OHS Canada Magazine

Helping employers navigate the COVID-19 pandemic

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July 5, 2020
By Rod Cook

Health & Safety COVID-19 Health and Safety ontario WSIB

Finding support in WSIB’s Health and Safety Excellence program

The Health and Safety Excellence program provided by WSIB can help businesses identify and assess new workplace hazards with specific topics that support their health and safety efforts. (chokniti/Adobe Stock)

How can businesses identify and address hazards in the workplace to control the spread of COVID-19?

Now more than ever before, businesses need a way to quickly identify and assess hazards in their workplace.

These are some of the ways businesses can do this:

  • document hazards present, or likely to be present in the workplace
  • conduct routine workplace inspections to identify new or recurring hazards
  • investigate injuries, illnesses, incidents, and close calls/near misses to determine the underlying hazards, their causes, as well as safety and health program shortcomings
  • review injury and illness reports to identify trends in injuries, illnesses and hazards reported
  • consider the likelihood of hazards associated with emergency or non-routine situations
  • determine the severity and likelihood of incidents that could result for each hazard identified, and use this information to prioritize corrective actions.

The emergence of COVID-19 has put a spotlight on the health and safety practices of businesses across the province, even for businesses that may have already put some, if not all of these initiatives in place before the pandemic.

Towards excellence

The Health and Safety Excellence program provided by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) in Toronto can help businesses identify and assess new workplace hazards with specific topics that support their health and safety efforts.


The “recognition of hazards” topic allows businesses to understand the hazards present in their workplace, and how those hazards could result in injury or illness — known as a risk assessment.

The “risk assessment” topic helps businesses to identify existing and any new workplace hazards. The process will allow firms to prioritize risks based on the nature of the hazards, and level of risk for each of the routine and non-routine operations and/or activities within their business.

In joining the program, businesses receive pandemic readiness-related tools and resources from an approved provider to develop policies and procedures to address the Ontario government’s safety guidelines.  These guidelines are sector specific and will help businesses better understand how to reopen and stay open safely, and help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Developing a plan

The Health and Safety Excellence program helps businesses reopen with confidence, limit the spread of COVID-19 and adjust to physical distancing restrictions.

Suggested topics within the program that can help businesses adapt to new safety guidelines are: emergency response, emergency prevention and preparedness and control of hazards.

“Emergency response” allows a business to establish, implement monitor and maintain procedures to respond to emergencies.

“Emergency prevention and preparedness” helps businesses address hazardous situations that one should prevent and be prepared for. Businesses will identify the types of emergencies they may face and then develop and implement procedures to prevent them from happening.

“Control of hazards” helps reorganize workplaces to remain safe and help control the spread of COVID-19, through the implementation of engineering controls, such as Plexiglas panels, administrative controls including staggering schedules, safe work practices like increased hygiene and sanitation measures, and PPE — wearing masks, gloves, and other protective gear.

Empowering staff

Investing in mental health awareness and prevention programs is not only the right thing to do — it has a positive impact on your business, especially now as we re-open the province.

It also shows that awareness of all the new challenges workers are currently navigating through, such as sheltering in place during a pandemic, worrying about and taking care of loved ones and the anxieties of going back to work during a pandemic.

Investing in employee mental health and wellness can help your teams reach higher employee engagement and job satisfaction.

People want to feel safe and secure while they’re at work, and employees will feel empowered in a workplace that puts their health and safety first.

Businesses can achieve this with clear communications to staff, frequent updates on important health and safety issues and ensuring that an emergency communications plan is in place — one that can be deployed quickly with roles and responsibilities clearly identified. 

The program offers topics that can help businesses support employee mental health during the pandemic.

The “health and safety participation” or “workplace health promotion” topics help businesses create the programs they need to support employee mental health through the pandemic.

They also provide assistance in building resilience by consulting, encouraging and supporting employees to participate in health and safety in the workplace, and consistently checking in with staff to get a pulse check on their mental and physical well-being.

When we foster a culture of health and safety, where all employees feel safe coming to work, employees feel empowered and more confident at work every day.

Rod Cook is vice-president of Workplace Health and Safety Services at WSIB in Toronto.


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