The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) is now in its 105th year of operations on behalf of workers and employers in Ontario. Its basic mission remains unchanged. The WSIB still operates according to the no-fault, collective liability principles envisioned by Sir William Ralph Meredith in his path-breaking report in 1913
But while the principles remain unchanged, so much of the work that the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board does and the environment in which it is operating is changing. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board has had to evolve and grow accordingly.
The size of its operations and the economy it covers has massively expanded. The WSIB now covers more than 5 million workers and over 319,000 employers across the province. It pays out nearly $2.8 billion in annual benefits. It has become one of the largest insurance organizations in North America.
The issues it is responsible for are also rapidly changing. Evolving medical research and social norms are reshaping how we think about workplace injuries. New and emerging business models are producing difficult questions about WSIB coverage and how it should apply to the so-called
gig economy. And our expectations about service quality, transparency and accountability, and the responsiveness of public institutions continue to grow.
As part of its efforts to respond to these economic and social trends, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board is entering a period of significant transition – including (but not limited to):
- elimination of its unfunded liability
- launch of a new rate framework and
- plans to implement a core services modernization initiative
The goal of these initiatives is to make the organization more accountable, sustainable and effective at serving workers and employers in the province. Each of them is justified and generally positive in and of itself. But the cumulative effect of these various developments could produce risks for the WSIB and its stakeholders. Successful execution of these transitions will require strong leadership, proper mitigation strategies, and an overall legal and policy framework that supports the WSIB's efforts.
The Ontario government therefore appointed two external reviewers in May 2019 to conduct an operational review of the WSIB. The purpose of the review was to:
- provide the government with insights regarding the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s operations and how it compares to best practices in other jurisdictions and in the insurance industry and
- complement the work of an MPP-led task force that is reviewing all provincial agencies
In particular, the reviewers were tasked with analysing the following areas:
- financial oversight: the sustainability of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board insurance fund and the controls over it
- administration: the effectiveness of the current governance model and leadership structure
- efficiency: the effectiveness and cost efficiency of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s operations, including comparisons to other jurisdictions and private sector insurers
The review has sought to produce analysis and recommendations that will help the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board manage its transitions, protect and maintain its financial sustainability and ultimately better serve workers and employers in Ontario.
This ensuing report reflects input and contributions from a wide range of stakeholders and officials from the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. It is also informed by independent research including comparative analysis of the WSIB’s model with other jurisdictions in Canada and, where applicable, with private sector firms. The report was conducted prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, but has been reviewed and will be considered by the government through a COVID lens.
The report is organized based on the reviewers’ understanding of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board's current state and the opportunities and challenges that it will need to confront over the medium and long-term. It is not a backward-looking document. Others have effectively covered the historical evolution of the WSIB. There is no reason to revisit the past here. The opportunities and challenges that the WSIB will face in the coming years deserve their own attention and analysis. That is the purpose of this report.
Eliminating the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board unfunded liability has been the principal focus for the organization for the past several years. It has rightly consumed the attention of the WSIB’s board of directors, its senior management, and been reflected throughout its operations. But it has also limited the scope for broader reform such as modernizing the WSIB’s processes or rethinking its insurance model or other forward-looking improvements to better serve workers and employers in the province.
Achieving its elimination can now enable broader thinking about the WSIB and how it works. It is a matter of both cause and effect. The effort to restore the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s financial sustainability has caused the organization to place a greater emphasis on modernizing its core services and improving efficiencies. And the return to financial sustainability has had the effect of opening the window to enact service-oriented changes.
It comes at a critical time. The public’s expectations about how public institutions function and perform are rapidly increasing. People want public services to be responsive, timely, and individualized. A failure to meet these expectations can erode public trust and confidence and ultimately cause people to question the ongoing justification for certain public institutions.
The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board is not immune to these developments. Its model of claims management is outdated and complicated. It is difficult for people to contact the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board or learn about the status of their claims. Adjudication decisions and payments are frequently too slow especially involving complex claims. The review’s consultations found growing frustration on all sides about the WSIB’s processes and systems.
It is imperative therefore that the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board uses this moment of transition to modernize its operations and improve how it serves workers and employers. More responsive, timely, and individualized services are key for the WSIB to retain the trust and confidence of Ontarians now and into the future.
The pages that follow set out a series of legal, operational, and policy recommendations that aim to ensure that the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board remains a vital and dynamic part of Ontario’s modern social safety net.
- footnote Back to paragraph Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. (2016). Framework for Operational Policy Development and Renewal.