Suppression of work-related injury and illness claims by employers is a real problem, according to reports prepared for compensation boards in Manitoba and Ontario.
The Institute for Work and Health (IWH) recently published an Issue Briefing
highlighting findings from these reports focusing on the incidence and risk of employers inducing workers not to claim or misreport instances of workplace injury or illness.
In this briefing entitled Suppression of workplace injury and illness claims: Summary of evidence in Canada
, the IWH defines claim suppression as actions undertaken by an employer that hinder the appropriate reporting of a worker’s injury or illness resulting from work. This hindrance leads to worker non-claiming and employer under-reporting.
Examples of employer suppression actions include:
- pressure to not submit claims (including direct threats or use of Behaviour-Based Safety Systems),
- pressure to withdraw claims,
- providing incorrect information on eligibility
- under-reporting of the severity (reporting lost time injury as a no-lost-time injury), and wage continuation (instead of filing claim).
Estimates of claim suppression by employers in Manitoba ranged from 6 to 53 per cent of total injuries and illnesses. In the Ontario report, no definitive statistics were provided but the authors stated “It is unlikely that claim suppression is restricted to a small number of anecdotal cases.”
“Both reports illustrate the difficult nature of quantifying the prevalence of claim suppression because of the obstacles associated with uncovering instances of injuries or work absences that are intended to be hidden,” wrote the IWH.
Nonetheless these findings show that workers are being injured and made ill because of their work at rates far exceeding those reported by the compensation systems. In fact, they are just the latest in a growing body of research highlighting the significant prevalence of injury and illness underreporting—even though reporting is mandated by law.
There are many reasons why injuries and illnesses (and work-related death) go underreported and employers engage in suppression. In the case of illness and death (caused by occupational disease) an overall lack of awareness is often cited.
In the case of injuries, lack of awareness is less likely. Instead, many believe financial incentives and avoiding visits from government safety inspectors drive claim suppression. The latter is certainly the case in Ontario where health and safety law enforcement strategies continue to depend in large measure upon lost-time injury rates.
Many, including the WHSC continue to question why workplace and regulatory prevention efforts continue to be driven by work-related injury, illness and death rates (often referred to as lagging indicators). Instead, many believe a more effective way to determine what needs to be done to reduce or better yet eliminate workplace injuries, illnesses and death is to examine and act on leading indicators.
A leading indicator is a measure of an organization’s ongoing health and safety program and initiatives, or of the workplace conditions leading to illness and injuries. By analyzing leading indicators and developing and implementing appropriate interventions, workplace parties can work together to successfully protect workers from injuries, illness and death.
For our part, the WHSC offers a number of training programs
to help workplace parties understand their legal duties and responsibilities related to harmful working conditions. Many of these same programs offer essential insight into workplace efforts needed to identify and eliminate or reduce harmful exposures. To learn more contact the WHSC:
Want to read one or more of the studies/resources cited in this article?
Claim Suppression in the Manitoba Workers Compensation System: Research Report
Workplace Injury Claim Suppression: Final Report for the WSIB
Suppression of workplace injury and illness claims: summary of evidence in Canada (IWH)
Leading indicators may pinpoint positive differences in OHS practices (IWH)
Work-related injuries, illness and death are alarmingly underreported (WHSC)
Beyond WSIB Statistics: Work related injuries, illness and death in Ontario 2003-2012 (WHSC)