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Witmer promotes new WSIB safety initiatives at COCA AGM

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by Angela Gismondi

Elizabeth Witmer, chair of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), provided a business update and shared some new WSIB initiatives during the Council of Ontario Construction Associations’ (COCA) annual general meeting and awards presentation.
Witmer promotes new WSIB safety initiatives at COCA AGM

Witmer, the keynote speaker at the COCA AGM held late last month at the Interior Systems Contractors Association in Woodbridge, Ont. acknowledged COCA's participation has been instrumental in providing input and insight on a number of WSIB initiatives.

"Ian (Cunningham, COCA president) has been extremely involved in all of our consultations and initiatives and we really do value it very much," said Witmer.

Recently, the WSIB branched out to establish key partnerships in order to help promote health and safety in the province.

"For example, the WSIB is now a platinum sponsor of Skills Ontario where we have an opportunity to get our message out to about 100,000 young people letting them know when you start a job and throughout your life, workplace safety must always be a priority," said Witmer.

Two other initiatives launched recently are the #PracticeSafeWork campaign for students in the workplace and the Noise Induced Hearing Loss campaign.

"For those of you in construction there will be 90 per cent of you who see a decrease (in premium rates) and 10 per cent that see an increase. So I think you can see that there is major change on the way and a lot of people don't even know that it's coming."

Elizabeth Witmer
Workplace Safety and Insurance Board

"We're trying to encourage young people going into the workplace to become more knowledgeable about health and safety so we've asked them to showcase that knowledge to us by sending us pictures of how they work safely in their workplace through the #PracticeSafeWork social media contest," said Witmer, adding the contest was a success last year with 400 photos submitted.

The new Noise Induced Hearing Loss campaign urges people to make healthy changes to protect their hearing health and reduce exposure to hazardous noise levels at work. It targets young men who, according to a recent WorkSafeBC study, are less likely to wear hearing protection at work compared to other age groups in construction, Witmer said. The campaign utilizes online videos to illustrate the impact hearing loss could have and encourages people to visit an interactive website www.toneitdown.ca.

"Our goal is to encourage everyone to factor hearing protection into their safety practices at work. If you understand the dangers of noise, you can protect your hearing for life and as a result...you can reduce noise induced hearing loss claims," said Witmer. "They have been on the increase and we have to do everything we can, working collaboratively, in order to reduce it because it does impact people's quality of life to a great degree."

Another new initiative at the WSIB is rate framework modernization. Last year, for the first time since 2001, the WSIB announced there will be a reduction in premium rates, some as high as 14 per cent. The board of directors has approved the framework with a targeted implementation date of January 2019 at the earliest, Witmer explained.

"We are committed to making sure the changes are implemented gradually, I stress that, and in a way that fosters stability," she said. "For those of you in construction there will be 90 per cent of you who see a decrease (in premium rates) and 10 per cent that see an increase. So I think you can see that there is major change on the way and a lot of people don't even know that it's coming.

"We have to undertake education and outreach efforts and we need to demonstrate to these people that if they focus on promoting occupational health and safety, that the changes that are coming, and perhaps the increases that they may see, they can mitigate those by keeping their workplaces more healthy and safe."

Over the coming year, COCA will be working to raise awareness of the changes throughout the industry.

"We will work with the WSIB making sure as many construction employers in the province of Ontario understand where they're going to be placed in the new rate framework, what their rates are likely to be and if they don't change their health and safety practices what their journey is going to be with respect to future WSIB premiums," said Cunningham.

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