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April 8, 2008
WSIB's mixed message
When it comes to workplace safety, the Ontario government
has been sending dangerously mixed messages.
"The WSIB admits a company sometimes qualifies for a rebate
even if it has been held responsible for an on-the-job death. . . . Until this
loophole is closed, Ontario workers have every right to question the
government's claims that it takes workplace safety seriously. "
April 08, 2008
A recent investigation by Star reporters Moira
Welsh and David Bruser shows the province's Workplace Safety and Insurance
Board (WSIB) has paid tens of millions of dollars in rebates to companies that
have been prosecuted and fined by the provincial labour ministry for safety
violations leading to workplace deaths and injuries.
For example, after Gordie Heffern died in 2001 from injuries
he suffered in an explosion at a Sudbury nickel refinery, his employer was
prosecuted by the labour ministry and fined $375,000. But a Star
analysis shows that in the year after the incident and the year the fine was
levied, the same company received rebates from the WSIB totalling $5 million,
far exceeding the fine. Disturbingly, Heffern's case does not appear to be an
The WSIB admits a company sometimes qualifies for a rebate
even if it has been held responsible for an on-the-job death. That's because
rebates are handed out if a company's overall claim costs in a given year are
lower than projected. And some fatalities do not lead to expensive claims,
particularly if a dead worker has no dependants.
WSIB chair Steven Mahoney acknowledges the situation
"doesn't make any kind of sense." To its credit, the WSIB, which administers
the province's workplace insurance system, launched a review of its "experience
rating" program last month after the Star raised questions about the
safety rebates. At the same time, it put a moratorium on rebates for companies
found responsible for workplace deaths.
In the Legislature yesterday, Labour Minister Brad Duguid
acknowledged "the experience rating system is in need of reform."
The WSIB should conduct its review and implement changes as
quickly as possible to ensure it is not working at cross-purposes with the
labour ministry. Until this loophole is closed, Ontario workers have every
right to question the government's claims that it takes workplace safety
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