Il Duca Contracting has its Certificate of Recognition (COR®) framed at its office in Etobicoke. It hangs above a black and white photo of a man operating an excavator. The operator is Walter Pannia’s father, Gaetano. He founded the company in 1987 with Walter’s brother, Vincenzo.

COR for small business

With a crew of less than 20 workers, Il Duca is considered a small business in Ontario’s construction sector. The vast majority of its business (road reconstruction, laneway projects, concrete sidewalks) comes from the City of Toronto. A few years ago, when Toronto rolled out its plan to start requiring contractors bidding on municipal construction projects to be COR® certified, Il Duca’s management team knew they had to take action.

“It was either change our business plan or seek COR® certification,” says Pannia, the company’s General Manager.

Pannia and his colleagues chose the latter course, recognizing that their biggest client had joined a growing list of construction buyers who prioritize their contractors’ health and safety performance. Metrolinx, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), Infrastructure Ontario, and the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA) are just a few of the other big buyers that have made COR® certification a mandatory aspect of their procurement processes.

After about two years of hard work, Il Duca successfully achieved COR®. It is now among the 670-plus COR®- certified companies in Ontario. More than 2,000 other firms are currently working toward certification.

“Before you get into COR®, you believe you’ve been doing all you were supposed to be doing,” Pannia says. “But you soon realize your health and safety system was little more than a binder. There were forms you reviewed and implemented every year. You met the minimum legislative requirements, then the binder went back on the shelf. Once you start COR®, you really begin to see all of the inadequacies and inefficiencies pop up.”


A safety-first focus

The difference with COR® is its routine implementation. Certification shows that you have developed an effective health and safety management system—and that system is being applied daily and evaluated annually through comprehensive internal and external audits.

“At first it was difficult getting everyone to buy into the system,” says Mario Migliacci, Il Duca’s Health and Safety Coordinator. “The workers weren’t all on board with the changes. There was some resistance. You know, ‘More complaints, more regulations!’ But they soon saw that COR® was for their own benefit. Once that initial fear was eliminated, they embraced it. Now our workers look out for and help each other. Health and safety has become a daily habit.”

“We are still producing. Still doing the same work. But there is a real focus on health and safety,” Pannia adds. “Workers might have gone for lunch on a hot day and forgotten to put on their hard hats again. Or they’d walk over a TC 54 traffic barrel that had been knocked over. You don’t see that happening now. Those examples might seem minor, but they are proof of how the program is working.”

The COR® process has also improved communication across the board. Pannia says his crew is now more comfortable approaching him—and not just with health and safety matters. “I think it’s an offshoot of the program. There is a trust and understanding that maybe was not there before.”

Ken Rayner, IHSA’s Vice President of Market Development and Communications, says these are just a few of the benefits of adopting COR®. “What is really working is Il Duca’s health and safety management system. COR® is the standard, but Il Duca has taken that standard and created its own system. It belongs to them. And that’s how you do it.”

Rayner recommends that companies use their own employees as resources to create and build their health and safety management system to the best of their ability, so that it becomes their own. He also advises companies to make use of what IHSA can offer. “We lead you in the right direction. We are not going to write the policies for you, but we will give you guidance and encourage you to do it yourself. To build it yourself.”


Small steps go a long way

Migliacci says that Il Duca’s program continues to develop because all employees are thinking about it. “You can dictate, but the results are not the same. We let them ask the questions and let them be part of coming up with the answer. The point is to make everyone believe they’re part of the process. That is the key to success. You build the trust.”

“With smaller companies like ours, you’re better off taking small steps,” he adds. “The key is to get something in place and build on it. What you don’t want to do is go to your staff and say, ‘Here is the finished product.’ That’s where you’ll encounter pushback.

That happened to us. So we took a step back and said, ‘One step at a time.’ That’s when it really started coming together.”

To small businesses considering—or about to embark on—their COR® journey, Pannia says to commit to it and avoid taking shortcuts. “You need a solid foundation, so start with the basics. As you get further along, you’ll find that you are building the system a lot faster, and a lot more thoroughly. And use IHSA. They have the resources. Ask the questions. When you start to actually understand what you’re doing, everything falls into place.”

Migliacci notes that reaching out to other firms can be helpful, too. “You’re not alone. There were larger companies ahead of us in the COR® line, and we bounced ideas off them. We all talked to each other.”

Pannia says he sees the difference in daily operations when working with other COR®-certified contractors. “I can pick out little, minor variations. The way they’ve set up their traffic controller. Or how a machine is positioned. The crews are working together. Once COR® becomes industry-wide, I can really see it flourishing.”

“You know,” he continues, “everything else is secondary. People built roads before I did, and people will build them after I am gone. The primary goal— forget production and everything—the primary goal is people getting home every night to their families.”



Begin your COR® journey
Find out everything you need to know about adopting COR®—from resources to get you started to the full list of certified firms—at