(Canadian OH&S News) — According to the latest annual report from the Workers’ Compensation Board of Nova Scotia (WCB), the province’s rate of workplace injury has hit a new low. The injury rate for 2013 was only 1.86 workers (out of every 100) who lost three or more days of work because of an occupational injury, according to the 68-page report released on April 17.
The 1.86 rate was the lowest since the WCB had begun tracking the province’s workplace injury rates annually in 2000. It also represented a 35 per cent drop since 2005.
“It’s our goal to be the safest place to work in Canada,” said Stuart MacLean, the WCB’s chief executive officer. “In Nova Scotia, we have seen attitudes begin to change. We’ve seen investment in health and safety.”
The report also stated that Nova Scotia’s total amount of registered workplace injury claims last year had been 25,050, a decrease from 26,422 in 2012. There was also a yearly decline in the number of workplace injuries resulting in time loss (6,034), as well as a drop of 29,000 in the number of working days lost to workplace injuries. The number of injured workers who received full-time benefits also declined, and the province’s nine largest industries experienced drops in injury rates, according to the WCB.
“We’ve made a lot of progress,” MacLean said. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t have a long way to go.” Too many people continued to get hurt on the job, he noted, “and we need to continue to keep our nose to the grindstone in terms of trying to develop a safety culture.”
MacLean credited a comprehensive approach on the WCB’s part with getting the numbers down, including raised awareness, additional resources and financial incentives to motivate employers to make workplaces safer.
But not everybody agrees with the numbers. Mary Lloyd, president of the New Glasgow-based Pictou County Injured Workers Association, has said that the report’s low numbers were due to underreporting and claim suppression. She also accused the Board of classifying some incidents as “reoccurrences” when workers had suffered previous unrelated injuries.
“The Board’s stats are based on experience rating,” Lloyd charged, referring to the practice of using incomplete statistics to convey a certain impression. “As long as experience rating is in this province and any other province, we’re going to have the underreporting of accidents, suppression of claims and a negative impact on occupational health and safety.”
Lloyd cited two types of Nova Scotia employers who were swaying the numbers: those who coerced workers to use up their sick days rather than file claims, and those who had in-house medical services that discouraged workers from getting outside treatment. Furthermore, she said, the WCB was fully aware of those practices.
“If they have to address it, it’s going to make them look foolish now,” said Lloyd, “because for years, they’ve been saying what a good job they’re doing.”
MacLean conceded the possibility that underreporting and claim suppression happened in some cases. But he maintained that the report was evidence of improvement. “There has been no change in our methodology, in terms of how we actually count the number of time-loss injuries,” he explained, adding that in-house medical services were a best-practices approach that “gives the injured worker the best chances of success for healing.”
Kelly Regan, the province’s Minister of Labour and Advanced Education, was pleased with the WCB’s data. “It is very important that we celebrate our successes,” Regan said. “I hope the positive trend continues until no one is injured on the job.”
Regan cautioned that there was still work to be done to prevent future incidents. “One workplace injury or fatality is too many,” she said. “We are increasing our inspections on high-risk industries, we are hiring a new prosecutor who will focus on oh&s offences and we are continuing to build on our strong partnership with the Workers Compensation Board, safety partners, employers and workers to improve the workplace safety culture in Nova Scotia.”
The report noted that there had been 34 workplace fatalities in Nova Scotia in 2013. Eight of these deaths occurred in the fishing industry, in which a worker is 46 times more likely to suffer an “acute” fatality (defined as a death by traumatic injury) than in any other sector.
“A good outcome of safety culture is the injury that doesn’t happen,” said MacLean. “Preventing the injury in the first place would be the ultimate success.”