WorkSafeBC under fire from MLA, others

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      British Columbia's Opposition labour critic claims it is time to change the legislation that protects workers injured on the job. Spokespeople for WorkSafeBC, the provincial Crown agency that regulates that area, disagree. They claim that B.C.'s system for workers' compensation has improved in recent years.

      NDP MLA Chuck Puchmayr (New Westminster) told the Georgia Straight that a law dealing with safety in the workplace is prone to unfairly penalizing those it should protect. He claimed that WorkSafeBC, formerly known as the Workers' Compensation Board, is able to act as "judge and jury" on its own cases. "There is no third party or independent overview," he said.

      Puchmayr suggested that a public inquiry might be needed to overhaul WorkSafeBC to the point where it is acting in workers' interest. He argued that the Workers Compensation Act, which WorkSafeBC administers on behalf of the Ministry of Labour and Citizens' Services, is "unfairly skewed against the worker" and requires a "complete overhaul".

      Puchmayr took issue with a sentence in the Workers Compensation Act that reads: "Any decision or action of the chair or the appeal tribunal under this Part is final and conclusive and is not open to question or review in any court."

      He interpreted the legislation as stripping WorkSafeBC of any oversight, and argued that the result is fewer approved claims. Puchmayr said that, on average, he gets one case a day where someone's claim has been denied or where someone has found out that they are not getting the compensation they think they deserve.

      A spokesperson for the B.C. Ministry of Labour, Linda O'Connor, argued that the Workers Compensation Act (amended in 2002) is beneficial to workers because it outlines a finite appeals process for claims. O'Connor argued that under the previous system, workers could be trapped in appeals processes indefinitely.

      According to WorkSafeBC's 2006 annual report [note: 2.6MB PDF doc], the percentage of claims either "disallowed" or "rejected" by the compensation board has increased for three years in a row, from seven percent in 2003 to a 10-year high of 8.2 percent in 2006. In absolute numbers, in 2003, 10,622 B.C workers saw their claims denied; in 2006, that number was 14,181.

      Donna Freeman, a spokesperson for WorkSafeBC, told the Straight that the "overwhelming" majority of claims made to WorkSafeBC are approved. She argued that an increase in the number of claims denied was a reflection of stronger decision making. "So fewer decisions are reversed on appeal," she added.

      Puchmayr's criticism was echoed by welder Chris Pazik, who had a compensation claim denied by WorkSafeBC and has been tied up in an appeals process ever since.

      In April 2003, Pazik said, he was moving a heavy sawhorse across a cement floor when his back gave out. It was "excruciating", he told the Straight. "But it was towards the end of my shift and I was young”¦so I figured I was probably going to make it through the night." Things didn't feel better in the morning.

      Pazik, who was 22 at the time of his injury, said his claim has been denied by the WorkSafeBC claims board, WorkSafeBC's review division, the Workers Compensation appeal tribunal, the claims board again, and the review division for a second time. As the Straight went to press, Pazik said that he was waiting for a second decision from the tribunal.

      Yet Pazik maintains that his claim is legitimate. He argued that its original denial was rubber-stamped at each level of the compensation appeals process without fair consideration.

      Andy Butterfield, a client-services manager for WorkSafeBC, told the Straight that the reason Pazik's case was taking such a long time to be resolved was that Pazik had repeatedly missed claims-application deadlines. As to why Pazik was going through the appeals process for a second time, Butterfield conceded that a tribunal officer had found that the original review officer for the case had overlooked the "possibility" that one day's wage loss could have been paid. The mistake resulted in an extension of time being granted, a "very unusual sort of thing", Butterfield added.

      Addressing Pazik's allegations of his case being rubber-stamped, Butterfield argued that the case was "of course" given due consideration. "WCAT [the appeals tribunal] is in a separate building and totally independent of WorkSafeBC," he said. "So they are 100-percent divorced from the [WorkSafeBC] decision makers."

      Local lawyer Monique Pongracic-Speier has represented workers in B.C. for the past five years. She said the level of compensation available to workers now is generally less than it was before the legislative changes of 2002.

      "There are certainly instances when the system goes terribly wrong and bad decisions are made," she said. "Perhaps it's time for the legislature to look at revisions to the Workers Compensation Act to ensure that justice is being done on a worker-to-worker basis."

      On Monday (October 29), the Straight reported on its Web site that Pongracic-Speier and others have argued that there is a growing need for awareness around workers rights in the province.

      Grant McMillan is president of the B.C. Council of Construction Associations. He claimed that as a former employee of WorkSafeBC, he has looked at about 8,000 compensation claims over the past 30 years. It is McMillan's opinion that WorkSafeBC's handling of claims has improved in recent years.

      He argued that from 1991 to 2000, under the direction of the NDP, the function of WorkSafeBC strayed to "providing a social-insurance safety net" for anyone who was or claimed to be disabled. "In my view, workers' compensation is now returning to its original purpose, which is to compensate injured workers for wage loss," he said.

      Pazik disagreed. "I'm a tradesperson. I went to school, and for me it was an exciting thing," he said. "But once I got into a trade, being a young person working under older people, you are disposable."

      Pazik argued that if his experience was any indication, injured workers in B.C. are not guaranteed compensation. "They'll just find somebody else," he said.

      Links: WorkSafeBC
      MLA Chuck Puchmayr
      The Ministry of Labour and Citizens' Services
      BC Council of Construction Associations

      Comments

      8 Comments

      stacy

      Oct 6, 2009 at 8:59pm

      I am presently a worker on wcb. and i feel i am being treated like i am a useless good for nothing. i feel that worksafe bc treat us unfairly. and that they really do not care about our well being. here is my story. I injured myself at work a year ago. i was off for almost ten months. i had one surgery which in turn wcb sent me back to work 2 to 3 weeks later. i proceeded to have problems. i was sent to richmond hich i seen one of their doctors. he told me their was nothing wrong. they pushed me back to work. well i have had problems since. I reinjuried the same injury as well as on going problems from the first time i injured it. i have been off a couple months. they have not sent me to have a MRI. they over ruled my surgeon (he told me to stay off work until he seen me again and sent me back to work before i seen my surgeon. their graduated return to work program. i was to work 4 hours a day for a week. then increase it by an hour every week. i am restricted from doing my job properly due to the fact i need to be standing at the tools i use i can not do it properly. because i cannot stand for long periods of time. i was informed that i can not take it upon myself to leave work before the scheduled time. unless i get a doctors note stating that i am unable to preform my job for the aloted time that the grtw nurse planned. i am in pain. and in fear of being cut off because i do not work the full hours wcb tells me to work due to the fact i am in pain after a few hours. on top of it all they do not take me seriously. there is something seriously wrong and all they care about is not having to pay me. i could possibly be perminantly disabled because of their carelessness. my injury has affected my life greatly. my file is being reviewed and i get no answer and no help what so ever. other than being told i have to stick to their plan and it doesn't matter if i am in pain or not. i have to work the stated hours .and my injury is getting worse. who can i talk to. what do i do. this is wcb. if i start complaining i might never get my injury fixed. but i cant live the rest of my life in a brace. and not be able to work more than 4 or 5 hours a day. i have children to support. someone please help.

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      Damion Lutraan

      Apr 4, 2010 at 6:24am

      In 2008 almost 10,000 injured BC workers were denied Worksafe BC coverage. Also in 2008 only 1 person was charged for defrauding Worksafe BC.
      So why were the other 9000+ workers denied coverage?

      In other news, Worksafe BC rakes in millions in interest that should be paid to injured workers.
      It's a great system they have created, for themselves...

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      Robert Cantryn

      Feb 15, 2012 at 8:42pm

      Just today I have been told by a worksafe representative that I can no longer fulfill my contract, because the way I do the work is not an acceptable method according to there regulations.
      I, and my spouse are currently the only "workers" in my SOLE PROPRIETORSHIP company. According to WCB, a sole proprietor and there spouse, are not required to obtain compensation insureance, but may do so through their P.O.P. (PERSONAL OPTIONAL PROTECTION) insurance program.

      I chose to opt out of this optional coverage and so have no compensation coverage through WCB/WorkSafeBC for my spouse and I. Now...in doing so you would think that compensation acts and OHS standards would not be applicable to us, but like I mentioned in the beginning, I have a representative (officer) of WCB/worksafebc informing me otherwise.

      I have informed this (officer) of the above mentioned information on several accounts yet she continues to be a wrench amongst the job site by creating undo stress amongst the crews and supers by implementing overly extensive practices of OHS and in the meanwhile stating "and so now you will know better from here on".

      We (the prime framing contractor and I) have conducted business with eachother extensively over the past 5 years working with other supervisors and other worksafebc (officers) without complication.

      I have had enough with contending with OHS practices and the (officers) who enforce these regulations, especially the ones who have little practical knowledge of a jobsite, and PARTICULARILY those that are not educated on sole proprietorships and POP.

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      Anonymous canadian

      Jun 13, 2012 at 5:52pm

      This is an old story but the facts are still true today. WCB has destroyed my family and my children have lived through poverty their entire lives. I've been threatened by WCB and stalked. I have journals of times and dates of documented fraud by WCB but they are above the law. I have contacted every politician, human rights, privacy commission, labour boards, etc etc for decades now. I've also had to phone the police several times. Often because my children were being stalked or photographed in their bathing suits. Have license plates etc but came back not belonging to the owners. My only choice now is to no longer live. Can't post my name. Too afraid.

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      No Name

      Dec 26, 2012 at 12:38pm

      Employees need to be informed about the WCB rules and regulations which you learn about after it's too late according to WCB. I'm referring to their section 55 (1) which means the worker must file a claim for injury within a year from the date of injury. I want to know why does WCB not inform you of this rule right after your employer reports the injury to WCB. Please learn from my mistake go see your doctor after you injury, don't try to be nice guy and work through pain like I did only to find out that my claim and appeal were denied. These regulations should not be kept secret by employer and WCB. In the old days if you reported the injury to First Aid that was good enough not anymore. If I can help avoid, even a single person from the pain and agony that I'm going through right now it be great.

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      Rajan

      Mar 20, 2013 at 12:55am

      The WCB is an insurance company. Enough said.

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      drywallrocker

      Dec 15, 2013 at 7:39am

      What injured workers don't realize is that after Wcb denies their claim the company is no longer protected by the compensation act you can then take them to court.So you take them to small debts court you can get up to 25,000 and they cannot sue you for costs if you lose.

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      oliver

      Jul 8, 2014 at 9:40pm

      The coverage is too expensive for me as a one man show. I do not want to let my kids suffer so one day a possible claim might be accepted. Not impressed worksafe.

      0 0Rating: 0