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Feb 16 2008
Companies keep spotless ratings even if poorly trained
temps are injured or killed
Board shields unsafe job sites
"Workplace safety rules allow companies to keep spotless
ratings even if poorly trained temps are injured or killed . . . Ontario
companies that use an army of temporary workers are hiding a dirty secret
behind their glowing safety records."
The Star is investigating workplace illness and
injuries in Ontario. The probe began with a lengthy freedom of information
request for workers' compensation data that identifies safety issues in
companies and government agencies. The Star's Andrew Bailey analyzed
The first story in the series detailed the high
rate of post-traumatic stress disorder among Toronto Transit Commission
Workplace safety rules
allow companies to keep spotless ratings even if poorly trained temps are
injured or killed Moira Welsh
Ontario companies that use an army of temporary workers are
hiding a dirty secret behind their glowing safety records.
That's because the province's worker insurance program
protects the company job sites where accidents occur, yet gives big financial
penalties to the temporary agency that sent the worker to the job.
A loophole in the rules of the province's Workplace Safety
and Insurance Board (WSIB) system is to blame.
As a result, companies that use a lot of temporary workers
have no incentive to clean up their act because their "experience rating"
a financial calculation based on a company's health and safety record
is not affected when a temp is hurt. Depending on company size, the firm
can escape hundreds-of-thousands- or millions-of-dollars in annual
The situation is "fundamentally wrong," said WSIB chair
Steve Mahoney, after the Toronto Star presented the results of its
investigation. "To allow a company that is using temp agencies to simply skip
the responsibility for safety is not in the interest of the workers and that is
our main focus."
Mahoney will ask the provincial labour ministry to fix the
problem, which would require a change to legislation. The impact, if a change
is made, will be significant. One in five workers in Ontario is a temp,
employed by one of the 1,300 or more agencies in the province that use
Cases uncovered by the Star as part of an ongoing
investigation into worker safety reveal factories, retail shipping firms, and
other companies that did not train a temporary worker properly or take safety
precautions, leading to severe injuries, crushed bodies, broken bones and,
"I've seen companies get great safety ratings when we know
that temps are injured there all the time," said Suzanne McInerney, a
vice-president at Staffing Edge, one of the largest temporary work firms in
Ontario. Her firm, and others, want the province to pass legislation that would
make injuries the shared responsibility with the places people work not
just the company that places them in the job.
Robert Sager agrees.
A runaway forklift crushed the 53-year-old Milton man in
July 2005. He had been sent by temporary agency Kelly Services to an Exel
Canada distribution plant for the $9 an hour job. Exel rushed him through
training and he was put to work immediately at a Brantford warehouse.
"I felt pressured because at that point in time I really
needed a job," Sager said.
A few minutes into his second shift, the forklift he was
driving accelerated backwards, threw him out and pinned him against a steel
"I remember thinking `Oh God, I'm dead.' I tried to call out
for help and I could hardly get it out of my voice. I remember hearing someone
say `Sager, are you all right?' and then I blacked out."
They discovered the extent of the damage at the hospital: a
crushed pelvis, a torn urethra, ripped vertebrae, ruptured bowel, crushed
kidneys, a head injury and testicles swollen tight with blood. He had three
heart attacks immediately after the accident.
Two-and-a-half years later, the damage remains. He can
barely walk, has memory loss, and needs help with everything from bathing to
using the toilet. A nurse comes daily to change a dressing in his chest.
Under current rules, Kelly Services would face a hike in its
annual workplace insurance payments, not Exel. However, neither firm would
provide details of their case to the Star.
The Ministry of Labour investigated and laid charges; Exel
pleaded guilty to failing to ensure that Sager was sufficiently experienced and
was fined $80,000 under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Kelly Services
is contesting safety act charges that it did not properly prepare Sager for the
The fine for Exel was a one-time payout that does not affect
the company's WSIB safety rating. A serious injury like Sager's, with ensuing
medical costs over many years, would significantly raise a company's annual
To better understand the WSIB, here is how the system
Ontario's workers' compensation system began in 1915, when
workers gave up the right to sue companies in return for long-term compensation
in a no-fault insurance program paid for by employers.
In Ontario, most companies pay into a worker insurance
system to cover medical, salary and retraining costs for injured workers.
Each company pays the WSIB an annual insurance premium
depending on the type of work. A mining company pays more than a white-collar
office because miners are more often injured, and the injuries are more
How safe a company is relative to other similar companies
helps them save money. A good "experience rating" means they pay less; a bad
rating they pay more. A company that pays an annual WSIB premium of $5 million
could either save $1 million or pay an additional $1 million, depending on its
Worker advocates say that the policy behind the loophole
needs to be changed.
"It is outrageous that this situation even exists," said
Wayne Samuelson, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour.
"If a company wants to avoid getting on the radar of the
labour ministry, they can just offload their accidents onto the temp agency ...
that way their record gets attached to the agency."
WSIB data released to the Star does not
differentiate temp companies from firms that hire salaried employees, so it is
impossible to tell how many temp workers report injuries each year. However, by
looking at 200 known temporary firms in the data, we spotted a 32 per cent
increase in injuries, from 5,345 in 2001 to 7,075 in 2005, the most recent
information available. Industry experts say that's only the tip of the
What pains those who run staffing agencies is that the WSIB
has no way of identifying companies where temp workers are frequently
"It doesn't even go on their record," said Linda Ford,
president of Temporary Measures. "Even if we put their name down when we file
our paperwork, the WSIB does not have a way of recording it, so there is
nothing to red flag the companies for their safety record."
McInerney, of Staffing Edge, said some companies give temp
workers the most strenuous jobs, without proper training.
"Companies push off those jobs to the staffing companies
because they know there will be accidents and therefore their safety rate is
kept clean and ours is not," she said.
As a result, temp agencies typically pay double the premiums
compared to companies that do the same work, McInerney said.
In 2006, the WSIB launched what it called its "boldest
social marketing" campaign ever in a bid to one day reduce workplace fatalities
and injuries to zero.
Staffing Edge president Lou Duggan saw an opening and wrote
to WSIB chair Mahoney last year, asking for him to fix the temporary worker
"We feel that lost time injuries should not only reflect the
staffing firm's frequency of injuries but should as well target the client site
locations where the injuries occurred," Duggan wrote.
"Instilling a greater accountability for (lost time
injuries) on the client site is the key. This change would engage the
management at workplaces and support your goal for a safer work
Duggan received a reply from the WSIB saying the issue would
be studied, but nothing changed.
Yesterday, board chair Mahoney said in an interview that he
would meet with the provincial labour ministry in two weeks and propose a
change to legislation that would close the loophole.
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