Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Alberta's 2019 injury data released

Alberta finally released its annual report on injuries and fatalities for 2019. Some of the key findings are that, from 2017 to 2019:
  • Lost-time claim numbers and rates are up slightly,
  • Modified work numbers and rates are down some, and
  • Overall, the number of disabling injuries is up slightly (likely population growth related) while the rate is down slightly. 
Industry-related data was not super surprising. Ag and forestry is the most dangerous and saw large growth in injury rates (~24%). I suspect this reflects the implementation of mandatory WCB in agriculture.

Manufacturing, processing and packaging was another sector with relatively high injury rates. We should expect this number to spike in 2020 and 2021 given the COVID waves that swept through the meat-packing plants. We’ll likely also see something similar in the public sector (particularly education and health care). We may also see this in mining, given the oilsands camp outbreaks.

There has been a long-term increase in occupational fatality rates in Alberta.

This has included a long-term reduction in the proportion of fatalities caused by motor vehicles accidents (blue bar in chart below) and an increase in workplace incidents (orange bar).

Claims related to harassment and violence doubled from 2015 to 2019. This may reflect, in part, greater awareness and acceptance of these sorts of injuries as a result of changes to the OHS Act and Code made by the New Democrats.

One of the most compelling charts is buried at the end of the document and it tracks injury rates over 10 years. Combined with the fatality rates chart above, the biggest take-away is that not much has changed. 

This suggests that the injury-prevention strategies mandated by successive Alberta governments (which have emphasized education and voluntary compliance coupled with anemic enforcement) have not really moved the needle on worker injuries or workplace safety.

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

New data on injury under-reporting, claims suppression, and risk in small workplaces

Some new research updates have been published by the Institute for Work and Health. A study in BC looked at injury claiming behaviour. It found that approximately half of workers who have a work-related injury or illness that requires time away from work do not report the injury to the BC workers’ compensation system. Key explanations include workers not knowing they are entitled or how to apply or not thinking it is worth their time to do so. Further, between 4 and 13% of people with work-related injuries experience inducements or pressure from their employer not to report the injury.

You can read the full report here and a shorter policy briefing here. This table (nicked from the policy briefing) summarizes the recent evidence on underclaiming and suppression in workers' compensation claims.

The key take-aways are that there is pretty consistent evidence that only half of injured workers report injuries to the workers compensation system. That is to say, workers’ compensation data (which is basically what we use in Canada to assess injury rates and drive public policy) consistently and significantly under-estimates the true level of injury. Further, one of the factors that drives under-reporting by workers is employer claims suppression behaviour.

Interestingly, claim suppression is not the most common cause of under-reporting in the BC study. Workers not knowing to or how to report was a significant factor. This is followed by workers not thinking it was worth their while to do so (in part because some employers offer alternative forms of injury compensation).

A second study investigated the reasons underlying higher risk of injury to workers at small firms. The upshot of this study was that inadequate safety policies and procedures at smaller firms were the major source of higher injury rates. When this variable was controlled for, differences disappeared. This suggests that smaller workplaces are not intrinsically less safe and the greater risk of injury can be attenuated by improved organizational processes

-- Bob Barnetson