The first goal of the strategy is to target areas of greatest need. We know where to focus efforts based on the panel’s report, research and conversations with stakeholders. To create healthy and safe workplaces, we must find new ways to reach those at greatest risk. This means focusing on vulnerable workers, small businesses and high hazards.

Assist the most vulnerable workers

Some workers are more vulnerable than others to injuries, illnesses and fatalities. In Ontario’s rapidly changing work environment, it is difficult to define “vulnerability” with precision. A worker’s vulnerability depends on many individual and workplace factors that interact in complicated ways to increase risk of occupational injuries, illnesses or fatalities. Although individual factors are often the focus when defining vulnerability, workplace factors like hours of work, employment stability and hazards in the workplace are also important.

As part of this strategy, we will conduct research and seek evidence-based advice to help develop a comprehensive definition of vulnerability and create a vulnerability risk framework. However, based on existing research and information from stakeholders, we know some factors that influence vulnerability. The following figure highlights some of those factors and helps start to paint a picture of those most at risk.

Some workers are more vulnerable than others to injuries, illnesses and fatalities. A worker’s vulnerability depends on many individual and workplace factors that interact in complicated ways to increase the risk of occupational injuries, illnesses or fatalities. Below are  examples of some of the factors that make workers vulnerable. These factors are grouped into three categories: individual, workplace, and dynamic factors.

Factors that influence worker vulnerability

Individual factors:

  • age
  • literacy level
  • length of time in Canada
  • experience of racialization
  • physical and mental ability

Workplace factors:

  • the newness of job tasks
  • hours of work
  • wage/earnings
  • level of employment stability

Dynamic factors:

  • knowledge of occupational health and safety rights and responsibilities
  • fear of reprisal
  • occupational health
  • safety skills

All workers at some point in their working life will experience personal or workplace factors that increase their vulnerability. However, some workers are at greater risk because they are coping with multiple factors that simultaneously affect their vulnerability. For example, a recent immigrant new to a job in Ontario, with limited English or French language skills, and little knowledge of occupational health and safety, would be at greater risk. The goal is to seek evidence-based data to identify the groups of workers who are at the greatest risk and most in need.

Stakeholders identified some examples of vulnerable groups, such as undocumented workers and those operating in the underground economy. Age can also increase risk. We have heard that because of more frequent late-career job changes, many older workers may be inexperienced in their current job and, therefore, be at greater risk. At the other end of the age spectrum, young workers are four times more likely than other groups to be injured on the job footnote 9 .

Some factors that contribute to vulnerability also make it more difficult to reach workers at risk and meet their unique needs. For example, male immigrants in their first five years in Canada report twice the rate of work-related injuries requiring medical attention than Canadian-born male workers footnote 10 . Immigration is, and will continue to be, an important source of population and economic growth for Ontario. Half of Canada’s new immigrants settle in this province footnote 11 . A better job must be done of reaching both immigrant workers and ethnic businesses by, for example, communicating in multiple languages to those with limited English or French language skills.

Part of the system's success depends on its ability to protect the most vulnerable workers. To be able to target enforcement activities and prevention programs to employers in sectors with the greatest number of vulnerable workers, the system partners must make better use of evidence and available tools. The strategy will use new approaches to reach vulnerable workers and provide them with appropriate information and supports.

To assist the most vulnerable workers, the system will take steps to:

  1. Understand all the factors that make workers vulnerable and how to provide support:
    • Conduct research and seek expert advice about the personal and workplace characteristics that contribute to vulnerability
    • Seek input and advice from vulnerable worker groups about specific programs and policies to meet their needs, and how to improve outreach (e.g. through vulnerable worker task groups)
  2. Improve awareness of occupational health and safety rights and responsibilities among vulnerable workers:
    • Leverage existing and new partnerships to increase outreach and provide occupational health and safety awareness materials through existing touch points and information channels (e.g. at the point of settlement, via existing government programs)
    • Pursue non-traditional partnerships to reach vulnerable workers (e.g. community organizations, faith-based organizations, immigrant service organizations, youth and student organizations)
  3. Improve programs and services for vulnerable workers:
    • Collaborate across government to coordinate services to meet the needs of vulnerable workers
    • Tailor programs and supports to be inclusive of multiple cultures, languages and literacy levels
    • Apply relevant research findings to design better programs for vulnerable workers.
  4. Improve occupational health and safety outcomes among industries with high proportions of vulnerable workers:
    • Target enforcement to workplaces with high proportions of vulnerable workers (e.g. underground economy, temporary agencies)
    • Develop materials to help inspectors, industry and labour organizations educate vulnerable workers and employers of vulnerable groups about their rights and responsibilities (e.g. fact sheets)

Support occupational health and safety improvements in small businesses

Some businesses lack the resources, knowledge or willingness to meet occupational health and safety requirements. To reach workers at greatest risk, help must be provided to workplaces who are willing to implement occupational health and safety practices, but lack resources and knowledge. At the same time, we must use the full force of the law to ensure unwilling workplaces comply.

While the system serves all provincially regulated workplaces regardless of size, not all require the same level of support to be healthy and safe. For example, the size and structure of some large- to medium-sized workplaces make it more likely they have the resources and expertise needed to prevent workplace illness, injuries and fatalities. These organizations may have well established occupational health and safety programs, including strong, well-functioning Joint Health and Safety Committees.

On the other hand, small businesses – defined as those with fewer than 50 workers – face unique issues that can make it more difficult for them to develop effective workplace health and safety practices. They may lack time and expertise. They may be more heavily affected by the potential costs of meeting health and safety requirements, and more constrained in their ability to pay these costs. Small businesses are also more likely than larger ones to offer transient or precarious employment and to employ more new and immigrant workers – factors that may increase their occupational health and safety risks. Given that small businesses need the most help to achieve compliance, the system will focus prevention programs as well as targeted enforcement, when needed, on smaller workplaces.

In its efforts to assist small businesses, the system must make available, when appropriate, accessible and free advisory services to meet those businesses’ occupational health and safety needs. The system will also look to large and medium-sized workplaces to play a key role, leading by example, promoting safer and healthier workplaces across the province, and using forums such as industry associations to share best practices.

Larger companies can also influence others through their procurement requirements by, for example, requiring suppliers and sub-contractors to meet certain occupational health and safety requirements. As a system, we must do a better job of motivating large to medium-sized businesses to fulfil this leadership role.

To support occupational health and safety improvements in small business, the system partners will take steps to:

  1. Understand the health and safety needs of small businesses, including their current occupational health and safety knowledge, existing constraints, information needs and preferences for receiving information:
    • seek input and advice from small businesses about their health and safety needs
    • reach out to and leverage ethnic businesses as occupational health and safety leaders in their communities
  2. Improve awareness of occupational health and safety requirements within small businesses:
    • leverage existing and new partnerships to increase outreach and provide occupational health and safety awareness materials through existing touch points and information channels (e.g. at point of new business registration, ServiceOntario)
    • pursue non-traditional partnerships to reach small businesses (e.g. industry associations, business improvement associations, supply chain relationships with larger employers)
  3. Improve programs and services to meet the needs of small businesses:
    • develop accessible, cost effective and easy-to-understand training materials and resources that are tailored to small businesses’ unique needs and help increase awareness and compliance
    • target enforcement to the small businesses that present the greatest risk or are willfully non-compliant with the law
  4. Increase small businesses' understanding of the business case for occupational health and safety:
    • demonstrate how positive occupational health and safety outcomes can sustain productivity and economic growth (e.g. a program to help businesses calculate the business case for occupational health and safety investments, such as the Institute for Work & Health’s “Safety Smart Planner”)
    • develop programs to motivate occupational health and safety performance beyond minimum compliance

Address the highest hazards that result in occupational injuries, illnesses or fatalities

While some workplaces need more attention because of their limited size and resources, others require greater focus from the system because the work they undertake is hazardous. Highly hazardous work is often linked to industries where injuries tend to occur most often, such as construction, manufacturing, mining, transportation and agriculture. However, sectors such as health care, education, retail, fire and policing services can also be considered highly hazardous due to issues such as workplace violence and musculoskeletal disorders.

High hazard work exists when the tasks lead to a greater frequency or severity of work-related injuries, illnesses and/or fatalities. High hazard activities can include hazards that may lead to traumatic or gradual onset injuries or illnesses such as diseases caused by exposure to hazardous agents. The system needs to put more emphasis on addressing work activities that increase the risk of workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities. To do this, we will focus on factors that could contribute to a tragic incident, such as lack of training, regulation or compliance.

Several important challenges exist in the efforts to address high risk activities. There is often a lack of data linking specific work activities to reported injuries. We are not always aware of emerging hazards created by new ways of doing work or new technologies. For example, stakeholders raised the issue of workplace-related mental injuries, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, where they say more research and action is needed.

To be effective, the capacity and competency to identify and target emerging hazards must be expanded. This includes:

  • New research to help understand the changing nature of the workplace
  • A more comprehensive approach to measure health and safety risks
  • New strategies to address high hazards including occupational disease.

To address the highest hazards that result in occupational injuries, illnesses and fatalities, the system will take steps to:

  1. Improve use of data, information and research to identify activities with the greatest risks:
    • identify data, information and research gaps and implement strategies to fill the highest priority gaps
    • improve service delivery by sharing and applying research results to create new and improve existing programs and services
    • use best available data to act to reduce potential hazards -- particularly when the risk of not acting could be very high
    • work across government to share information and strategies to address hazards related to the underground economy
  2. Co-ordinate and focus resources on conditions of work with the highest rates of injury, illness and/or fatalities:
    • build on the work with Section 21 (appointed committees in specific sectors that advise the Ontario Labour Minister on OHSA issues) and other advisory committees to address high hazard activities
    • continue to work with the system partners to develop co-ordinated awareness campaigns
    • target non-compliant workplaces with the highest hazard activities with enforcement measures
  3. Develop additional rigorous training standards for specific high hazard work:
    • identify hazardous activities that should be the subject of future mandatory training standards (in addition to those currently being developed)
    • promote more accessible training options for high hazard work in remote regions
    • develop approaches to monitor quality of training against relevant standards


  • footnote[9] Back to paragraph Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (2013). Staying Safe: Overview. Retrieved on November 18, 2013. Toronto: WSIB.
  • footnote[10] Back to paragraph P. Smith and Mustard, C.A. (2009). Comparing the Risk of Work-related Injuries Between Immigrants to Canada and Canadian-born Labour Market Participants. Occupational & Environmental Medicine, Vol. 66, pp. 361-367.
  • footnote[11] Back to paragraph Government of Ontario (2013). Guiding Newcomers to Ontario. Retrieved on November 13, 2013. Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.