View from the Board: Crossroads for worker compensation

Journal of Commerce

by DAVE BASPALY Nov 6, 2014

After years of stability and progress, WorkSafeBC faces serious challenges.

WorkSafe BC President/CEO David Anderson retired in June, 2014, and four of the seven WorkSafeBC board of directors will leave in early 2015, their terms having expired. The coming 12 months will see major changes in the leadership of the system. The critical issue is how that change will be managed.

The entire system has been overshadowed by three high profile workplace incidents. Two sawmills had fires and explosions in 2012 with a tragic loss of life.  One pellet mill had a fire and explosion in 2014 with three workers injured. All three accidents are still under investigation, with coroner’s inquests announced or expected.

The government of BC responded to the first two incidents by placing an administrator within WorkSafeBC in 2014 – the first time this has been done.  As well, a COR review has been initiated with an outside consulting firm.

COCA believes that what is now required is an experienced, knowledgeable team to examine issues and make incremental changes as needed, not a wholesale  makeover.

We should not lose sight of the fact that WorkSafeBC is generally regarded as one of the top functioning systems in North America.

The key performance indicators are positive – with two notable exceptions.

The provincial injury rate declined from 2.34 in 2012 to 2.30 in 2013. That is, 2.30 workers were injured in a year per 100 workers employed. The historic low was 2.27 in 2010.

From 2000 – 2013 all fatalities have declined by 37 per cent and worksite trauma fatalities have declined by 59 per cent.

The serious injury rate has declined by 30 per cent and the injury rate by 45 per cent.

Within the construction industry, the improvement is even more dramatic. The injury rate for construction has dropped from 7.3 in 2000 to 4.1 in 2013.

In order to provide workers’ compensation, the system must remain financially sustainable.

WorkSafeBC has an externally managed investment portfolio that invests the money paid by employers to fund the system.  All the costs for workers’ compensation are paid by employers.

Investment returns for 2013 were 12.4 per cent- an excellent result. The accident fund, which is set aside to pay the future costs of claims, is 125 per cent funded – with a positive balance of $1.6 billion.

But there are still two issues that impact negatively upon the construction industry.

For many years, COCA has been lobbying for a balanced system of occupational health & safety orders.

When a worker has been properly trained and supervised – and then violates a safety regulation – the worker should be held accountable. Currently, the use of occupational health & safety orders is badly skewed.

In 2012, WorkSafeBC wrote 24,261 occupational health and safety orders to employers, but only 161 orders were written to workers — 0.66 per cent of total orders written.

Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan all have ticketing systems for fining workers as well as supervisors.

More needs to be done in BC to balance the system of orders.

The second issue is the average duration of claims.  While the injury rate has improved, the average time that a worker is off on workers’ compensation has gone the wrong way.  In 2000, a worker took, on average, 61 days to return to work after injury.  In 2013, the average time to return to work was 72 days.

And only a short time before the year 2000, the average duration was 50 days!

WorkSafeBC has started to address both issues – balancing worker orders and improving return to work timelines.  But these changes require a stable, experienced leadership team. The crossroads have been reached.

Dave Baspaly is the president of COCA. Grant McMillan was the strategic advisor for this column. Send comments or questions to

Nov 6, 2014