Building the Bridge Back to Work

Workplace Safety Insurance Board of Ontario
Written by Leon Bracey

Dealing with workplace injuries can be a devastating and challenging experience for both worker and company. Organizations such as the Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB) of Ontario enable workers to receive needed compensation and provide no-fault insurance for employers in the province. As an independent organization of the Ministry of Labour in Ontario, WSIB serves as a bridge to get injured workers back to work and a healthy recovery.
Established in 1998 after the dissolution of the Worker’s Compensation Board, the WSIB has carried out its vision of becoming the leading workplace compensation board in Canada. The organization is legislated by the Ontario government and is responsible for administering the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (WSIA). The WSIB is one of the largest organizations of its kind in North America, providing workplace injury insurance coverage for more than five
million workers and over 300 000 employers across Ontario in nearly every sector of the province’s economy.

Each year, the WSIB receives some 230 000 claims from injured workers and collects and manages over $4.5 billion a year in employer premiums. By adhering to values of trust, fairness, and integrity, WSIB’s commitment to providing timely and effective support ensures injured workers get back to work expeditiously.

WSIB is funded by the employers of Ontario who pay premiums for no-fault collective liability workplace insurance. In this system, workers give up the right to sue their company for their work-related injuries in return for guaranteed compensation and benefits for accepted claims. Consequently, employers are protected from lawsuits.

WSIB also has an Ethics Hotline available to people who wish to report a violation of the Code of Business Ethics and Behaviour; this is an outsourced service that is available 24 hours a day. Callers to the hotline are asked a series of questions, including whether they desire anonymity to report workplace violations that may compromise overall safety. The hotline is designed to receive and document reports of alleged violations for the purpose of bringing them forward to the WSIB for review.

The organization is governed by a Board of Directors consisting of workers’ representatives and employers – what the WSIB describes as “a caring, competency-based Board with high levels of expertise, skills and compassion,” in its publication, ‘Today’s WSIB: A Bridge Back to Work.’ The Board’s most recent responsibility was setting the organization’s Strategic Plan for 2016 through 2018, founded on five goals to enhance services to workers and employers. These goals include “promoting health and safety in Ontario workplaces; achieving even better recovery and return-to-work outcomes while administering benefits fairly; eliminating the system’s unfunded liability and making it financially sustainable once again; delivering service excellence, quality and care through innovation – including better use of new technologies to further increase customer satisfaction, and; reaching shared goals as a collaborative team, to become known as an organization that values its people.”

Achieving financial stability has been a primary goal for WSIB Ontario. Accordingly, the organization has made important strides in reducing the system’s unfunded liability from what it deemed “an unsustainable high of $14.2 billion in 2011.” In fact, it ended the second quarter of 2016 at $5.6 billion. This means WSIB Ontario is well ahead of its legislated requirement to eliminate the unfunded liability by 2027. This is a far contrast from 2009, when the Auditor General warned the WSIB’s costs had begun to so badly exceed its revenues that the system faced total collapse. Shoring up its financial position further, the organization’s investment fund has grown from $14 billion to over $26 billion in six years.

With its improvements to its finances, the WSIB did not increase premiums for the third year in a row in 2016. In fact, if it weren’t for the unfunded liability, the WSIB would have among the lowest premium rates in North America. By decreasing this debt, WSIB can focus instead on driving innovation in service delivery while safeguarding benefit levels and premiums.

WSIB strives to be the provider of choice by effectively delivering services and benefits to both workers and employers. 92 percent of claims eligibility decisions are made within two weeks –many within just 24 hours, while 96 percent of all calls to its accounts employer service centre are answered within 80 seconds on average, according to ‘Today’s WSIB.’ Employers are now able to register with the WSIB, calculate their premiums, report injuries and make payments online, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The organization continues to improve communication and utilize new technologies effectively to improve service and track performance.

With technology and automation, as well as outsourcing, changing the face of today’s business landscape, the WSIB has been examining new approaches in adding value to workers and employers alike. Today’s WSIB sees compensation as a bridge, rather than an end unto itself, with the goal being to get employees back to work. The success of this approach is evident in the organization’s Return-to-Work and Health Care strategies.

Additional steps forward for the WSIB mean improving on existing services, such as the Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Program, which costs approximately $57 million annually. The WSIB is looking to use “data and predictive analytics to better identify and prevent the cause of hearing loss in the workplace,” just one example of how modern technologies can lead to more informed policy and better outcomes overall.

With small businesses representing 85 percent of Ontario’s workplaces and 29 percent of its total workforce, dedicating time to educating these businesses about workplace safety has become a key initiative of the WSIB. Small businesses bring their own set of challenges to employers, and the WSIB can provide much-needed guidance as well as affordable workplace insurance to protect businesses and their workers. The WSIB provides guaranteed no-fault workplace insurance that protects small businesses from court settlements, and provides services and support including a comprehensive suite of eServices that enable small businesses to register, report payroll, file a claim and get a clearance certificate online. Indeed, “Throughout 2016, our Small Business Programs were able to increase their reach by 200 percent to educate small businesses on workplace health and safety issues, and by 30 percent in assisting them to implement effective health and safety programs,” writes Chair Elizabeth Witmer in the WSIB’s 2016 Annual Report.

The WSIB also recognizes small businesses with the Small Business Health and Safety Leadership Awards, recognizing “outstanding achievement in establishing health and safety programs in businesses with fewer than 50 employees,” according to

Additional services of the WSIB include an Employer Service Centre (ESC) which delivers account-related services to Ontario employers. With teams across the province, the ESC provides a range of account services, from registering accounts to providing clearance certificates, fielding inquiries, and facilitating walk-in meetings.

It is truly a culture of continuous improvement, and one which seems to be paying dividends; the overarching trend province-wide is a decline in permanent impairments. While the WSIB is as busy as ever, it has not forgotten its core mission is to safeguard the health and safety of Ontario workers.

Several key initiatives are underway to improve services at the WSIB. For example, a newly-created Service Excellence cluster is working to improve the overall WSIB customer experience. The organization is also preparing to launch a Health and Safety Index, the first of its kind in North America. The index will be used to measure the overall health and safety of Ontario’s workplaces by aggregating a wide range of data into a single metric to show how Ontario’s workplaces overall are performing from year to year – how safe they are, and whether they’re getting safer. The WSIB will use data gathered up to April 2017 to set a baseline and will publish new data along with the overall measure each year starting in summer 2018. This evidence-based tool can help the WSIB, employers, and other partners in the safety system identify areas for improvement and track progress. The index was designed so that it can be adapted by other workers’ compensation boards across Canada. “Last, but not least, is an organization-wide Employee Experience Survey to understand what we’re doing right and what can be done to improve the WSIB and its operations,” says President and CEO Thomas Teahan on the organization’s website.

As the WSIB continues to make progress in 2017, it remains committed to strengthening its financial position and collaborating with its stakeholders to promote workplace health and safety. For more information, visit



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