Congratulations Niagara Region for recognizing this issue and making it a priority to take action.
With a staff of more than 3,000, Niagara Region has a number of diverse workplaces, including emergency medical services (ambulance), long-term care homes, child care centres, social assistance, water and waste-water treatment facilities, and waste and recycling collection. Each of these service areas come with their own unique set of occupational health and safety risks and hazards, and resulted in a high degree of lost time injuries and costs. In 2009, the Region had a total of 144 lost time injuries and WSIB costs of over 2 million dollars.
So, how did Niagara Region begin to drive change to reduce lost time injuries?
Its journey into lost time prevention began in 2009 with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s Road to Zero campaign. This initiative imposed an annual target of a 7% reduction in lost time injuries (LTI). Since then the Niagara Region has maintained focus on consistently reducing LTI and building a strong safety culture.
Niagara Region’s path to success compares closely with the Institute for Work and Health’s Breakthrough Change Model: Initiation, Transformation and Outcome.
Instrumental to their success was a solid commitment from senior management to create a culture of change, including a laser focus on workplace safety. Service areas were challenged to set annual injury prevention targets and develop related action plans. Divisional plans and targets, including resource requirements, were presented annually to the corporate leadership team.
This commitment from leaders created new opportunities for staff across the organization to collaborate on injury prevention strategies. Many innovative ideas and initiatives were put into practice, including:
- The creation of work teams in long-term care homes focusing on the top three injury types: musculoskeletal disorders, slips trips and falls, and resident responsive behaviours
- Adapting industry “tool box talks” to regularly communicate a variety of hazards to staff
- Communication campaigns and messaging throughout the workplace to remind workers of best practices
- Enhanced training programs including Health & Safety awareness, regional specific injury prevention and WSIB claim processing (e.g. earliest and safe offers of return to work)
- EMS equipment enhancements to engineer out old stretchers with new power stretchers, which to date have reduced stretcher specific MSDs by 80%.
The Region also partnered with PSHSA to provide a variety of training sessions for their staff across multiple divisions, including traffic protection, hazard assessment, designated officer, PPE and respirator fit-testing. With respect to their Joint Health & Safety Committees, PSHSA provided certification training which has significantly increased the knowledge of committee members and further enhanced their abilities to effectively identify and assess hazards. PSHSA also provided the Region with consulting services on a variety of health and safety issues.
By driving continuous improvement, staff became more engaged in creating and maintaining a healthy and safe work environment and, as a result, the Region’s OHS performance began to improve significantly.
Since 2009, the Region’s largest division, Seniors Services, which employs approximately 1,000 staff, achieved the following:
- 72% reduction in LTI
- 70% reduction in MSD LTI
- 77% reduction in resident responsive behaviour LTI
The successful strategies used by staff in Seniors Services have since been shared with other operational areas for adaptation and implementation.
As a result of their commitment to health and safety, Niagara Region has seen a 61% reduction in overall LTI since 2009, driving the lost time frequency rate from 4.5 down to 2.5. This is the equivalent of 88 fewer work-related LTI, resulting in 2,000 fewer days lost and over $400,000 savings in claim costs. The Region now ranks in the top 25% of employers with respect to the prevention of workplace injuries and illnesses, and is best in class within its Municipal comparator group, whose weighted average lost time frequency rate is 4.41 (HRBN 2013 Networking Survey).
In addition to the favorable decline in LTI over the past few years, perhaps the greatest outcome is the embedding of health and safety knowledge and practices within the organization. Going forward, Niagara Region is not only confident of achieving further OHS success, but they also believe that such success will support them overall in becoming a high performing organization.
PSHSA congratulates Niagara Region for recognizing this issue and making it a priority to take action. We value the relationship we have built with Niagara Region, and we look forward to continuing to work together to improve occupational health and safety in municipal services.