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April 7, 2008

Workplace safety rebates probed

Star series prompts a sweeping review of payouts to firms where workers died

"The Star's "Working Wounded" probe has revealed that one arm of the provincial government has been giving financial rewards to companies that have been prosecuted for worker deaths by another arm of the government. . . . A Star investigation has found that the workplace insurance agency has given tens of millions of dollars in rebates to companies that have been prosecuted by the provincial government and found guilty of safety violations leading to deaths, amputations and other gruesome injuries. . . . That analysis unearthed 75 instances since 2001 that dramatically illustrate the problem. . . . The offending companies were fined a total of $14 million by the province yet received payouts totalling $42 million from the WSIB. . . . Speaking about their own experience at the monolithic Front St. office, they (WSIB workers) said Mahoney's proposed changes will be a hard sell because companies have a long history of influencing board decisions." The workers "would not go on the record because they both work in the system and fear retribution."

(Contrary to the stance taken below by WorkSafe BC, the CIWS believes that WCBs should have NO jurisdiction over workplace safety OR penalties due to their potential conflict of interest in being funded solely by employers. It is too easy to deny claims to save money, then just ignore the hazard that caused the injury. The CIWS believes that the organization that metes out compensation should not be the same as the one in charge of workplace safety. WCBs have a dismal record of workplace injury prevention - just glossy PR and gory videos with little substantive effect. Occupational Health and Safety departments should take over ALL responsibility in these areas from WCBs and be given the full power of investigation, regulation and penalty administration. SEE HOW WCBs HAVE BEEN LOBBYING FOR MORE POWER)

Moira Welsh
David Bruser

Staff Reporters

On-the-job injuries and deaths will drop as a result of a sweeping review of Ontario's multi-million-dollar workplace safety rebate program, the head of the safety agency vows.

In the wake of a Star investigation, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board chair Steve Mahoney said he is looking for a better way to reward safe companies and bring into line those where workers are killed.

The Star's "Working Wounded" probe has revealed that one arm of the provincial government has been giving financial rewards to companies that have been prosecuted for worker deaths by another arm of the government.

"I didn't realize that we were paying out those kinds of bonuses to companies that are breaking the law, and when I saw that, I said 'This is nonsense.' There has to be accountability," Mahoney said last week, referring to the breadth of the problem uncovered by the Star.

After reading the story in the Saturday Star, Labour Minister Brad Duguid said clearly the system is "in need of reform."

But labour groups say changes will be an uphill battle, predicting that the business lobby will balk at losing the rebates.

"The companies have a huge influence," said Wayne Samuelson, head of the Ontario Federation of Labour, which represents 700,000 workers. They will try to delay changes, or if that doesn't work, they will complain to the Ministry of Labour or the premier's office."

The Star interviewed two WSIB workers who echoed Samuelson's comments but would not go on the record because they both work in the system and fear retribution.

Speaking about their own experience at the monolithic Front St. office, they said Mahoney's proposed changes will be a hard sell because companies have a long history of influencing board decisions.

Mahoney said he is getting some pushback from business groups, but change must prevail.

"The answer that I gave them was, 'Are you telling me that we should continue to pay bonuses to companies that are responsible for killing workers?

"That is ridiculous,' " Mahoney said.

A Star investigation has found that the workplace insurance agency has given tens of millions of dollars in rebates to companies that have been prosecuted by the provincial government and found guilty of safety violations leading to deaths, amputations and other gruesome injuries.

The investigation examined whether rebates were issued in the year following the accident and the year of the guilty plea.

That analysis unearthed 75 instances since 2001 that dramatically illustrate the problem.

The offending companies were fined a total of $14 million by the province yet received payouts totalling $42 million from the WSIB.

Mahoney's moratorium on financial rebates for deaths was announced in mid-March, after the Star asked a series of questions about rebates that Ontario companies received despite worker deaths.

Mahoney said the current internal review will span 12 months and will report back at various times on issues around the way company rebates and surcharges are determined.

Mahoney said he believes that the principle of providing an incentive to companies to reduce their injuries should stay.

But he believes the system should redirect its incentive program away from the cost of injuries and deaths incurred by such companies, and instead focus on the number of injuries and deaths.

"I don't want to pre-judge what this review is going to do, but these are just some of the issues that we need to look at," he said.

The OFL's Samuelson said that time is of the essence – a better system will help reduce deaths and injuries.

But he worries that business groups will try to delay changes, saying the WSIB needs to meet its deadline or "they will talk for years and years."

"Every day we are talking, people are going to work and taking that risk," he said.

Industry experts say the big problem is the disconnect between the provincial labour ministry, which prosecutes wayward companies, and the WSIB, which runs the insurance program.

In British Columbia, for example, the worker safety agency takes a "holistic" approach, essentially combining the ministry and the insurance system, said Terry Bogyo, a spokesperson for WorkSafe BC.

The agency has the power to create workplace safety regulations.

It punishes unsafe companies. It provides insurance for employers and workers, pays for health care costs and promotes safety, all under one roof, Bogyo said.

"We are one agency. It's not like we have to do something and then the ministry of labour has to do something because they are two different agencies," he said.

(Contrary to the stance taken above by WorkSafe BC, the CIWS believes that WCBs should have NO jurisdiction over workplace safety OR penalties due to their potential conflict of interest in being funded solely by employers. It is too easy to deny claims to save money, then just ignore the hazard that caused the injury. The CIWS believes that the organization that metes out compensation should not be the same as the one in charge of workplace safety. WCBs have a dismal record of workplace injury prevention - just glossy PR and gory videos with little substantive effect. Occupational Health and Safety departments should take over ALL responsibility in these areas from WCBs and be given the full power of investigation, regulation and penalty administration. SEE HOW WCBs HAVE BEEN LOBBYING FOR MORE POWER)


SEE 'WORKPLACE VICTIMS'

http://www.thestar.com/article/410864

(WORKING WOUNDED The Star is investigating workplace injuries, death and illnesses in Ontario. Information in the series comes from interviews, court documents and various data sources, including Workplace Safety and Insurance Board data obtained after a lengthy freedom of information request. The Star’s Andrew Bailey analyzed the data. Previous stories have highlighted loopholes that allow unsafe job sites to escape penalties, and the high rate of post-traumatic stress disorder among Toronto Transit Commission drivers. )




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