(Canadian OH&S News)
The Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba (WCB) has announced a handful of new initiatives aimed at enhancing the fairness of the WCB’s experience rating system.
The announcement follows the release of a report into the province’s experience rating system on April 3 that found problems with claim reporting, claim suppression and overly-aggressive return-to-work practices by employers who attempt to play the system to keep their assessment rates low.
Study author Paul Petrie, a WCB systems researcher, interviewed workers who reported being forced into “demeaning and unpleasant” light-duty work and feelings of punishment and intimidation from supervisors for being unable to perform their regular duties after an accident, as well as employers who offered incentives to departments with the lowest number of claims [COHSN April 15, 2013].
“Mr. Petrie’s report, along with other recent reviews on workplace safety and health in Manitoba, make it clear that, while we have made progress ensuring our system meets the needs of workers and employers, we still have room to improve,” WCB president and CEO, Winston Maharaj, said in a statement on Sept. 13.
The WCB said in the statement that the initiatives include: a new compliance unit; assessment rate model changes; worker advisory office changes; a return-to-work review; a claim reporting campaign; and outreach to vulnerable workers.
The new compliance unit is being formed and will add staff and resources while providing a focus on investigating allegations of claim suppression. A researcher has already reached out to stakeholders through surveys and focus groups and is currently analyzing the results. When complete, the research will be the most concrete review of claim suppression ever undertaken in Manitoba and perhaps the country, the statement said.
The WCB’s director of communications, Warren Preece, told COHSN that the research also consisted of file reviews to see if there were any indications of potential claim suppression. “Really what we are looking for is patterns or if something can serve as an early warning sign,” Preece said. “And we’re going to be following that up with interviews [with] the injured workers involved in those certain selections of files.
“Hopefully, we will have a better idea of what is out there and not in terms of, ‘Is there a way to identify solutions that might have the potential for claim suppression to be occurring?’ and that would help us ultimately focus our compliance efforts a little more strategically,” he said.
Jean-Guy Bourgeois, special projects co-ordinators at the Manitoba Federation of Labour, said that the federation released the findings of its own investigation into claims suppression in June of 2010; the investigation found that the provincial experience rating system was flawed.
“More and more employers are hiring claims management specialist firms to come in and help them manage their claims to keep their costs down instead of investing in health and safety,” Bourgeois charged. “When claims are suppressed, injured workers don’t get compensation and the hazards don’t get fixed, and more injuries happen.”
The challenge, Preece said, is that it’s difficult to know about a claim that doesn’t come in. “We are really looking through some of our, what we call ‘abandoned claims,’ and seeing if there is anything we can learn by looking at those,” he said, referring to claims that are initiated, but stopped by the claimant.
Other new initiatives include:
* Asking key stakeholder bodies to name labour and employer representatives to take part in an advisory group to review a number of proposed changes to the rate model (such as narrowing the upper and lower limits of the model and reducing the speed at which an employer’s rate can move within the range);
* Creating a Serious Injury Support Worker position to provide free and confidential services to such workers and their families;
* Reviewing customer service and return-to-work in case management;
* Creating brochures, stickers, posters and videos in 22 different languages; and
* Possibly increasing administrative penalties related to claim suppression from the current penalty of $450.