January 16, 2008
Workplace Health and Safety
THE HONOURABLE STEVEN MAHONEY
Chair, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario
Chairman: Catherine S. Swift
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests:
Stephen Hewitt: Manager, Corporate Communications, Corporate and Public Affairs, TD Bank Financial Group, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada
Jade Yee: Grade 11 Student, Eastern Commerce Collegiate Institute
Reverend Michael Clarke: Associate Priest, Christ Church Brampton
Bruce Neville: Principal, Nexus Actuarial Consultants Ltd.
Jill Hutcheon: President, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario
John C. Koopman: Partner, Spencer Stuart, and Past President, The Empire Club of Canada
Violet Konkle: Chief Operating Officer, Walmart Canada
Dwight Willett: Executive Vice-President Corporate Services, Bruce Power
Buzz Hargrove: President, Canadian Auto Workers.
Introduction by Catherine Swift:
Systems of workers’ compensation have only been around for about 100 years, originating during the second phase of the industrial revolution when the concept of “workplace accidents” became more widely recognized. Workers’ compensation came about as an alternative to the court system to determine compensation for people injured on the job. The trade-off was that workers gave up the right to sue employers in exchange for a compensation program financed by employers. Workers’ comp was actually Canada’s first social program, being established in Ontario in 1915 and then rolling out to other provinces shortly thereafter.
Like everything else, workers’ comp has become much more complex over the years. When initially the types of injuries covered would be more or less straightforward, now there are debates around whether such things as stress should be considered compensable, as well as discussion around environmental factors and occupational diseases, and how long-term exposure to certain working conditions may or may not lead to workplace injury. As well, many present-day workers’ compensation agencies also spend a great deal of their time promoting workplace health and safety issues so that accidents can be minimized if not eliminated. Heading up a workers’ compensation agency is a pretty challenging place to be these days.
Our speaker today, the Honourable Steven Mahoney, has been Chair of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board since May 2006. He was first elected to public office in 1978 as a councillor in Mississauga, and following that ran provincially and was elected MPP in 1987, serving as the Chief Liberal Whip during his time at Queen’s Park. He successfully ran federally in 1997, and in April 2003 was appointed to the federal cabinet as Secretary of State for Crown Corporations.
In 2004, he returned to the firm of Mahoney International, a private consultancy specializing in guiding entrepreneurs in developing effective business strategies. He has also been active in his community, supporting the development of a major public garden park in Mississauga and the Hospice of Peel. He and his wife Katie, a city and regional councillor in Mississauga, continue to be active supporters of Community Living Mississauga, which serves people with developmental disabilities, and Interim Place, which supports women and children affected by domestic violence.
Please join me in welcoming Steve Mahoney.
I do want to acknowledge a couple of people. First of all, my wife Katie is a city councillor in Mississauga, Ward 8. She has five grandchildren by the way; I know that’s hard to believe, but I guess I do too. I was given the choice of having Hazel or Katie come with me because apparently only one of them can be out of the city at the same time, so I chose Katie. I think that was a smart thing to do.
We also have some board members who are here with us today. We have Larry Barnett from the Teamsters, a member of our board. We have Loretta Henderson, who’s come in from Windsor. Loretta is over here—a board member as well.
And while I haven’t seen her and she’s a shadow of her former self, I am told that my former colleague and great friend and someone who is now helping us at the WSIB with some of the health issues that we’re facing, Eleanor Caplan, is here as well. I haven’t seen Eleanor but I think she’s in the room. Thank you for coming.
I want to introduce somebody who I think is very special. I want to acknowledge Bonnie Crombie, who has been nominated to run in Streetsville. I know Bonnie and her husband are here and they are great friends and supporters.
I also just want to take a minute, if I may, to acknowledge the presence of the Chairman of GO Transit, Peter Smith. Peter and I have a long history together. Peter, I have the job of eliminating fatalities and injuries in the workplace; you have the job of making the trains run on time. I’m not sure who has the bigger challenge, but I wish you well and know you’ll do a great job at GO Transit and the province is thankful for your service.
There’s something I want to show you before I continue with my remarks. If I could ask the video folk to turn down the lights and play the video, then we’ll carry on.
“The Chef” and other WSIB campaign video excerpts were played.
That’s pretty shocking stuff. It’s part of our social marketing campaign, which is trying to change the attitudes and the culture around health and safety in the workplace and to do it at the grass roots level. I did some research; my staff did actually. Minister Duguid has just arrived.
Brad, thanks for coming. He’s a terrific guy and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to work with Brad. I know we’re going to make some great things happen in this province when it comes to workers’ safety. Minister, I was just saying that my staff has done some research; when you take a look at the book and you see the people who have spoken at the Empire Club, it’s very impressive.
One hundred years ago, there was a journalist for the Toronto Globe by the name of John Ewan. He spoke about public safety. His concern was that he felt someone needed to spend money, government or private sector, to address the issue of grade separations and the relationship between trains, street cars, vehicles; things of that nature. There had been a recent tragedy in Toronto at a level crossing where some folks had been killed and he believed and said that every accident could be prevented.
That was 100 years ago and John Ewan was an advocate for the kind of health and safety culture that I’m going to talk to you about today. He even said, “There is no body of men willing to spend money for that from which they see no return.” And I think his point is still valid today. Those of you, who are here in business, are in business to make a profit.
Those of you, who are here representing labour, understand that the company has to survive and make a profit to create jobs, and to stop job losses in our manufacturing sector. So the success of business and its relationship with labour is clearly tied together and the WSIB understands that.
I want all of you to understand that if you adopt a good health-and-safety program you will see a return on your investment from that program. There are many examples of that here today as a matter of fact. If you think about Bruce Power under the leadership of Duncan Hawthorne—represented by Dwight Willett today at the head table—Bruce Power is a model of a corporation, which has adopted a culture of health and safety to respect the men and women who work on the shop floor. That comes right from the CEO’s office down to the shop floor.
Bombardier and GO Transit are other examples. I was just told GO Transit had four years with no loss-time injuries at that facility. It’s terrific stuff.
The Retail Council of Canada recently had an event where I actually got to give some money back. Wal-Mart was the recipient of tens of thousands of dollars in rebates from the WSIB. Where did you ever find an insurance company that actually gave you money back? It’s quite a remarkable thing actually and I think Wal-Mart has done a terrific job of getting their employees as well as people in the Retail Council to understand that right from the CEO down to the shop floor it cares about their health and safety. Wal-Mart wants its staff to go home safe at the end of the day and be with their families.
This kind of attitude, this kind of mentality, is something that I’ve been talking about to corporate folks right across the province. Health and safety should not be a burden. With the kind of shock-ad treatments that we’ve had to use to get our message across, we’ve had complaints. We’ve had people say, “Those are horrible; you shouldn’t be using those ads.” “You’re scaring people.” “You’re scaring my kids.” I could introduce you to a young man who spoke at the launch of our young worker safety campaign. He was about 19 years old working in a restaurant and he had almost the exact kind of accident that’s portrayed in one of the ads; incident rather, I don’t use the word “accident.” He had the same kind of incident that’s portrayed in a particular commercial and received third degree burns to 80 per cent of his body. This is real. This is not Disneyland. This is not contrived. Sadly it happens all too often. It doesn’t just happen in the mines, although it does happen there. It doesn’t just happen in the steel plants and the car plants although it does happen there as well.
But it happens in areas that we would think are a little less traditional when it comes to health and safety and it can happen to your kids.
So I don’t apologize for the ad campaign or the social marketing campaign at all. In fact, I say to people that we have to do this because we have to change, we have to create what we call, what our Chief of Prevention has called, “a national habit of health and safety.” It should be a habit if you think about it and we’ve succeeded in creating that habit in many areas.
What does a seven year old automatically do before he gets on a bike today? He puts on a helmet. The next thing he does is turn to his Mum and Dad and says, “Come on, put on your helmet; we’re going for a bike ride.” We’ve succeeded in the areas of health and drinking and driving but not nearly enough, although we have changed generational attitudes in that area. We have got our young people to understand that they should be using designated drivers when they go to events.
My wife and I have three kids—three sons in their 30s—and I’m absolutely confident as is Katie that they would not drink and drive and I can assure you they do enjoy a drink. When they go on a trip to Buffalo to watch the Sabres and the Leafs with 10 or 12 of their buddies, they have two vans going down the QEW to Buffalo with one person in each vehicle designated to get them home safe. I’m embarrassed to say what people of my generation did in that regard when we were growing up. We’ve changed that attitude.
We haven’t succeeded yet. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers continue to push that issue and so they should. They deserve tremendous credit. Two of our sons have kids of their own and when those kids are grown up and driving, I’m absolutely positive they will not drink and drive.
So we can do it. But I have to tell you that the job Mr. Ewan had 100 years ago to try to sell the culture of safety, to change attitudes, to get people to spend money to make the community safer was a very difficult job and 100 years later it’s still a difficult job, but it’s a job worth doing.
I want to share a story some of you may have heard. Twenty-five years after Mr. Ewan spoke at this august place, there was a contract given out by the federal government to do some work on the locks in Sault Ste. Marie. I didn’t know this story before I became the Chair of the WSIB, but I subsequently heard it and asked the staff to do some research. There was a diver who went underwater to plant the dynamite to blast the rocks before work could be done on the locks. His name was William Wallace Currie. It was a rainy day in September and there was thunder and lightening. He was going underwater and his son was on the surface running the equipment. His son said, “Dad, you shouldn’t go underwater today; it’s not safe.” And William Wallace Currie said, “If I stay up here, I’m going to get wet. If I go down there, I’m going to get wet, but down there I’m going to be paid.” So down he went. He wasn’t down 10 minutes when lightening struck the equipment on the surface where his son was working; it travelled right down the line. There was a huge explosion and William Wallace Currie died on the way to hospital. He was 47 years old. He left a widow Josephine on survivor benefits for 30 years until she passed away and the youngest of five kids was 15-year-old Annie and Annie got survivor benefits for one year until she was 16; those were the rules in those days. I didn’t know that story, but William Wallace Currie was my grandfather, Josephine was my grandma “Jo” who was the matriarch of our family, and 15-year-old Annie is my 87-year-old mother living in Oakville today. I talked to my Mum about it and the impact of it and now being a grandfather, I’ve thought about it.
What did the accident do to my family? Why didn’t we understand? My parents had 10 kids. One died young, so there were nine of us growing up and none of my brothers and sisters nor I connected the dots. The reason I tell the story of William Wallace Currie is to point that out. For some reason we as a society don’t register fatalities in the workplace in our mind the same way that we do other horrific incidents that occur.
We lost another soldier just yesterday in Afghanistan; a terrible tragedy. The men and women who fight for Canadian values and beliefs proudly serve this country. And yet invariably when they come home in a coffin, it breaks your heart. What was the headline this morning in the Star or the Globe? I can’t remember which paper it was. The quote was, “He loved what he was doing when he died” and every single time that we see a soldier coming back in that way, you always hear the parents say, “They died fighting for Canadian values. They loved what they did and I am so proud of them” and so they should be. And we owe them an undying debt of gratitude as a nation for everything they do.
But ask Paul Kells what it feels like. As many of you would know, Paul lost his son Sean. How do you get that same feeling when you get a knock at the door or that phone call that says your son or your daughter was killed in a workplace incident today? Did he die doing what he loved doing?
And yet you see the work that a guy like Paul Kells has done turning a tragedy into such a wonderful positive example of carrying the message about health and safety to our schools, to our young people right across the country. Frankly Paul, I want you to know that those of us at the WSIB and those of us who live inside the beltway of health and safety, admire you; we thank you for the work that you do.
It’s in the memory of your son, but it is so vitally important. You can stand there and say, “I suffered this loss and I don’t want anyone else to go through the same thing.” Thank you for what you do. I think Paul Kells deserves our gratitude.
What’s changed since 1907 when John Ewan spoke to the Empire Club? Or 1934, when William Wallace Currie died in Sault Ste. Marie? By the way, the other reason that I tell the William Wallace Currie story is to show that it really was not an accident. There really are no accidents. His death was totally preventable. He should have listened to his son and not gone underwater that day. The company should have shut the job down that day. I suspect they would today.
We’ve been sitting here for over an hour. In the last hour in the province of Ontario, there were 40 incidents registered at the WSIB. Forty. The average cost is $85,000 per incident—$3.7 million in direct and indirect costs to the economy of Ontario in the last hour. Forty incidents is a drop in the bucket.
But you know what? It’s 40 every hour 24/7. Seven thousand plus injuries every single week. It’s astounding. When I became the Chair and they told me that we had 357,000 incidents in 2006, I said, “That can’t be right.” They’re not all lower back strains and they’re not all carpal tunnel syndromes, although those are included. Tragically they are incidents that affect people’s lives every day.
Every week, 1,000 families in one way or another are impacted by an injury that occurs in the workplace and sadly every week two families are impacted the way that my mother was impacted when her father was killed. Two every week. Every week no matter where I am, whether I’m in the GTA, Northern Ontario or China, my BlackBerry goes off and I’m told that there are two more people who have been killed in the workplace.
The cost to our economy and the province of Ontario, if you want to talk about it from a business perspective, is $15 billion. There was a report today in the Star that said that the cost of wait times in our health-care system is $15 billion. Well, I’ve got to tell you that the cost of injuries and incidents in the workplace is also $15 billion to the economy of the province of Ontario. It’s catastrophic. What I would like to be able to do when I’m finished in the job as the Chair of the WSIB is to be able to convince everybody in business that the WSIB is the best deal in town.
And I’ll tell you why. First of all, we protect you from lawsuits. I’m always astounded at the number of people whom I talk to across the province in business who weren’t aware of that. If someone who works for you is injured or worse killed in the workplace, they or their family cannot sue you if you’re covered by the WSIB. That level of protection is really quite astounding.
That was the principle of the foundation that Justice William Meredith came up with in 1914. The man was ahead of his time. It was an astounding decision—a recommendation adopted right across the country to protect business—and the quid pro quo is that we in turn protect the worker and help the worker.
It’s been suggested to me that since my arrival at the WSIB, the playing field has been tilted in favour of the injured worker. I hope that’s true. Our number-one mandate without a doubt at the WSIB is to eliminate injuries, to eliminate fatalities and illnesses from the workplace. In 2006, we lost 101 people and another 230 were people whose funeral we paid for, people who had died from an occupational disease that may have been caused over 15 or 20 years ago, but was still caused in the workplace.
That’s 330 funerals in 2006. Of the 101 who were killed in 2006, 10 of them were young people. We’re doing a whole lot better in 2007; it’s 100. I get a little frustrated; I get a little concerned. I look at what we’re doing. We’re spending millions of dollars in advertising the message that we’re carrying right to the business community. Everybody seems to get it when you talk to them, but are we doing enough?
We still see 1,000 every day; 7,000 every week; 100 killed every year, two every week. We just simply have to rise up as a society and a country like Canada and a province like Ontario with the greatest technology in the world. With the most educated work force and tremendous technology at our disposal, it’s time we stop this and how do we do that?
Take a look at some of the people who have succeeded. Take a look at the people who are up here at the head table, from Bruce Power and Bombardier and Wal-Mart, and there are many others in this room who have started down and in some cases actually succeeded in arriving at zero. Is zero possible? I’ve had people say to me, “It’s ‘Pollyanna’ you’ll never get there.”
I said to one person at a meeting in Ottawa, “If zero is not acceptable or it’s not possible, you give me a number. What’s okay for you? Is it okay if we only kill 50? Is it okay if we only have 250,000 incidents occurring in the workplace instead of 360,000?”
It’s not all doom and gloom; it’s not all bad news. We have seen improvements. We are making some progress. The former minister gave us a goal to reduce loss-time injuries by 20 per cent over four years. We’re coming to the end of that four years and we’re going to be at about 24 per cent. Does the WSIB deserve the credit for that? I say, “No.”
The business community and the labour community under the leadership of the WSIB deserve the credit. We’re starting to see improvements on our Road to Zero so that we can actually stand up and say as Bombardier said to me today, “We haven’t had a loss-time injury in four years.” That’s the kind of success we need.
You will see an improvement if you talk about the article that was in the Globe the other day by Perrin Beatty, President of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, where Perrin said the two things business needs to be competitive in the current global marketplace are a reduction in regulatory programs by governments and a reduction in taxes.
I don’t argue with that, but how about health and safety? How about putting that on the list with those two things because if you have a productive happy work force, if you care about people’s quality of life, about their safety and about their families, I suggest to you that you will see a payback to you and your shareholders in spades ladies and gentlemen. It will come right back directly into your bank account.
It will make you more productive. It will make you more successful and it will encourage other businesses to do business with you because you care about your employees. Most of you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t care, but I’m here to tell you that you haven’t done enough. We haven’t done enough; I haven’t done enough. My President, Jill Hutcheon, hasn’t done enough. Our staff hasn’t done enough.
We all have to do more because the numbers are still horrific. Go back to your workplace, go back to your office, go back to your membership and talk about what you can do to improve the health and safety and awareness of your employees to ensure that we in fact eliminate injuries, illnesses and most importantly fatalities in the workplace and stay on top of it. Get reports; find out what’s happening.
Talk to the people who work on your shop floor, wherever they are, and make sure they know that you care about them.
The WSIB wants to be your partner. We do not want to be a bureaucratic nightmare to people. We want to be able to solve problems. We want to be able to help you create what I think we can create which is the most productive, the most profitable and the safest place in the world in which to work—the province of Ontario.
Thank you very much.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by John C. Koopman, Partner, Spencer Stuart, and Past President, The Empire Club of Canada.