TORONTO, Ont. – The corporate safety manager of Ontario’s Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB) is seeking a peace bond in court against a Windsor man who has allegedly been posting harassing and threatening comments about him and the Board on Facebook. A two-day court hearing between Frank Brunato, the WSIB manager, and Mike Spencer began on March 17. The comments reportedly appeared in an anti-WSIB Facebook community called “Wsib [sic] KILLS People”, which charges that the provincial workers’ compensation board treats disabled workers unfairly and is morally responsible for past deaths by stress, suicide and other causes. “The WSIB takes the safety and security of its employees very seriously,” WSIB public-relations specialist Christine Arnott told COHSN. “As this matter is before the courts, we cannot comment further.” On March 22, Spencer posted on the Facebook page that the hearing would continue on April 21.
Thomas W. Largo, Bureau of Disease Control, Prevention, and Epidemiology, Michigan Department of Community Health, Lansing, Michigan; Kenneth D. Rosenman, Michigan State University, College of Human Medicine, East Lansing, Michigan
An amputation is one of the most serious injuries an employee can sustain and may result in lost time from work and permanent limitations that restrict future activity. A multi-data source system has been shown to identify twice as many acute traumatic fatalities as one relying only on employer reporting. This study demonstrates the value of a multi-data source approach for non-fatal occupational injuries. Data were abstracted from medical records of patients treated for work-related amputations at Michigan hospitals and emergency departments and were linked to workers’ compensation claims data. Safety inspections were conducted by the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration for selected cases. From 2006 through 2012, 4,140 Michigan residents had a work-related amputation. In contrast, the Survey of Occupational Injury and Illness conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that there were 1,770 cases during this period. During the seven-year period, work-related amputation rates decreased by 26 per cent. The work-related amputation rate for men was more than six times that for women. Industries with the highest work-related amputation rates were wood-product manufacturing and paper manufacturing. Power saws and presses were the leading causes of injury. One hundred and seventy-three safety inspections were conducted as a result of referrals from the system. These inspections identified 1,566 violations and assessed $652,755 in penalties. The system was fairly simple to maintain, identified more than twice as many cases than either BLS or workers’ compensation alone and was useful for initiating inspection of high-risk worksites.
Occ Environ Med, Volume 72, Issue 3, pages 171-176. Correspondence to: Thomas W. Largo, Bureau of Disease Control, Prevention, and Epidemiology, Michigan Department of Community Health, 201 Townsend Street, P.O. Box 30195, Lansing, Michigan, 48909; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saskatchewan’s occupational health and safety authorities are stepping up random workplace inspections, after more than a year of focusing efforts on more injury-prone workplaces. Don Morgan, provincial Minister of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety, announced on March 4 that he had ordered the ministry’s oh&s department to increase random inspections.
Morgan’s announcement came shortly after a CBC report that an October 2013 policy change had resulted in severe decreases both in inspections and in notices of contravention. Former oh&s officer Pat Bowers claimed that worker safety was at risk because of a 94 per cent decrease in notices handed out to employers.
“The concern that was expressed to our Minister was one of ‘We’re not doing any random inspections,’ when, in fact, we always have been,” Mike Carr, the province’s Deputy Minister of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety, told COHSN. “But it led the minister to make the observation that we could probably do more.”
Carr explained that the ministry’s policy change in 2013 was an attempt to lower the province’s overall injury rate – Canada’s second-highest – by narrowing the focus on the most problematic workplaces. “We used to be in a situation where 90 per cent of the work that our officers did was random, 10 per cent was focused,” he said. “We’ve repositioned our resources, done some additional training and said that our officers are going to undertake intelligence-based, evidence-based activity with a narrow group.”
Saskatchewan Federation of Labour president Larry Hubich said he was “encouraged” by the ministry’s recent decision, but still skeptical about its approach to oh&s enforcement.
“They should have never reduced the number of random inspections in the first place,” said Hubich. “I have no doubt in my mind that workplaces are more dangerous, that employers are cutting corners and that workers are more vulnerable.”
Hubich was concerned that some employers were not reporting accidents properly, but encouraging employees to stay at work with lighter duties instead, to avoid higher Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) premiums. “I’ve had stories told to me from individuals who are afraid to go public because they’re afraid of retaliation,” he said. “That’s the climate that we’re in the midst of.”
Carr claimed that workplace injuries in Sask. had actually decreased. “In those workplaces where we have focused our attention on the target initiative, we’ve achieved a 22 per cent reduction year over year in injury rate,” he said.
But Hubich was unconvinced. “His agenda is to deliver for the corporate sector,” he said about Carr, “so I have no confidence that the interest of workers or their safety is a paramount priority for the current deputy minister. Anything that he says in this regard, I take with a grain of salt.”
Hubich also charged that the provincial government’s bureaucrats had met with those in Alberta and British Columbia to determine which oh&s laws interfered with trade. If the government put health and safety below the corporate agenda of its financial backers, he said, “I’m not confident that we’re getting an adequate enforcement of occupational health and safety legislation.”
Carr said that while random inspections would increase, the ministry would continue to invest the majority of its resources in the workplaces with the most injuries. “We did an analysis based on 2013 WCB statistics and determined that 86 per cent of Saskatchewan workplaces were injury-free that year. We said our attention should really be focused on the 14 per cent of workplaces that are having an injury experience.
“We will, in accordance with the Minister’s direction, do some more random inspections, but they will be still the smallest proportion of the work.”
“I see nothing but the watering down of occupational health and safety standards by this government,” said Hubich. “Health and safety should take priority over everything.”
A representative of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has spoken out to the media about allegedly poor conditions at WorkSafeNB’s Rehabilitation Centre in Grand Bay-Westfield, New Brunswick – saying that the facility has a “culture of fear.”
National CUPE rep Michael Davidson told CBC News on Feb. 26 that employees at the Centre were afraid to speak out on behalf of injured workers. “There’s a culture of fear in there, that you’ll lose your job if you speak out against the organization, or if you’re critical of the organization, or if you talk about changes that need to be made,” he told the CBC.
There were also safety concerns at the Centre, Davidson added, citing a recent incident in which local police had arrested a man there for possessing a weapon and issuing threats to staff at the facility. There had been no investigation of the incident since its occurrence, he said.
Davidson said that he was basing these observations on talks with members of CUPE Local 946, a branch of the national union representing employees of both the rehab centre and the main WorkSafeNB office in Saint John.
Davidson did not respond to COHSN by press time. But WorkSafeNB president and CEO Gerard Adams said that the organization did not support Davidson’s claims. “Nor do we believe the majority of our employees support these allegations,” he added.
“A 2014 exit survey with clients at our rehabilitation centre indicated an overall satisfaction level of 86.4 per cent,” Adams continued. “In our 2014 staff-satisfaction survey, which is anonymous and administered by an external agency, staff engagement rated at 95 per cent, with 91 per cent of respondents saying they felt comfortable and safe at their workplace. Overall satisfaction − ‘I feel WorkSafeNB is a good place to work’ − was also at 91 per cent.”
Adams added that WorkSafeNB always sought feedback from all of its employees on all aspects of its business. “We count on their expertise and respect it. Their input results in continuous improvements to our benefits, programs and services.”
Davidson has not been the first party to cast a critical eye on the Rehabilitation Centre. A March 2014 report from the Support Team for Injured Workers and Families (STIWF), Collaborative Group Process Report, claimed that the facility had a poor reputation.
“It appears that there is a pervasive and quite negative perception of the Grand Bay rehabilitation centre itself, amongst many injured workers,” the report read. “Some injured workers even went to the extreme of comparing Grand Bay to Fort Knox and concentration camps… Some shared with us that they had suicidal thoughts as a result of their stay there.”
The report elaborated that some injured workers had found their treatments and exercises more hurtful than helpful to them. Workers who refused to undergo painful rehabilitation techniques were considered “uncooperative,” it said.
“We are proud of the work we do at WorkSafeNB on behalf of New Brunswick’s workforce,” Adams said. “We believe our staff are the very best at what they do, and we appreciate their commitment to making our province one of the safest in which to work in Canada.”
Collaborative Group Process Report is available online at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bx78OOvnOn-RU1pmUjVoZ3RSdGM/edit.
HALIFAX, N.S. — Employers in Nova Scotia seeking workplace insurance coverage can now apply online through the Workers’ Compensation Board of Nova Scotia’s (WCB) website at http://www.wcb.ns.ca/Workplace-Injury-Insurance/How-to-Register.aspx. Through the online registration form, employers can apply for insurance quickly and easily, whereas previously, employers had to complete a print form and mail or fax the registration, the WCB said in a statement. Employers will now also receive an immediate confirmation email, including useful links and information about health and safety. In-person and mail/fax options are still available for employers who cannot register online.
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — Satisfaction with the Workers Compensation Board of Prince Edward Island (WCB) reached an all-time high last year, the WCB said in a statement on Feb. 12. The WCB reported that over 500 injured workers had participated in the survey conducted by an independent research company last fall. Similar studies have been conducted every two years since 2002, and the results this time showed that the majority of WCB clients were satisfied with their overall experience with the board. In 2014, the WCB achieved a performance rating of 73 per cent, the statement said. Among the results, there was a notable improvement in satisfaction with workers’ first contact with the board, rising from 63 per cent in 2012 to 78 per cent in 2014. A summary report of the survey is available at http://www.wcb.pe.ca/DocumentManagement/Document/pub_injuredworkersurvey2014.pdf.