New chairman envisions a modernized Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB)

This article was provided by the Ontario Mining Association (OMA), an organization that was established in 1920 to represent the mining industry of the province.

Elizabeth Witmer, Chairman of Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), shared her vision for a modernized delivery of services and management of the province’s workers compensation system. She was a keynote speaker at the OMA’s Meet the Miners Day on October 30 at Queen’s Park.

“It is my opinion that mining is a key ingredient to Ontario’s economic growth and its future,” said Ms Witmer. “I commend you for your strong record in health and safety and I congratulate you for your accomplishments to reduce workplace injuries and the cost of workplace injuries.”

“The WSIB is almost 100 years old (it started in 1915) and it has been largely successful in serving the workers and employers of Ontario,” she said. “However, we need a bold new model for the workplace of today. The WSIB is being transformed to make it more financially sustainable.”

Recently, Ms Witmer announced a 2.5% increase in employers’ WSIB premiums for 2013. The WSIB is struggling to bring down its unfunded liability, which stands at about $14.2 billion. “The WSIB has a role to play in contributing to economic development and productivity but the WSIB’s unfunded liability is a drag on growth in the Ontario economy.”

It is hoped the rate increase and other changes in the administration and internal workings of the WSIB, better management of claims and improved investment strategies for WSIB funds will – in stages – bring down costs and lead to a fully funded body by 2027. The WSIB has target dates of 2017 and 2022 to gradually reduce the unfunded liability.

Progress is being made towards that end. Ms Witmer told the OMA audience that 2011 was actually the first time in 10 years that the agency had an operating surplus. She also pointed to operational changes, a new medical strategy and a new job integration strategy that are reducing costs and some legislated changes to benefits that can trim expenses without being unfair to workers.

“Our goal is a financially stable, fair and predictable framework,” she said. “We need to work with you to implement design and policy decisions. With your help, we can achieve that goal.”

Ms Witmer, who started tackling her new duties at the WSIB in April, has the distinction of being the longest serving female MPP in Ontario history – from 1990 to 2012. During that period, she held a number of high profile positions including Minister of Labour, Minister of Health and Minister of Environment as well as Deputy Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party.

Ontario’s mining industry has a goal of zero harm in the workplace by 2015. While statistics can’t always tell the whole story, recent numbers indicate Ontario’s mining sector is making further progress on the safety front. The lost time injury rate up to the end of September 2012 was 0.4 per 200,000 hours worked, which is a 33% improvement, from the rate of 0.6 for 2011. \ Similarly, the total medical aid frequency for the sector is down to 5.4 for the first nine months of 2012, a 10% gain from the rate of 6.0 for 2011.

Overall, employees in the Ontario mining industry are safe, highly skilled, highly paid and highly productive. While the safety performance of Ontario’s mining industry day-in and day-out is certainly worthy of recognition, no one in the industry would consider it good enough until it reaches zero harm. Collective efforts on many fronts – including the work with the WSIB – are being taken to reach that goal.