Prevention has been kind of a big thing at the WSIB, at least for the last five years or so. Remember those TV commercials depicting workers getting into some serious accidents at their workplace? They were WSIB’s campaign strategy to increase awareness around workplace safety. Mahoney said those commercials opened up a lot of conversations with stakeholders around prevention and worker protection against injuries, illnesses and fatalities.
Now, with the mandate of prevention moving over to the Ministry of Labour, the once-dynamic prevention department at the WSIB will gradually become non-existent. According to my source at the WSIB, the prevention department used to employ more than 200 full-time staff. It’s now down to about 60 people.
The WSIB, however, denies the staff reduction has anything to do with the transfer of the prevention mandate to the Ministry of Labour.
"The reductions are part of a long-term business strategy to transform the WSIB into a more effective and efficient organization and to enhance service levels to Ontario’s workers and employers. They are not related to the transfer of the prevention mandate to the Ministry of Labour. Approximately 200 employees in various departments are affected by these changes," says WSIB spokesperson Christine Arnott, in an e-mail to Canadian Occupational Safety.
Last week, the WSIB issued a statement announcing further reductions of approximately 129 unionized and non-unionized full-time staff positions. This is in addition to the more than 100 employees who have elected to voluntarily leave the WSIB.
Unintended consequence? Perhaps.
Then again, considering the WSIB’s current financial standing — particularly, an unfunded liability of about $12 billion — such significant staff reorganization could ultimately lighten the compensation board’s financial burden, even a little.
It’s not clear whether the Ministry of Labour plans to hire any of the WSIB’s former prevention staff. The ministry may stand to gain from their expertise and experiences in the area of prevention. Some of those who have voluntarily left the WSIB, I hear, are already planning to capitalize on that expertise by venturing out on their own as health and safety consultants.
There may still be a lot of uncertainties and, perhaps, unintended consequences that will result from the province’s implementation of the Tony Dean Panel recommendations in an effort to dramatically improve Ontario’s health and safety system.
In the end, there’s only one consequence that matters: safer and healthier workplaces for our workers.
Mari-Len De Guzman is the former editor of Canadian Occupational Safety magazine and www.cos-mag.com.