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Q&A with Steve Mahoney

By Mari-Len De Guzman

When it comes to workplace injury or death, there is no other acceptable number but zero, says Steve Mahoney, chair of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. Mahoney recently spoke to COS about the WSIB’s goal to ultimately eradicate incidents of workplace injuries and deaths, and the controversial WSIB rebate program.When it comes to workplace injury or death, there is no other acceptable number but zero, says Steve Mahoney, chair of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. Mahoney recently spoke to COS about the WSIB’s goal to ultimately eradicate incidents of workplace injuries and deaths, and the controversial WSIB rebate program.

COS: Part of the Road to Zero campaign is getting municipalities onboard with the objectives of reducing workplace injuries through the Community Workplace Health and Safety Charter. Tell us more about this. [a target="_blank" href=",com_seyret/Itemid,105/id,11/task,videodirectlink/"]



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Steve Mahoney: It’s one of the tools in the toolbox, if you will, that we are using to get the message out across the province about the Road to Zero. One of my former careers is 10 years as a municipal councilor and it occurred to me that I was not aware in my days on council of what our health and safety record was. So I looked it up and across the province, municipalities paid the WSIB a total of about $123 million in 2006 and a similar amount in 2007.

I was, quite frankly, astounded at that and thought that there might be an opportunity for us to work with our municipalities as partners, to see if we can drive their cost down, which ultimately would mean we would drive their injury rate down.

COS: So when a municipality commits to the Community Workplace Health and Safety Charter, what is required of them?

SM: Really the principle here is that the mayor and the councilors, become champions of health and safety. There’s no financial involvement for them other than the potential to save money. We have them sign a very large blow-up of the charter and we’d like that displayed in city or town hall or work yard, or wherever it’s appropriate. And send a message right from the top, right from the board of directors or the elected officials in the community, right down to the workers on the shop floors, in the recreation and parks, out in the work yards, in the community centres and arenas, wherever, that their mayor and councilors care about their safety.

It’s just one more effort to try to create a habit of safety and a culture of safety and using the people who are elected in the communities to be champions in that regard.

COS: What about reaching out to industries and companies within these communities? Does the charter go beyond the municipalities to get industries involved as well?

SM: That’s a really good point and that is exactly right. In each case, municipalities themselves as employers will pay the WSIB money because they’re what we call Schedule 2, which is a self-insurance model, but they pay up the money.

On top of that, I want the mayors and the councilors and the chairs to go and speak to the boards of trade, chambers of commerce, rotary clubs, lions club or whatever industry groups, and meet with the corporations in their community to make them more aware of the issues around health and safety to help us on our road to zero.

It is certainly more than just the municipal corporation; it is also the geographic communities that they rule over.

COS: The Road to Zero campaign sets a target of zero for workplace injury. Do you think this realistically achievable?

SM: I guess my question back, when I get asked that is, is there another number that is acceptable? We see a hundred people a year get killed in the workplace, two every week. Is it OK if we only kill 50?

To me, the only number that’s acceptable is zero. Is it achievable? It’s certainly not if we don’t start, and that is what this is all about, that first step in a major journey. I believe it is achievable. We have many, many corporations across the province that have achieved zero in dangerous industries in reducing their lost-time injuries.

I was in Sudbury yesterday, and there’s a mine owned by Xstrata in Sudbury, and another in Timmins owned by DeBeers. They have just surpassed three million hours without a lost-time injury. That’s getting pretty close to zero, if you ask me.

So these things are achievable but only if we accept the fact that the numbers we see today are totally unacceptable and we have to change the way people look at health and safety.

COS: What other initiatives is the WSIB implementing to reach this target?

SM: We have a CEO Charter, which was recently taken over to be administered by the Conference Board of Canada. It’s a similar kind of document that CEOs sign on to send a message to their workforce.

We have our social marketing campaign, running our advertising on television, radio and print media. We do a young worker awareness campaign, where we put together a campaign that goes out on the Internet and in movie theatres and in public transit facilities.

We have an entire department set up on prevention and we’re constantly carrying on our message out to the community about things they can do in their workplace to make sure their workers are safe.

We have published a parent guide on what can parents do in talking to their kids. We have published a coloring book for young children, which lets them color in the hazards at workplaces and workers and it’s a very interactive document.

We’ve got our website Our website is very interactive and actively visited by millions of people, actually right across the world.

It’s really a matter of changing the culture. In addition to that, I have been literally crisscrossing the province, speaking to municipalities, to employers, labour groups, to industries and to the general public about things that we can all do to raise awareness and reduce injuries.

COS: Recently, there’s been much controversy about the WSIB's employer rebate program and you’ve ordered a review of that. What is the status of that review?

SM: The review hasn’t started yet. My message to people is that everybody, both labour and employers, should calm down. This is a program that was put in place 22 years ago, has never had a review and it’s high time we did take a look at whether, and exactly how, it’s working and how we can improve it to make sure we target safety as the number one issue.

The staff will be bringing a report to me in the next week or two on our plans to conduct a review. We’ll be setting up an internal committee and we’ll also be very possibly, although this decision has not been made yet, maybe looking at some external advise on the matter.

As far as I’m concerned it’s good news. It’s an opportunity for the WSIB in conjunction with our stakeholders to review a program that I think has fundamentally been working but there’s been a few flaws in the design that needs to be corrected.

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