Workplace Health and Safety is Your Right and Your Responsibility
by Theresa Wojtasiewicz
When you go to work, you expect at the end of your work day to leave your job, safe and healthy, and come home to your family.
In 2006, 101 people, ten of them youth, left for work and did not come home. They were killed while working at their jobs. Another 230 people died from illnesses they developed as a result of working in unsafe and unhealthy conditions. And as of August of this year, 70 people, including seven youth, have lost their lives at work.
That’s too many, says the Chair of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, the Honourable Steven W. Mahoney, P.C. His goal is to reduce deaths and injuries in the workplace to zero.
Health and safety in the workplace is not a new idea. In 1884, the Ontario Factories Act was passed, to inspect the health and safety standards in factories. That was followed in 1911 with the Building Trades Protection Act, so that workers in the construction trades had some rules for safety. The Workmen’s Compensation Act passed in 1914 and in 1915, the first Workmen’s Compensation Board (WCB) was created.
The Act was a compromise between workers and their employers. Workers who got injured on the job (or their families, in the case of a worker getting killed) agreed to give up their right to sue their employers, while employers agreed to pay into a fund that would compensate workers – pay their wages, medical expenses or, in the case of death, funeral expenses – regardless of whose fault the injury was. The Board’s job was to decide if the injury or death was work related, and to pay out the claims to the worker or the worker’s family as quickly as possible.
In 1998, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act was passed, bringing many tasks that had been legislated (made into law) or governed separately into the functions of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. Today, the WSIB not only pays out claims, it helps workers who have been hurt at work to recover and get back to work safely, and promotes health and safety in workplaces to help reduce the number of injuries and deaths at work. It also funds 14 industry health and safety associations.
Ontario’s health and safety plan is the most all-inclusive in the world. Many countries have labour laws and systems of inspections, but nothing that equals the protections and standards that Ontario has developed for its workers since the first Workmen’s Compensation Act was passed in 1914. China is looking to adopt a system similar to ours and WSIB Chair Steve Mahoney has spoken about our practices at a national conference in Beijing.
But there is more that Mr. Mahoney would like to do for workers in Ontario. For newcomers, he proposes that, before they leave their country of origin, they should receive an information package about worker health and safety practices. (Every province has its own workplace safety law. This proposal is for those who wish to come to Ontario.) Mr. Mahoney is looking forward to having discussions with Canadian ambassadors and consuls on how best to accomplish this.
For newcomers already here, Mr. Mahoney suggests that you learn what your rights are whether you are working already or are looking for work. While health and safety standards in your place of employment may be the last thing on your mind when you are applying for a job, you should still take a moment to ask these questions:
- What kind of health and safety training will you provide before I start work?
- Do you have a health and safety committee?
- Do you have a health and safety manual?
Workers have the right to refuse unsafe work or to work in unsafe or unhealthy conditions. Workers cannot be fired for refusing to work for those reasons. This is important for newcomers to know, so that you cannot be taken advantage of by employers. If you suspect your employer has an unsafe or unhealthy workplace, you can call the WSIB at 1-866-SAFE-JOB (723-3562) or the Ministry of Labour anonymously, and an inspector will be sent to ensure that the health and safety of workers is being looked after.
Newcomers also have a responsibility to make sure your English language skills are good enough to understand the health and safety standards in your workplace. Some of the symbols (pictures) on safety signs are easy to understand and are used in many places besides Ontario. Others may be only for that workplace or industry. Make sure you understand what the symbols mean, for your own safety as well as for those who are working with you.
All workers are insured under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, even if your employer does not pay premiums. However, if you are working for an industry or company that is regulated (working under rules set) by the federal government, you are not covered by the WSIB. If you have any questions about your rights, claims from injuries that happened at work, or concerns about the health and safety standards at your place of employment, the WSIB has a multi-lingual hotline that you can call (1-800-465-5606) with staff that can answer your questions in 60 languages. The website (www.wsib.on.ca) also has fact sheets in 10 languages that you can download.
A safe and healthy workplace is the right and the responsibility of every worker. “There are no accidents,” says Mr. Mahoney. “Everyone, from the part-time student to the CEO, needs to take personal responsibility for keeping themselves and their workplace healthy and safe.”
For more information about the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and its insurance benefits, visit www.wsib.on.ca or call 416-344-4999/1-800-465-5606/TTY (telephone service for the deaf) 1-800-387-0050.
What happens if you are injured or become ill at work?
- Get first aid immediately, or medical care if needed
- Tell your employer or supervisor about the injury or illness
- Pay your wages for the day or shift where you hurt yourself
- Arrange and pay for transportation to get medical care, if needed
- Give you a copy of the accident report once it is completed
If you qualify for benefits, depending on your situation, you will be eligible to receive:
- Temporary income (a percentage of your wages) while recovering
- Health care to treat the injury or illness
- Help getting back to work
From the fact sheet, “What workers should know about reporting workplace injuries and illnesses”
For more information on benefits and other information, please see the fact sheets available at www.wsib.on.ca/wsib/wsibsite.nsf/public/FactSheets