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BC claim suppression study supports refocusing prevention strategies

Worker filling out Worker Injury Claim Form
Under-claiming and outright suppression of work-related injury and illness claims is substantial, according to another study, this time undertaken at the request of WorkSafeBC.
 
The Institute for Work and Health (IWH) conducted this study jointly with Prism Economics and Analysis seeking to uncover the circumstances and extent to which workers in British Columbia (BC) are pressured or induced by an employer to not report, or claim benefits for a work-related injury or disease. Commonly referred to as claim suppression, this issue is not a new one. Many researchers have confirmed it. For instance, previous research also conducted by IWH found evidence of claim suppression in Manitoba and Ontario.

Less than half of injured workers submit comp claims

Of the BC workers surveyed, less than half who reported missing two or more workdays as a result of an injury or disease submitted a claim to WorkSafeBC. This under-claiming was found to be most common among immigrants, temporary employees, non-union workers, those employed in small businesses and workers with lower educational attainment.
 
Workers not making a claim often cited a lack of knowledge about entitlement or the reporting process, or they felt filing a claim was not worth the effort. Though they also cited overt or subtle action by the employer that fits the researcher’s definition of claim suppression, including:

✅ Informing workers they are not eligible for WorkSafeBC wage loss benefits
✅ Direct pressure not to apply
✅ Overall worker fear they would get in trouble if they applied,  
✅ Wage continuation from employer or sick leave plan, and
✅ Implementation of behaviour-based safety (BBS) approaches.

Among the hallmarks of BBS approaches or systems are schemes that offer rewards to a group of workers to remain injury-free and assign blame, and even discipline to individual workers who suffer an injury. Rates of claim suppression ranged from just under four per cent to 13 per cent and were reported highest in workplaces where BBS approaches were in place. Also of note, younger workers and those employed by temp agencies are more likely to say their employer pressured them not to report an injury or disease to WorkSafeBC.
 
The study also involved analysis by WorkSafeBC staff of claims rejected, suspended or abandoned, finding evidence suggesting employer pressure and claim suppression occurred in 2.3 to 8.3 per cent of these claims.

Employers admit to claim suppression tactics

Many employers surveyed in the BC study also actually implicated themselves or others in terms of claim suppression. For instance, the majority of employers surveyed reported some form of wage continuation system with one in five admitting to allowing workers to access these benefits rather than submitting a claim for benefits through WorkSafeBC. One in four also admitted, in their industry, time loss injuries were reported as no time loss injuries “all the time or almost all the time.” A similar number say no-time-loss injuries were “rarely or never” reported.
 
Further still, the researchers reviewed an existing body of research and found comparable under-claiming, misrepresenting claims and claim suppression.

Suppression impeding prevention

There are many reasons employers engage in claim suppression including lack of awareness as was identified in this most recent study. Of course, this is particularly troublesome as employers have specific legal obligations to report work-related injuries, illnesses and fatalities. In Ontario, this includes reporting to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development, the joint health and safety committee (JHSC), the health and safety representative and the union, if any. 
 
Furthermore, many believe financial incentives and a desire to avoid visits from government health and safety inspectors are also significant drivers of claim suppression. This is certainly the case in Ontario, where underreporting drives down workers’ compensation premiums, while enforcement and workplace prevention strategies continue to be driven in large measure by lost-time injury rates.
 
Many worker advocates question this approach, especially as the injury and illness data clearly fails to reflect reality. Ron Saunders, a lead researcher of this most recent study, and IWH adjunct scientist, expressed similar concerns, suggesting worker experiences must be part of what triggers workplace interventions, “Surveying workers on a more frequent basis would give a broader picture to better inform prevention efforts—better than just relying on claims data.”

Pursuing healthier, safer work

A prudent path to prevention of worker injury, illness and death also includes near miss investigations and initiatives aimed at proactively identifying workplace hazards. Workplace inspections led by properly trained joint health and safety committee (JHSC) members or health and safety representatives and ensuring the competency of supervisors, as required by law will certainly aid in these endeavours.
 
Want to read more from the WHSC?
WHSC Day of Mourning fact sheet entitled Beyond WSIB Stats
Behaviour-based safety: the blame game
Employers found to suppress work-related injury and illness claims
Worker death stats need much more accuracy, say researchers
 
Want to read more from the IWH?
WorkSafeBC study issue briefing
WorkSafeBC study findings presentation
 
Does your JHSC function with competence and confidence? Is your JHSC also fully trained as required by law? WHSC offers regularly scheduled JHSC Certification Training as well as our recently updated Federal Committees and Representatives program. In smaller workplaces, some employers recognize the utility of these programs and ensure health and safety representatives complete it too.
 
Are your supervisors competent as required by law? Employers must ensure their supervisors, within one week of performing work as a supervisor, complete basic occupational health and safety awareness training in addition to knowledge and competency-based training specific to the workplace.

WHSC has scheduled training to help workplaces meet this mandatory supervisor awareness training obligation. 
 
All of these programs are available in our online, virtual classrooms.



Don’t see what you need? Beyond scheduled classes, and where participant numbers warrant, we can work with you to coordinate almost any of our training courses in a virtual classroom for all workers, workplace representatives and supervisors.

Contact a WHSC training services representative in your area.
Email: contactus@whsc.on.ca
Visit: www.whsc.on.ca
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