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WCB Contributes to Increased Wait Times in
Hospitals(The CIWS has pointed out how provincial
governments are in a conflict
of interest when they allow the WCB to deny chronic stress claims due to
workload in hospitals and schools. This allows the provinces to understaff
their hospitals and schools without having to face workplace safety
inspections. The fact that WCB denies stress claims is not only
discriminatory, but it also harms Canadian society by
contributing to chronic understaffing. Understaffing has been implicated in the
increasing injury rates of workers and in
the deaths of patients due to medical
errors. Chronic understaffing contributes significantly to
increased wait times in Canadian hospitals.)
January 15, 2007
Workplace safety inspections - 'Out of
Workplace safety inspections
A CBC News investigation has found that workplace safety
inspections in Canada are out of sync with the reality of the modern workplace
In some provinces, claims to workers' compensation boards
in workplaces that have traditionally been subject to safety inspections
such as construction, manufacturing, mining and forestry are just as
common as claims in workplaces that haven't been traditionally inspected
such as health care, education and office environments.
Even so, visits from inspectors were up to 10 times more
frequent in traditional workplaces than in non-traditional ones.
The problem is more severe in the health care field. Not
only are health care workers facing an ever-increasing threat of violence, but
the agencies responsible for regulating safety in hospitals are not doing their
For instance, according to the CBC's analysis of B.C.'s
inspections database, nurses are nearly 20 times less likely to be inspected
than workers in more traditional sectors such as forestry. Yet, according to
Statistics Canada, 73,000 nurses were assaulted at hospitals or care homes
across Canada during 2005. That's 32 per cent of all nurses involved in direct
In many provinces, workers in health care settings are just
as likely to claim injuries to compensation bodies as construction,
manufacturing and forestry workers.
As well, government inspections are also following a
traditional five-day, nine-to-five schedule, while an increasing number of
people are working outside the traditional nine-to-five shifts, and their
likelihood of having an accident increases during those periods. The CBC News
analysis shows that most government inspections are not being conducted during
hours outside the regular workday, such as weekends.
The Criminal Code of Canada was amended after the 1992
Westray mining disaster that killed 26 miners in Plymouth, Nova Scotia. Under
Bill C-45, a corporation can be found guilty of criminal negligence for an
unsafe workplace. As yet, there have been no convictions under the law.
This CBC News investigation, called "Out of sync", is the
second into workplace safety this year. The first,
Dying for a job, was reported in April 2006.
Out of sync with today's changing
January 15, 2007
Catherine Klein was feeling pretty comfortable in her job
as a nurse at the general hospital in Princeton, a small town about a
three-hour drive east of Vancouver. She had recently graduated from nursing
school and had settled into a life with her new husband. Before long, her
permanent, part-time position turned into a full-time job. Life was great.
Klein works in Princeton General Hospital's long-term and
acute-care sections. "I'm really enjoying the small town a lot more than I
thought. It's really different than working in a big centre where you don't
know anybody. It's just a little nicer knowing something about the person
you're trying to help." But during the morning of Nov. 17, 2004, her familiar
world turned dangerous when she stood between a knife-wielding robber and the
medicine cabinet full of narcotics.
"It was almost personal. It hurt that someone would come to
our little hospital in their own little town and rob us. It's like holding up
your grandma or something." How that robbery unfolded and its aftermath is
spelled out in the profile of her case on The World at Six on Monday,
Klein's ordeal is indicative of one of many trends
uncovered by CBC News in our second major investigation into workplace safety.
Dying for a Job, which aired the week of April 23, 2006, we
used provincial freedom-of-information laws to obtain databases from workplace
safety insurance boards across the country to examine national trends. One of
our major headlines was the fact that nurses like Klein were anywhere from six
to 12 times more likely than workers in any other industrial sector to book off
work after a violent incident.
Kinsman worked as an ultrasound technologist in B.C. before the pain in her arm
spread to the rest of her body and became too much for her. She quit her job
and applied a compensation claim from WorkSafeBC. She was rejected because she
couldn't prove her pain developed on the job. But Kinsman fought back.
Audio (Runs: 4:14)
In this second series, which we're calling Out of Sync, we
ask the question: how effectively are provincial ministries dealing with many
of the emerging threats faced by thousands of workers across the country? While
some jurisdictions such as B.C. and Ontario have stepped up their efforts to
deal with these threats, our analysis of inspections databases from most
jurisdictions demonstrates that the efforts are not as effective as they could
For instance, a disproportionate number of workplace
inspections focus on traditional sectors such as manufacturing as opposed to
non-traditional sectors, such as health care and social services, where an
increasing number of Canadians are being injured on the job. Our analysis also
shows that most government inspections are not being conducted during hours
outside the regular workday, such as
weekends. This, despite
evidence that shows that an increasing number of people are
working outside the traditional 9-to-5 shifts, and
evidence that their likelihood of having an accident
increases during those time periods.
From an academic standpoint, the changing nature of the
workforce, and the effect those changes are having on inspection and
compensation systems around the world have been studied. Though, as far as some
experts are concerned, much more needs to be done.
According to a
summary document of research conducted in this area,
"Unsafe working conditions are still prevalent in Canadian workplaces. Physical
injuries are associated with physically demanding jobs, especially in
manufacturing and construction. But, injury rates are also high in sectors such
as retail, health and social services.
Workers' compensation practices,
which were designed to address physical trauma in a world of manual,
blue-collar, male work, have not changed to sufficiently recognize the growing
reality of less visible physical injuries that develop over a period of time."
"Modern workers' compensation laws in Canada, they all came
into effect, for the most part, in the first decade or two in the 20th
century," explains Robert Storey, who teaches in the labour studies and
sociology department at Hamilton's McMaster University.
"And of course, that's synonymous with the rise of
industrialism, industrial capitalism and large factories, chaotic machinery and
lots of accidents. And so the compensation acts were framed around the
so-called dangerous trades: steel companies, coal mines, etc. So there wasn't
much thought given to other kinds of workplaces and other kinds of workers
because in fact they were thought to be safe. Starting in the late '70s, we see
this change to what everyone was then calling the new economy. And we now see
it as an information economy, post-modern economy where you have a shift from
most people being employed in industrial jobs
into the secondary and
what we call the service sector, which is one form or another of white-collar
work or pink-collar work."
Many jurisdictions have been attempting to adjust to the
new economy and the hazards facing workers in these non-traditional sectors. In
Nova Scotia, for instance,
Department of Environment and Labour is asking citizens
what they think should be done to help deal with the increasing level of
violence faced by health-care workers. This, despite the fact that our analysis
from 2001-2005 shows that the ministry was far less likely to inspect
health-care facilities compared to employers in the
traditional sector. Unions have been pushing to have violence included in
the regulations, arguing that the province needs to have the legal muscle to
force employers to take this issue seriously.
Unlike Nova Scotia, B.C. has regulations to deal with
violence in the workplace. The law stipulates that, among other things,
health-care employers must conduct safety audits to provide maximum security
for their employees. The
letter by then Deputy Health Minister Penny Ballem
instructed the health authorities to get busy.
"Health authorities will be expected to complete risk
assessments, develop plans for appropriate control measures, and initiate
appropriate communication, education and training programs within one year of
issuance of this policy," wrote Dr. Penny Ballem to the CEOs of the provinces'
health authorities in 2005. The deadline has come and gone. And it's still
unclear how many facilities have complied. The lack of clarity concerns at
least one union. In its
letters to the health minister and WorkSafeBC, the Health
Sciences Association of British Columbia, wondered about the reaction to the
ministry's edict and whether facilities that had failed to fulfil their legal
obligation under the Workers' Compensation Act and Regulation would be
"Every workplace needs to foresee the possible risks that
arise," warns Len Hong, president and CEO of the Canadian Centre for Canadian
Occupational Health and Safety. We spoke to Hong about our findings regarding
the lack of inspections for non-traditional workplaces. And while he did stress
that more provinces, employers and workers are trying to take these matters
more seriously and are putting measures in place, he concedes that progress
might not be happening fast enough.
"Are they doing enough? Obviously, not enough."
New battle grounds in workplace safety
Another area that also demands more attention is illnesses
that occur at work, but are unrecognized by compensation boards. Historically,
the boards have only covered certain kinds of injuries, usually those related
to on-the-job accidents.
If a roofer falls and injures himself or herself, then it
can be fairly easy to prove that the workplace caused the accident. But what if
the link to the workplace is more dubious, but the illness is real?
Increasingly, compensation boards are dealing - or not dealing, as it turns out
- with those kinds of circumstances. This is the case for an increasing number
of workers suffering from mental stress.
Maureen Brennan and Schiphrah Cazir work in the Canadian
air travel industry, one as a passenger check-in-agent, the other in her
company's call centre. Over the past several years, both women found themselves
labouring in what they describe as increasingly stressful work environments,
and both were eventually ordered to stop working by their doctors.
Yet neither woman elected to try to claim for compensation
support in their province because they had seen other colleagues suffering
similar chronic stress injuries rejected out of hand by provincial insurance
boards, which refuse to recognize chronic stress injuries as serious workplace
Catherine Loughlin knows all about these new battlegrounds
for workplace safety. She is a Canada research chair in management at the Sobey
School of Business at St. Mary's University in Halifax. She says illnesses such
as mental stress are not traditionally covered by compensation boards, because
the boards have determined that it's too difficult to prove that the stress was
caused by an event at work.
It turns out that mental stress is considered to be
different from the post-traumatic stress suffered by someone who witnesses a
horrendous event at work, or someone such as B.C. nurse Catherine Klein who was
held up at knifepoint. In a case such as Klein's, the worker can show that the
stress is tied to an incident, the same way that a piece of machinery that
maims a worker can be blamed as the culprit. As far as most of the country's
insurance boards are concerned, mental stress, the kind that is the result of a
gradual onset unrelated to any one factor at a point in time, is a different
story. Most workers' compensation boards, except for Quebec, Saskatchewan, the
Northwest Territories and the Yukon, don't cover stress that is deemed to be
"For example, if you go into a traditional workplace and
let's say you have an individual lifting bags of flour in a cake factory,"
explains Loughlin, "there will be clear cutoffs. In other words, this bag can
only weigh X number of pounds in order to be lifted safely. We don't typically
have a cut-off for the number of abusive comments a person can receive in an
hour, or the number of times someone can be insulted by customers. So there are
a lot of other things going on in the workplace, but we typically only
recognize the physical ones that we can measure.
"Mental conditions, psychiatric conditions, depression are
not things you can really look at with an X-ray," adds Katherine Lippel, who
holds a Canada Research Chair in occupational health and safety law at the
University of Ottawa. "When we talk about stress claims, you've got to watch it
because sometimes it's a way of trivializing these claims. We're talking about
mental illness here. We're talking about depression. We're talking about
diagnosed, recognized illnesses. And we're talking about documented causes.
We're not saying this person hasn't been sleeping, so let's give him money."
Insurance boards such as WorkSafeBC agree that these
illnesses are serious, but they argue they haven't seen enough research to help
them draw definitive links between workplace conditions and gradual or chronic
stress. Perhaps the person's home life is a contributing factor. Or perhaps
they're at risk for mental illness, regardless of where they work. The boards
suggest that there are other ways to deal with stress clams, such as private
insurance, employee-assistance programs and, in extreme cases, unemployment
insurance. The problem with these alternate methods, argues Lippel, is that
there is no legal obligation for the employer to fix the problem that could be
causing the stress. Under workers' compensation, the provincial ministry has
the right to inspect a workplace and order the employer to take corrective
action. No such obligation for corrective action exists under any system
outside workers' compensation. Lippel says that contrary to arguments being
made by workplace insurance boards, there is an emerging body of evidence - and
lawsuits - that may force employers
and boards to think twice about making chronic stress a compensable injury.
(More information on this topic can in these articles in PDF format:
"What we're finding in terms of these longitudinal studies
in Europe, for instance, is continual increase in stressful working conditions.
Intensification of work is something that is being carefully monitored by
people interested in epidemiology of mental health. Violence in the workplace
is on the increase. And, of course, if you look at anything having to do with
the public sector, huge cutbacks in terms of the number of people working for
the quantity of work they have to do, of course it's more stressful," says
Another trend we studied in Out of Sync involved some of
the more aggressive measures at the disposal of governments, namely, fines and
prosecutions. We were able to obtain prosecutions data from three provinces:
Nova Scotia, Ontario and British Columbia. In B.C., for instance, the number of
fines, when adjusted for inflation, diminished from $2.3 million in 1995 to
$1.4 million, the latest year for which we were able to obtain complete
statistics. During the same time period, the number of inspections decreased by
40 per cent.
And in some instances, this reduction, especially in the
area of prosecutions, is by design, says Raymond Rock, WorkSafeBC's regional
director for the Lower Mainland in the West Division. "They're [prosecutions]
down. There's always a shift in what is the best way to get that message
across. Investigations are a separate group now. And they have a mandate. And
their job is to investigate all fatalities, and then select a number of serious
injuries to see what kind of lessons we can learn."
In many instances, argues Terry Bogyo, WorkSafeBC's
director of corporate planning and development, it's better to avoid
prosecution to achieve quicker results. He says sometimes it's better to keep
closer tabs on workers, place orders, impose fines or raise premiums the
employers must pay.
"The point is to change the behaviour in the workplace to
make it a safer place," says Bogyo. "We will not shy away from doing a
prosecution in the right case, and we do them. But we're interested in making
that change today to protect workers. And part of what we do through ensuring
compliance and through the system of issuing penalties is to get to that end."
Not only can employers be pursued by provinces, the federal government can also
use its powers under the Criminal Code of Canada. Bill C-45 is a legacy of the
1992 Westray mining disaster that killed 26 minors in Plymouth, N.S., and sent
shock waves west to Parliament Hill.
Some of the miners, including Glenn Martin, were
increasingly nervous about working in the mine. The eldest of five brothers, he
represented the fourth generation of Martin men to work in the coal mines. Out
of work, and with little education, he had trouble finding steady work. With a
little political clout due to the influence of Elmer MacKay, who was the
Conservative MP for Central Nova, Glenn was able to get a job. He began working
underground in September 1991. He was not one to scare easily, but the frequent
cave-ins and the constant accumulation of coal dust made him nervous. By the
following spring, he was ready to call it quits.
"As much as he hated being on pogey, it was better than
taking his chances at Westray. He would work just a little longer
had saved enough money to put siding on his house and pave the driveway. Then
he would quit," wrote Dean Jobb in his 1994 book Calculated Risk: Greed,
Politics, and the Westray Tragedy.
On May 8, 1992, the 26 men went underground for the late
shift. Early the next morning, an explosion fuelled by methane and coal dust
ripped through the mine, killing all 26 men. Rescuers were never able to
recover 11 of the bodies.
Of course, Westray has become synonymous with workplace
safety and what can go wrong at work. A coroner's inquest into the mining
disaster issued many recommendations to prevent similar accidents. And one of
those recommendations was giving the federal government the power to prosecute
and perhaps convict employers who knowingly put their employees at risk. After
much debate in the House of Commons, of which NDP MP and former party leader
Alexa McDonough was a part, the government of the day passed Bill C-45. "But I
think it's also devastating that now three years later, there's very little
sign that this legislation is actually being used in cases that appear to
warrant it," she says, reflecting on Westray's legacy.
The United Steel Workers Union argues that there are many
cases that should be prosecuted under Bill C-45. As a recent example, they
point to the death of Lyle Hewer, a worker who died two years ago in a sawmill
accident in New Westminster, B.C. Local union president Les Veale recalls what
"Lyle had determined about 20 minutes into unplugging it [a
5.5-metre-high hopper at the end of a conveyor belt that collects bark and then
grinds it up] that he'd made enough room to climb inside of the machine that
wasn't running and start pulling on the bark to pull it out to the people
outside and they would distribute it. They worked from 20 to 25 minutes,
pulling the bark from the open door, of which all they could see was Lyle's
feet. And then after that, the supervisor came up and asked how things were
going and asked how Lyle was, and that's when they tapped him on the foot and
realized that his foot was limp
. What had happened was the loose bark
that was stuck inside the chute
came down on and around him
it suffocated him."
The Crown decided not to lay charges against the company.
For its part, the Crown in Quebec is considering using the
law. One case before the courts in that province involves the Westray
amendments to the Criminal Code. Transpave, a concrete block manufacturer
northwest of Montreal, has been charged with criminal negligence causing death.
A 23-year-old worker was killed in 2005 while trying to clear a jam in a
machine. If convicted, Transpave would be the first corporation found guilty of
criminal negligence since the Westray mine explosion.
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