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Ontario's chief prevention officer data-driven

Ron Kelusky looking for reasons why workers get hurt
By Amanda Silliker
| Canadian Occupational Safety

Ontario’s new chief prevention officer doesn’t just want to make a difference — he wants to measure it.

“Can we measure the correlation between what we’re doing and does that influence a reduction in injuries and illness? It’s one thing to say, ‘I’ve trained 1,000 people,’ but at the end of the day, can we measure whether that really made a difference or not?” says Ron Kelusky, who stepped into the role in March 2018. “(It’s about) creating an environment where you can research it, you can analyze it and you can look at the outcomes.”

Previously, Kelusky had success with this measurement-driven approach as CEO of Ontario’s Public Services Health & Safety Association. 

“We used that model for violence in health care where a whole series of activities resulted in a whole series of outputs that we could measure to ultimately determine if we made an impact in reducing violence,” Kelusky says. “If we look at that perspective across the whole continuum, then we will be able to look at our effectiveness a little bit better.”

Kelusky also wants to use data to achieve a “full understanding of the events and circumstances” that surround an injury — and work towards eliminating those. For example, a recent government analysis found that 15 per cent of workers who die from falls in Ontario do so within the first month of employment. A potential solution could be better mentorship programs.

Kelusky says his team will be looking at “every piece of data we can find,” including statistics from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, Ministry of Labour inspection reports and coroner’s inquests. To get even more data, Kelusky would like to work with industry to design an investigation form that would provide a detailed analysis for incidents, as well as near misses. This would ensure consistency industry-wide.

“In the continuum of the way things work, so many near misses may result in an injury, so many injuries result in a critical (injury), so many criticals result in a fatality,” he says. “So, working backwards, if we can fix the near misses, we can better understand why people are getting hurt.”

The province is working on a new five-year strategy that will be “bold and innovative,” Kelusky says.

“Most importantly, we will be addressing areas where the system will have the greatest impact on injuries or illnesses and fatalities in the workplace,” he says. 

The government has completed a risk analysis of the top 20 areas that are causing the majority of critical injuries and fatalities in the province. When broken into sectors, it found that general trucking, residential construction, agriculture and landscaping have high incidents of injury.

“Those are the areas that we really need to focus on to be able to make a demonstrable difference and get the curve going in the right direction,” Kelusky says. 

Occupational disease has been identified as a key priority and a working group has been established to look into such exposures as diesel particulate, noise, silica, radiation, occupational cancers and irritants. 

“There’s a real emphasis on trying to reduce those exposures so that we are not faced with surprises in the future,” Kelusky says.

Prevention will be a major focus of the strategy, as it is the most economical and effective means of intervention, he explains. Employers are encouraged to invest in prevention systems, including those focused on physical safety and psychological safety. 

“Prevention makes good sense. I always say it’s cheaper to keep Humpty on the wall than it is to put him back together again.”

Kelusky wants all stakeholders to embrace the strategy and see themselves in it, whether that be health and safety associations, employers, advocates, labour, even families and friends of people who have been injured. He stresses the importance of everyone working collectively with one voice and starting to think as a system.

“If we can create an improved culture of health and safety and, ultimately, have a cohesive and coordinated system where occupational illness and injury become exceptions, rather than just accepted as unfortunate accidents, we would have made a difference.” 

The Ministry of Labour is looking “very strongly” into developing an accreditation program for employers with strong health and safety performance.  

“We want to recognize the good employers, celebrate their success… We want to demonstrate that there’s leaders there.”

Kelusky says one of his biggest challenges — similar to those of safety professionals — is being able to successfully transfer knowledge. He says it’s important to speak the language of who you are talking to. This can be achieved by taking the time to understand your audience and working diligently to help them along — regardless of where they stand on the topic of OHS.

“A very high percentage of people just don’t understand the value or role of health and safety in the workplace… These are the people we need to help,” Kelusky says. 

“We know there is a significant portion of the system, whether it’s employers or employees, that we’re not reaching. And it’s those people that we need to be able to reach to truly make the difference.”

Kelusky is looking forward to the difference he can make as Ontario’s chief prevention officer, but the “magnitude and expectation” of the job is not lost on him. 

“When you think about it, you not only have responsibility over the provincial health and safety system, but you also have responsibility to ensure that 7 million workers are working safe and in half-a-million businesses.”

While Kelusky says he was awestruck when he realized how big, diverse and complex the system is, he is ready to bring as many stakeholders together as he can to help improve OHS outcomes across Ontario.

“Now this is where you really have to perform. You really have to bring every collaborative skill that you have to bring together a diverse group of people,” he says. “Everybody wants to do the same thing; it’s just sometimes some people want to do it differently, so it’s really working at gaining consensus.”

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2019 issue of COS.

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