, standard setting, strategy and implementation. Additional proposed functions of the Chief Prevention Executive and the Council members are illustrated in the following table.

  Accountabilities Functions
Chief Prevention Executive
  • Appointed by the Minister of Labour for a five-year term
  • Directly accountable to the Minister of Labour, with a status effectively equivalent to the Deputy Minister of Labour
  • Accountability to the Deputy Minister would be limited to administrative matters (for example, compliance with provincial government Directives)
  • Leader of the prevention organization; accountable for OHS system integration and performance
  • Collaborates with the Deputy Minister on an integrated occupational health and safety strategy, and executes the prevention elements of the integrated strategy
  • Develops key performance indicators
  • Develops standards, and accredits organizations that meet those standards
  • Oversees service delivery, including the Health and Safety Associations (HSA CEOs would report directly to the Chief Prevention Executive)
  • Manages central prevention functions
  • Submits the annual report to the Minister detailing OHS system performance and progress against established targets
Council members
  • Appointed by the Minister of Labour, with input from stakeholders
  • Council Chair would be selected by the appointed members
  • Advises the Minister regarding recruitment of the Chief Prevention Executive
  • Involved in
    • setting priorities for the purposes of the integrated strategic plan
    • reviewing the annual business plan
    • setting key performance indicators and standards
    • development of annual report
  • Endorses and advises on significant proposed changes to the prevention system design, funding and delivery model

This organization would be funded by combining the WSIB prevention and HSA budget allocations in place at the time that the Panel was appointed; however, the combined budget would now be managed through the office of the Chief Prevention Executive.

These proposed changes are designed to eliminate or minimize duplication between the prevention and enforcement pillars of the OHS system, and are intended to build on the WSIB-led effort to consolidate and realign the HSAs. With these changes, Ontario workplaces will ultimately benefit from an increased focus on core prevention activities, within a better-integrated OHS system.

Training Standards

Creating, Implementing and Auditing Training Standards

The new prevention organization will be responsible for ensuring effective and efficient development and delivery of occupational health and safety (OHS) training. Many stakeholders identified the need for consistent content, quality and cost; these issues could be addressed by having one organization responsible for developing non-sector-specific material. Much of this training will relate to common content across programs, while other training will be sector-specific. This report makes a number of recommendations about the development of new training programs, the specific need for standards-related content, the quality of training including delivery, evaluation and auditing. There needs to be greater communication and co-ordination between organizations that have a mandate to deliver health and safety education.

In designing the role of the new prevention organization consideration should be given to the Australian National Training Framework as a very comprehensive quality assurance training model. Key features of the Australian model include focusing on quality of services and outcomes for clients; the portability of qualifications, so that employers can expect the workers they hire to have the same skills, no matter where they were trained; and having simple, transparent standards that are clear to all workplace parties.

Recommendation 2

The new prevention organization should create, implement and audit training standards that would apply to training required by the Occupational Health and Safety Act and regulations.

The prevention organization should involve stakeholders, including management and labour, and should have the authority to do the following:

  • Develop standards for overarching development, design and quality of training
  • Develop standards to define training to meet statutory requirements (competent, adequate, etc.)
  • Develop, review and update standards for training curriculum (content, duration, methodologies, evaluation, etc.) that provide for equivalency for programs that meet or exceed standards
  • Identify and approve training programs
  • Develop standards for and accreditation of training providers and training delivery agents
  • Develop mandatory training standards for instructors/trainers
  • Determine technology standards required for effective delivery of training
  • Audit training compliance against standard
  • Determine training records to be included in a central data base

The progression and level of the prescriptive nature of standards established by this body would vary according to individual program objectives.

OHS Awareness and Training Strategy

Recommendation 3

The new prevention organization should work with other ministries and training organizations to develop a graduated occupational health and safety Awareness and Training Strategy to establish Ontario as a jurisdictional leader in OHS continual learning and training.

  • An enhanced standard of awareness and training has the potential, over time, to raise the health and safety knowledge and skills of all workplace parties and to build support for an effective IRS. Positive campaigns championing the corporate and societal benefits of healthy and safe workplaces would build public awareness, encourage employers to adopt workplace prevention measures and foster support for prevention-focused public policy.
  • The strategy, to be phased in on a priority basis, would consist of public awareness campaigns focused on positive social norms.
  • Embedded OHS awareness information in school curricula beyond primary and secondary schools; adding to curriculum for private schools; work with post-secondary institutions on curriculum for disciplines including teaching, medicine, nursing, engineering and various vocational programs in colleges
  • There would be mandatory training for various workplace parties and for identified high-hazard sectors and jobs.
  • The strategy would also make use of community-based and bridging programs to ensure these workers have greater occupational health and safety knowledge as they enter the workforce.

Social Awareness

As indicated earlier, social attitudes toward health and safety have a significant effect on behaviour. In addition to increasing health and safety knowledge in the education system, social marketing is another way to encourage positive health and safety attitudes. Social marketing has played an important role in influencing attitudes about seat belt use, not drinking and driving and smoking behaviour. However, attitudes do not change quickly and most effective messaging techniques vary according to target audience, issue and various other factors.

In the past, the WSIB has undertaken various social marketing campaigns with different target audiences and media delivery approaches. Creating longitudinal, financially supported public awareness strategies has proven effective in shifting other societal behaviours. Communication coupled with enforcement strategies has been successful in shifting societal beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. The prevention organization should aim to shift norms of tolerance around health and safety, with the ultimate goal of eliminating workplace injury, illness and fatalities.

Recommendation 4

The new prevention organization should develop a multi-year social awareness strategy that will significantly reduce public tolerance of workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities and shift attitudes, beliefs and behaviours around occupational health and safety.

Resources should be allocated to research the current perceptions and norms that shape the attitudes and beliefs of employers, workers and the public regarding workplace health and safety in Ontario. Using the baseline data derived from the research, a multi-year campaign would be designed to foster social norms that significantly reduce public tolerance for workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities. Funds should be protected for a social awareness strategy that is implemented over the course of several years to allow for the necessary societal change to be measured. Research indicates that it could take up to 10 years to shift public perceptions and norms in a sustainable way.

Health and Safety Research

Currently, the WSIB funds occupational health and safety research. The Research Advisory Council (RAC) oversees the WSIB's research grants program and advises the WSIB Board of Directors on research initiatives and on the allocation of research grants. The Council is made up of representatives from the employer, worker, and research communities, the HSAs, and the WSIB. Research priorities are aligned to the strategic priorities of Ontario’s prevention system and funding decisions are guided by expert peer review assessment of quality and excellence. The RAC is an indispensable component of Ontario’s occupational health and safety research network. It generates tested, relevant knowledge not just in prevention but in each of the three broad areas of occupational health and safety – prevention, compensation, recovery.

In addition to funding research projects directly, the WSIB provides financial support to a number of entities involved in conducting research and disseminating research findings. The Institute for Work and Health (IWH) is the most prominent organization, but a number of Centres of Research Expertise (CREs) have been formed in the past few years to focus specifically on certain health and safety hazards (for example, occupational disease and musculoskeletal disorders). Through the CREs, the RAC has been highly successful in developing networks of researchers and in working across disciplinary and organizational boundaries.

Research is an important tool that supports innovation. It functions as a conduit to new ideas and concepts. It can also help deal with ongoing problems, identify new issues and identify solutions. Research priorities should be informed by ongoing dialogue with leaders of the prevention system. Throughout the public consultation process there was a call for more participatory research projects involving stakeholders and workplace parties to evaluate workplace interventions and to explore new and emerging concerns.

Recommendation 5

The responsibility for research funding, and the resources to support it, should be transferred to the Chief Prevention Executive, and the Research Advisory Council mechanism for advising on the funding of research should be retained.

Assigning responsibility for administration of research funding (primary, secondary, and applied research related to prevention, compensation and recovery) to the prevention organization would allow for greater integration and alignment of research with the priorities established by the OHS system and the knowledge needed to address those priorities. It is the Panel’s intent that the current funding allocations for research be sustained.

Research with an applied focus can have direct application to workplaces while other research contributes to knowledge generation that precedes work leading to practical application. Both forms of research would benefit from a close relationship with knowledge management collection and provision functions created within the new prevention organization.

Data and Performance Measurement

The OHS system does currently benefit from the ability to collect and access relevant data from a variety of sources. In particular, each of the MOL , the WSIB, and the HSAs collect extensive data from individual employers and workers on injuries, illnesses and workplace exposures.

However, stakeholders have expressed concerns about the information collected. Several issues have been raised with respect to the suitability and integrity of occupational health and safety data:

  • Stakeholders question the reliability and validity of certain measures as predictive indicators of occupational health and safety performance. Lagging indicators (for example, injury/illness frequency and costs) predominate, and the identification of valid leading indicators has been a challenge.
  • The databases maintained by each of the system partners are not universally accessible by all partners, or by stakeholders; furthermore, current information-sharing agreements between partners, if they exist, are limited in scope.
  • Because the system databases lack a common identifier — such as a federal Business Number — data collected by the system partners is not easily linked.
  • Existing databases do not link to data sources from organizations external to the system (for example, Statistics Canada, Environment Canada, the Electrical Safety Authority) that may provide meaningful information on occupational health and safety.
  • Many of the system partners’ data-collection processes are still paper-based, manually intensive and reliant on a number of voluntary data fields, which could further impact reliability and validity.
  • Public visibility of and access to the data are limited.

Without addressing these concerns, efforts to reliably measure and predict occupational health and safety performance at the workplace or system levels will be futile.

The Panel has acknowledged that occupational health and safety performance could be measured with much greater accuracy with an improved data collection and sharing framework. However, as an initial step, the Panel believes that greater standardization of existing data elements and processes would significantly improve the reliability and validity of data collected.

Concerns about the reliability and validity of different data elements are often the result of differing mandates and jurisdiction of organizations. This is evident in fatality statistics, where WSIB and MOL figures differ because they relate to different populations of workers, due to differences in legislative coverage. Data on non-fatal lost-time injuries may be even less reliable as an indicator, due to the potential for misrepresentation of the actual incident through claims management. Furthermore, because injury data are lagging, they are not predictive; that is, a figure of zero injuries does not necessarily indicate zero or low risk of injury.

The measurement of leading indicators is more complex and depends heavily upon developing a shared vision of success and the measurement of the factors that will predict this success. In recent years, individual system partners have committed resources to developing leading indicators that would ideally complement the extensive (and primarily lagging) statistical data currently collected. There is still, however, a need to align these initiatives in the context of a common vision.

Recommendation 6

The new prevention organization, in conjunction with the Ministry of Labour and stakeholders, should develop a common database that can be used for planning and evaluation purposes. The system partners, in collaboration with stakeholders, should:

  • develop a common vision of success, and the data needed to determine it;
  • review the occupational health and safety data currently collected, to improve its reliability and validity for the purpose of performance measurement;
  • identify additional information on workers and employers that could be collected and shared, subject to any legislative limitations or restrictions; and
  • review, and where appropriate, consolidate existing leading-indicator initiatives under the new prevention organization.

Once the appropriate OHS data has been identified and standardized, the OHS system can turn its attention to increasing the effectiveness and usage of this data. In doing so, the following key principles must be considered:

  • The system should identify a central authority responsible for the validation, analysis, reporting and dissemination of data.
  • System partners should be obliged to share relevant data with all partners, and commit to making standardized, reliable OHS data accessible to stakeholders and the general public. Stakeholders should be consulted to determine what data is of a confidential nature, and access to this data should be limited.

Recommendation 7

The new prevention organization should establish a business centre to carry out the following functions:

  • standardize, manage and disseminate OHS data;
  • retain and share information on system partner interactions with employers;
  • provide analytical expertise regarding provincial OHS data; and
  • manage and authorize stakeholder and public access to data.

Standardization and management: The proposed centre’s database would be populated with the data currently residing in each of the system partners’ existing databases. It would be responsible for ensuring the accuracy, currency and completeness of the data, as well as for standardizing the data for dissemination.

Sharing information on system partner interactions: Having detailed, real-time information on engagements with employers available online would help the system partners identify appropriate interventions and reduce instances of unplanned duplication of services.

Analytical expertise: An authoritative source of data and information can inform the public of operational and policy decisions by system partners and stakeholders regarding prevention activities. By establishing this centre as the single authoritative source for provincial OHS data, the partners are unified with respect to analysis and interpretation.

Access to data: Stakeholders have expressed interest in having enhanced access to OHS data online, either updated in real time, or as up-to-date as possible. This centre would establish the necessary processes for increased online access to data, while recognizing the need to appropriately protect employer and worker privacy and confidentiality.

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