High hazard work involves tasks that lead to more frequent or severe work-related injuries, occupational illnesses and/or fatalities. Highly hazardous work is often linked to industries where injuriesfootnote 2 and illnessesfootnote 3 occur most often.

In 2017, there were 81 deaths related to injuries in the workplacefootnote 4 and 146 deaths from illnesses caused by workplace exposures.footnote 5 The most common incidents in which workers were killed include motor vehicle accidents, falls from heights and being crushed or stuck by machinery.footnote 6

The health and safety system pays special attention to these work hazards. Improving safety for working at heights, for example, has been a major focus over the past few years including mandatory Working at Heights training that was standardized in 2015.

Addressing the highest hazards across the system

Compass tool

Compass is the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s (WSIB) new online health and safety tool. For the first time, Ontarians can find and compare health and safety statistics for businesses across the province. The tool helps people to find information like the number and type of injuries in a workplace. It can be used to determine how serious injuries were by showing how many people were off work after an incident and how many are still receiving benefits a year later. Compass was created to promote workplace safety and provide greater transparency.

In October 2017, phase one of Compass was launched. Anyone can look up health and safety statistics for businesses across the province. Future phases will give businesses additional information to help them improve health and safety and return-to-work results and prevent more injuries.

Training by the Workers Health & Safety Centre

Working at Heights, Joint Health and Safety Committee certification, Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS), workplace violence and harassment, occupational stress, basic ergonomic principles and heavy mobile equipment were just some of the many training programs delivered by Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) in 2017-2018. They delivered 343,235 person-hours of training to workers from all sectors and regions of the province.

Construction and working at heights

Although construction makes up only 8% of the Ontario workforce, it has the highest number of workers killed on the job. In 2017, there were 20 deaths due to workplace incidents.footnote 7 A top hazard in construction is falls from heights, resulting in 10 deaths in 2017.footnote 8 Improving working at heights safety has been a significant focus for the system in recent years and mandatory working at heights training was standardized in 2015. Multiple inspection initiatives in construction were carried out, including specific health and safety initiative focused on falls and electrical contact.

Construction Health and Safety Action Plan

On May 11, 2017, Ontario released the Construction Health and Safety Action Plan. The plan contains 16 recommendations to create a more knowledgeable, skilled sector and to support compliance with occupational health and safety laws. Many of the initiatives and recommendations have already been acted upon. For example, a web tool and mobile application were developed to help small- and medium-sized construction employers and workers understand legislative and regulatory requirements. This resource provides plain-language summaries, in both official languages, on 50 key topics about construction regulations. The mobile application was downloaded 9,278 times from its release in August 2017 to April 2018.

Engineering out fall hazards

The University of Toronto partnered with the Ministry of Labour and Mattamy Homes to find innovative approaches to prevent workers falling from low-rise residential roofs. As part of a capstone design course engineering students developed a conceptual design of a guardrail system to eliminate fall hazards. The project was completed in April 2018. To test this product, a new cohort of students will develop a prototype in 2018-19.

Working at Heights training refresher

To comply with working at heights (WAH) training requirements, employers must ensure their workers refresh WAH training every three years following their initial training. In 2017, the WHSC launched a new refresher course which meets this requirement and created a marketing program to help ensure that workers, their representatives and employers are aware of this program. It included new web resources, printed product sheets and flyers, automated email reminders to training participants, e-bulletins, social media posts, radio ads and online advertisements.

Embedding essential skills training in health and safety lessons

Rigging and hoisting loads have significant safety hazards. Additionally, many workers in this field lack literacy, numeracy and other essential skills. In 2017, a research team led by the Institute for Work & Health embedded essential skills training into a hoisting and rigging curriculum developed by the Infrastructure Health & Safety Association (IHSA). They focused on two essential skills needed to work safely: numeracy (skills needed to make sense of and apply mathematical concepts and information) and document use (skills needed to find, enter, use letters, numbers, symbols and images in electronic and paper formats). The team found that learners who completed the modified training had significantly better post-training scores on a written test of course content than the learners who were given the usual training. The results were so encouraging that the training centre involved in the project, the Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) Local 506 Training Centre, is teaching essential skills in its rigging and hoisting curriculum.


Over the past few years, the transportation sector has had the second highest number of traumatic fatalities. In 2017, 17 workers were killed.footnote 9 To combat this, the IHSA focused on enhancing, revising, updating and promoting transportation-related training programs, products and services. It re-engaged stakeholders and partnered with new organizations such as Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation and WorkSafeBC.


Mining employs less than 1% of Ontario’s workforce, yet has the second-highest rate of death from workplace incidentsfootnote 10 and the third highest from occupational diseases.footnote 11 Mining has been a focus of numerous inspection initiatives.

Ontario has 39 operating mines and several thousand sand and gravel pits. Underground mines have unique health and safety hazards. Modern mines have gotten deeper and more dependent on technology, which presents new challenges. While Ontario’s mining sector is one of the safest in the world, there is always room for improvement.

Mining review

In 2014, the Ministry of Labour reviewed mining safety in Ontario. The review resulted in several key recommendations to improve the safety of workers.

In 2017, progress was made towards implementing the key recommendations:

  • A working group led by the ministry, which included employers and labour representatives, assessed risks and analyzed root causes for the top hazards including ground falls in underground mines and mobile equipment hazards.
  • The guidelines for risk assessment and management for mines and mining plants and conveyor guarding were published.
  • Several amendments to Regulation 854: Mines and Mining Plants came into effect. These include new requirements to identify, assess and manage workplace hazards. A written water management program and a written traffic management program are now required. There are also more requirements when recording seismic events.
  • Workplace Safety North completed a pilot testing of the Climate Assessment Audit Tool.

Material Testing Laboratory

The Ministry of Labour’s Mining Program operates the Materials Testing Laboratory in Sudbury, which tests steel mine hoist ropes used to hoist conveyances in underground mine shafts. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, mine operators that use hoist ropes must have their ropes regularly tested by an approved laboratory. The Materials Testing Laboratory tested 645 rope samples from Ontario, as well as from across Canada and around the world.

Mining health and safety conference

‘Innovations in Mining Safety’ was the theme of Workplace Safety North’s (WSN) annual two-day Mining Health and Safety Conference in 2017. The sold-out conference hosted 300 in-person attendees, as well as 180 people watching on live stream from five countries.

Climate Assessment and Audit Tool pilot

The Climate Assessment and Audit Tool (CAAT) is a new way to measure workplace health and safety systems and culture. Since its launch in 2015, and with extensive help from the mining industry, WSN completed an 18-month pilot using the CAAT. The tool is now being used by operations across Ontario and Canada. As of 2017, nine mining operations and over 2,000 workers have participated in the audits.

Data collected during the CAAT pilot project was analyzed by the Institute for Work and Health. The mining operations with the best Internal Responsibility scores had the fewest injuries. The new CAAT can predict areas of strength and weakness and help guide workplaces on where and how to improve.


In Ontario, forestry is a small but high hazard industry. In the past three years, there have been four deaths due to workplace injuries.footnote 12 Forestry has the highest rate of fatalities based on the number of workers. WSN and the ministry are working with stakeholders to improve worker safety.

Sawmill and logging industry risk assessment workshops

In 2017, WSN hosted workshops at its North Bay headquarters to determine the top health and safety risks at sawmills and in the logging industry. The workshops brought together a volunteer group of experts from management, labour, government and non-profits.

Each participant submitted their top health and safety concerns in advance of the workshops, which were led by the Ministry of Labour and WSN. During the workshops, the participants discussed more than 80 potential risks that are common in their industries. Management and labour representatives then voted on the highest risks in their industries.

The workers and employers ranked distracted driving as the top risk in the logging industry. They ranked substance use as the top risk in sawmills – an issue not captured in WSIB statistics. They recommended analyzing each sector’s top risk to get to their root causes and to develop controls. After the sessions, workplace safety posters of the top 10 risks for Ontario sawmills and logging operations were created and distributed by WSN.

Northern Ontario forest access roads signage program

The new provincial forest agency Nawiinginokiima Forest Management Corporation (NFMC) has created a northern Ontario road sign program. It is based on British Columbia sign standards program that includes radio channel instructions for rural and forest access roads. New road signs show truck drivers which radio frequency channel to use and how to communicate the direction they are travelling. They also warn the public to proceed with caution and to obey all signs. WSN helped the corporation by promoting the signage program across northern Ontario with companies that use forest access roads. WSN also provided a general public safety course to prevent snowmobile-truck collisions on busy Ontario logging roads.

Occupational disease

In Ontario, more workers die from occupational diseases than workplace incidents. In 2017, 146 workers died from work related illness.footnote 13 The most common occupational diseases leading to fatality claims are mesothelioma, lung and bronchial cancers, and asbestosis. The primary metals, municipal work and mining sectors have the highest rate of approved occupational disease fatality claims.footnote 14 To reduce the occurrence of occupational disease in high risk sectors, an inspection mining health and safety initiative was conducted to help reduce cases of occupational disease.

Preventing occupational diseases can be more difficult than preventing injuries. Unlike most injuries, diseases are usually not caused by a single event but by repeated exposure over many years. The hazards which can lead to illness are often not seen, such as gasses or small particles. There can be long periods between when a worker is exposed and when they develop signs of illness.

Occupational Disease Action Plan

In 2017 the system partners worked together to implement a wide variety of activities in the second year of Ontario’s Occupational Disease Action Plan (ODAP).

The Infrastructure Health & Safety Association (IHSA) launched a full suite of free multi-language eLearning programs on hearing protection in January 2018. Each program is translated into seven languages: English, Chinese (Simplified and Traditional), French, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish. To recognize World Hearing Day on March 3, the ODAP Noise Working Group held a free webinar on Ontario’s noise regulation. Over 150 people from a variety of organizations, including workplace parties and health and safety consultants, joined the webinar.

The Occupational Cancer Research Centre, Public Services Health & Safety Association and IHSA developed additional resources on diesel exhaust hazards for the construction and municipal sectors. WSN developed a Joint Health and Safety Committee Certification Part Two Training Module on diesel engine exhaust. To support the action plan, the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) hosted their annual Occ-tober occupational disease symposium and the system partners shared occupational disease information at health and safety conferences across Ontario. For example, the work of ODAP was a major focus of the 2017 Occupational Hygiene Association of Ontario Fall Symposium. The Ministry of Labour also works with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care on occupational disease projects.

Occupational exposure limit regulation amendments

Occupational exposure limits (OELs) restrict the amount and length of time a worker can be exposed to hazardous biological or chemical substances. On January 1, 2018, Regulation 833: Control of Exposure to Biological or Chemical Agents and Ontario Regulation 490/09: Designated Substances were amended to include new or revised OELs or listings for 23 chemical substances. A listing of OELs applicable to Ontario’s workplaces can be viewed on the ministry’s online OEL table. The amendments also harmonized the minimum oxygen requirements across all Occupational Health and Safety Act regulations.

Diesel infographic

WSN created an infographic to raise awareness of the health risks of exposure to diesel exhaust in mining. The infographic outlines ways to reduce or prevent exposure. It includes a ‘hierarchy of controls’ tool (a system to eliminate hazards or minimize risks) from the Occupational Cancer Research Centre. The tool helps workplaces evaluate their strategies to reduce diesel emission exposure.

Violence and harassment

Workplace violence and workplace harassment are serious issues. In 2017, there were 3,054 lost-time claims approved for injuries caused by workplace violence and harassment.footnote 15 In 2017-18, the ministry focused on two sectors which have heightened levels of violence and harassment: health care and education.

Workplace violence prevention in publicly funded schools

Since July 2017 the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Education have co-chaired a roundtable to address violence in Ontario’s publicly funded schools. The roundtable also includes the Provincial Working Group on Health and Safety, with members from organized labour, school board trustee associations and principals’ associations.

The ministries and the working group developed guidance material to help workplace parties comply with workplace violence requirements under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).

Workplace Violence in School Boards: A Guide to the Law, released in March 2018 provides leading practices for:

  • developing violence policies and procedures
  • assessing and reassessing risks of workplace violence
  • developing student safety plans
  • reporting violent incidents
  • sharing information with workers so they may recognize and be protected from workplace violence

In October 2017, the Ministry of Labour launched an initiative on workplace violence in schools. Inspectors, regional program coordinators and managers met with school board and worker representatives to promote awareness and support compliance with workplace violence requirements. The ministry is following up with the workplace parties to discuss the school boards’ Internal Responsibility System and is targeting spring 2018 to complete the visits to school boards.

Workplace Violence Prevention in Health Care Leadership Table

Since 2015, the ministry has co-sponsored an initiative with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to prevent and reduce workplace violence in health care workplaces. This initiative brought key stakeholders and experts together to provide advice on how to reduce and prevent violence against health care professionals. Throughout 2015-16 and 2016-17, the Leadership Table and its working groups developed recommendations and products. A progress report, including 23 recommendations and 13 products were released in May 2017.

Throughout 2017-2018, the report and tools were promoted in hospitals in collaboration with Public Services Health & Safety Association (PSHSA). Health Quality Ontario helped to develop a first-ever mandatory hospital reporting indicator on workplace violence.

Evaluation of workplace-violence.ca

In 2015, the PSHSA launched an interactive, web-based framework to help health care workplaces build a comprehensive workplace violence prevention program. As of 2017, 112 Ontario hospitals and health care organizations were using the digital tools to identify gaps and implement action plans. The tools are consistent and user-friendly, helping users determine where to allocate resources. In a 2017 survey of Ontario hospitals, 91% were using or planning to use the Workplace Violence Risk Assessment tool.

“The online assessments are comprehensive, ranging from a broad corporate view of workplace violence prevention programs and policies, right down to how many lights we had in our parking lot,” says Lana LeClair, Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Kemptville District Hospital. “The results are broken down by department, with a list of possible mitigation practices provided to address the gaps – you can choose the ones most appropriate to your situation, so you’re not starting from scratch.”

Mental health including PTSD

Mental health has become more recognized in society and workplaces. The ministry and its system partners are taking steps to address workplace mental health and expand tools to help protect workers. Some examples include promoting existing online tools, conducting webinars and increasing research funding for mental health.

In January 2018, amendments to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (WSIA) to include work-related chronic mental stress came into effect. This came less than two years after the WSIA was amended to introduce a presumption that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in first responders is work related.


In early 2018, the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) and the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) collaborated to launch StressAssess. This free online survey tool helps workplaces identify and address psychosocial hazards that can lead to stress and mental injury. It is based on the MIT-COPSOQ Survey, a combination of the internationally recognized Copenhagen Psychosocial Questionnaire and OHCOW's multi-stakeholder Mental Injury Toolkit. Workplaces can use it to gather the information they need to improve the work environment and to protect workers' physical and mental health. Within just a few months, 298 accounts were created, and 56 surveys were launched.

StressAssess in action: Terry’s story


Terry works in a small non-profit workplace (27 surveyed) that provides social, mental and health care supports for people on the street. It has a downtown storefront in a large city.

Terry is an engaged joint health and safety committee (JHSC) worker representative and one day a new worker questioned the lack of psychosocial content in a health and safety orientation session.


Terry and his fellow committee members looked for materials online to help assess workplace psychosocial hazards. They found the Copenhagen Psychosocial Questionnaire (COPSOQ) and downloaded a copy. They considered distributing it, but then wondered how they would interpret the results. The COPSOQ website listed contacts for each country that uses the survey, so they contacted the Canadian name on the list.


Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) had made survey administration easy by using an online questionnaire. This allowed them, as an independent outside organization, to handle the confidential data, produce a customized report and provide further support. The JHSC management and worker representatives agreed to use OHCOW’s services to administer their survey.


They conducted a survey in May and June, and had a 74% response rate in 3 weeks (below the 80% goal, but still a good level of engagement). The finding showed the workplace’s strengths and challenges:

  • Strengths—Commitment to the workplace, meaning of work, quality of leadership and possibilities for development
  • Challenges—Emotional demands, offensive behaviours and trust toward management

Some of these challenges were to be expected given the type of work; however, others showed strained internal relationships.


Management and workers committed to addressing the top issues. The existing harassment and discrimination policy was revised to address offensive behaviours, especially bullying.

A facilitator consulted individually and collectively on the trust issues, then made specific recommendations. An internal committee drafted “Working Together Differently,” a company strategy which broke down barriers between staff, leadership and their board.


Communication improved, and staff had input in policy and decision-making. Terry sensed a “culture shift” to a much more collaborative, less hierarchical climate and wanted to see if it could be measured.

A repeat survey showed improved trust and a decrease in offensive behaviours and emotional demands.

However, a new issue was highlighted: inadequate staffing and resources to consistently produce good work.

Management and staff are now working together on this new challenge. This is an example of how the survey can help organizations at all stages of stress prevention.

PTSD Summit: Prevention in Action

The ministry hosted the PTSD Summit: Prevention in Action on October 17, 2017. The second PTSD summit brought together workers, employers and experts from a wide range of sectors to discuss emerging practices for mitigating and preventing PTSD. Topics included early intervention, peer support mechanisms and prevention planning.

Mayday, Mayday: A Symposium on Workplace Mental Health and Injury Prevention

On May 3, 2017 OHCOW hosted their first symposium focusing on the latest information on workplace mental health, including prevention strategies. The title reflected not only the timing, but the critical importance of mental health in the workplace. There were 60 attendees from the prevention system (including the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, Ministry of Labour and most health and safety associations) and Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers stakeholders from across the province. Others joined by livestream or viewed the archived videos.


In June 2017, Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS) launched the ThinkMentalHealth.ca, a one-stop portal for information and resources. The website provides employers with tested tools, models and frameworks. It also contains mental health prevention information, engaging videos and resources for getting started from various approved contributors. From June 1 to March 31, 2017 the website had 7,469 visits, with 39,507 page views.

Other hazards

Compliance monitoring for training providers and programs

The ministry’s role includes ensuring the training provided by 250 approved providers is valid and effective. There is a rigorous approval process that requires detailed annual reports from providers and responses to complaints about poor training delivery. The ministry helps ensure that training providers are authentic and has a cease-and-desist process when it receives complaints about unapproved training organizations. The ministry is also starting a proactive quality assurance process to check that all providers maintain high quality training.

Development of Ontario MSD prevention guidelines

A multi-stakeholder initiative led by the Centre of Research Expertise for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders (CRE-MSD) developed a new musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) prevention guide for Ontario. The new guidelines were based on a comprehensive evaluation of the existing MSD Prevention Guidelines and Toolkit, released by the Occupational Safety and Health Council of Ontario in 2005-06. The guidelines and supporting material is being tested with workplaces.

Global Ergonomics Month

Celebrated every October, Global Ergonomics Month is an international outreach campaign promoting healthy ergonomic design and practices. In October 2017, Ontario’s occupational health and safety system partners held a manual material handling conference, plenaries, lunch and learns, webinars and training sessions. Workplaces are encouraged to launch MSD prevention programs for workers which could help save costs and boost productivity.

Footwear requirements

As of November 27 2017, the Occupational Health and Safety Act prohibits employers from requiring a worker to wear footwear with an elevated heel unless it is needed for the worker to perform their work safely. This requirement does not apply to workers who work as performers in the entertainment and advertising industry, as wearing footwear with an elevated heel may be a valid job requirement for some of these workers.