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The Case for Action

  • Issued: December 16, 2013
  • Content last reviewed: December 2013

Ontario has a strong occupational health and safety record and has made significant progress in improving workplace safety 2. However, we can and must do better.

At the most fundamental level, society has a moral obligation to ensure proper conditions in workplaces to allow workers to return home unharmed. We also have a responsibility to help ensure all workers in the province are able to experience the benefits of a healthy and safe work environment, which extend into all aspects of their lives. Benefits of a healthy and safe work environment include the sense of wellbeing that comes from being physically and mentally healthy as well as the feeling of personal accomplishment that comes from a job well done.

Rob Ellis, Shirley Hickman and Paul Kells have all founded organizations that raise community awareness of occupational health and safety. All three were inspired to act after their families suffered the tragic loss of a young worker to a preventable workplace fatality. Programs such as Safe Communities Canada (now part of Parachute Canada), MySafeWork and Threads of Life are all working to improve awareness and create sustainable change in society.

As individuals we have a responsibility to ensure that those closest to Ontario workers have peace of mind in knowing their loved ones are properly protected each day. Even one death is too many. In 2012, there were 242 work-related fatalities in Ontario (1), each of which was preventable. We must act to ensure families and friends avoid the emotional pain that comes from losing the ones they love.

Work-related fatalities don’t just cost us in terms of lives and personal loss. It is challenging to quantify the economic costs of workplace illnesses, injuries and fatalities but we know the benefit payments by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) to compensate workers and their families was $2.67 billion in in 2012 (2) for work-related injuries and illnesses in Ontario. This figure does not include costs that are more difficult to quantify such as reduced production, lower productivity and property damage. The Institute for Work and Health has estimated the total economic cost of occupational injuries in Canada was $17 billion in 2008 (3).

At the workplace level, there is a legal obligation to meet the health and safety requirements set out in the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and its regulations. Employers face consequences if they do not meet these requirements or if they are responsible for an injury, illness or fatality. Consequences can include fines, re-training workers, higher insurance premiums, fixing damaged equipment, or even criminal charges (4)(5). The cost of these consequences can decrease profitability and affect an organization’s long-term sustainability. On the other hand, strong occupational health and safety performance can enhance a workplace’s financial sustainability and its public image.

Taking all these factors into account, all of us have a strong incentive to act to achieve our vision of healthy and safe workplaces for all Ontarians.

For more than a decade, Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) has been supporting the health and safety needs of migrant farm workers. OHCOW’s work responds to the growing need for health and safety resources for temporary foreign workers in Ontario. Though originally focused on improving work conditions and preventing occupational illness, since 2006, OHCOW has also been providing occupational health clinical services to migrant farm workers in South Western Ontario and partnering with community agencies. Most recently (since 2009) OHCOW’s Migrant Worker Project has expanded to include prevention interventions, education and awareness-raising efforts.

We want a province that has:

  • healthy and safe workers
  • open access to information and supports
  • comprehensive services for workplace parties
  • thorough measurement of the system's performance
  • clear results achieved through integrated service delivery

[ 2 ] The frequency of injuries in Ontario has been declining since 2001. Ontario had the lowest injury frequency amongst Canadian jurisdictions from 2009 to 2011 (the most recent year for which information is available). (11)

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