The Ontario government is beefing
up its force of health and safety
inspectors and intends
to target firms with the
worst records in an
effort to reduce workplace
100 new health and safety inspectors for 2004
BY GRANT CAMERON
The Ontario government is beefing up its force of health and safety inspectors and intends to target firms with the worst records in an effort to reduce workplace injuries.
Labour Minister Chris Bentley announced last week the province will hire 200 new enforcement staff in the next two years, nearly doubling the present complement.
The province hopes the action will help prevent about 60,000 workplace injuries a year by 2008.
“We are investing in a safer, more prosperous future for Ontario by significantly increasing staff to target workplaces with poor health and safety records,” said Bentley.
“We plan to cut workplace injuries by 20 per cent in four years.
“This will result in less pain and suffering, a reduced burden on the health care system, savings to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) of an estimated $300 million, and a level playing field for safe companies.”
Based on the average cost of a workplace injury, eliminating 60,000 injuries annually will also translate into savings for businesses of up to $960 million per year.
Recruitment of 100 new inspectors is to begin immediately, marking a major expansion of the current force of 230 inspectors. Twenty-five inspectors were hired earlier this year and have completed their training.
The 100 inspectors to be hired this year are in addition to those already hired.
The new inspectors will be paid for by the WSIB. The annual cost of the 100 inspectors being hired in 2004/2005 is $14 million.
In 2003, Ontario had the lowest ratio of health and safety inspectors to workforce in Canada (3.8 per 100,000 workers). With the addition of 100 new inspectors, Ontario’s rate will rise to 5.4 per 100,000 workers, placing it ahead of Alberta (5.0 per 100,000 workers) and Saskatchewan (4.9 per 100,000 workers), but lower than British Columbia (9.2 per 100,000 workers).
Since 1996, the number of inspectors fell from 278 to 205.
Initially, the inspectors will target 6,000 workplaces with the highest injury rates. They will visit the sites four times a year, focusing on workplace hazards to help firms reduce on-the-job injuries.
Bentley believes that lost-time injuries can be reduced by 20 per cent over four years by targeting such firms.
The ministry is targeting the worst offenders because they represent just two per cent of all firms insured by the WSIB, but account for 10 per cent of all lost-time injuries and 21 per cent of injury costs in Ontario.
Bentley said the inspectors will use the full array of enforcement tools to safeguard Ontario workers.
“We are taking decisive action to make a real difference in the lives of Ontario workers.”
On average, there are almost 300,000 workplace-related injuries per year, with about 100,000 serious enough to require people to miss work.
While the rate of lost-time injuries (LTI) has declined substantially over the past 10 to 20 years, the rate of progress has slowed in recent years. As well, the number of workplace fatalities has stopped declining.
The Labour Ministry said in a statement that it is taking the action because workplace injuries create untold human suffering and add costs to the Ontario economy.
In addition to the direct effect on injured workers, their families, their employers and their communities, workplace injuries place a substantial and unnecessary burden on Ontario’s health care system, the ministry says.
“The need for an immediate new strategy to deal with this serious situation has been identified by employers, employees and other stakeholders through the Minister’s Health and Safety Action Group,” the ministry says. “All parties agreed more health and safety enforcement staff is required.
In addition to the inspectors, the ministry also intends to increase awareness of workplace health and safety initiatives.
The labour ministry says it will continue to work closely with the WSIB and the 15 health and safety associations across Ontario to provide education and training, tailored to the needs of workplaces in specific sectors throughout the province, with a special emphasis on young workers.
The ministry intends to work to increase compliance with occupational health and safety regulations by providing businesses with Web-based information so they can easily learn about their rights and responsibilities. The ministry’s Workplace Gateway project will provide businesses with comprehensive information about workplace health and safety compliance.
The government is also actively moving ahead with changes in regulations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to improve workplace health and safety, such as enhanced safety training for mining/smelter workers, revised regulations affecting deep mining, new standards for training of commercial divers, and a new system to ensure limits for exposure to chemicals in the workplace are updated and improved regularly.