The fall of 2008 was a time of change... The fall of 2008 was a time of change -- including in the area of government regulation, where the role of the Workers Compensation Board (WCB) was expanded for 2009.

As with many of our agencies, we seem to take the services this agency provides for granted, but I assure you worker-injury issues have been plaguing us for years. For instance, a recent study showed that 460,000 men and 170,000 women had suffered at least one non-fatal activity-limiting injury at work. In other words, workplace injuries represent a substantial share of all personal injuries.

While this is a shocking statistic, so also is the fact that in 2005 alone, the incidence of workplace fatalities in Canada was 6.8 per 100,000 workers or essentially, one death for every 15,000 workers. No wonder that more and more attention is being paid to workplace health and safety!

Workplace injury has actually been on the radar of government and business for over a century. In 1884, Ontario passed a "Factories Act" that set up a system of inspection to ensure safety and health standards in factories. And, by 1914, the Ontario government passed the first ever Workmen's Compensation Act which, in turn, created the first ever Workmen's Compensation Board. Since then, every province has followed suit, including Manitoba.

Today, the Workers Compensation Board (WCB) operates a system of compulsory no-fault insurance that provides mutual injury and disability insurance. The agency is governed by a board of directors that is representative of employers, workers and appointed public members. In keeping with its historic roots, the WCB operates on the following seven principles:

Collective liability

Employers are the ones who fund the compensation system and they do this through premiums or "assessments" paid into an accident fund. Compensation to injured workers is then paid by the Workers Compensation Board (WCB). In return, the employer avoids legal liability while the employee receives support that is not dependent on an employer's ability to pay.

No-fault compensation

Compensation is payable to injured workers regardless of fault of either the workers or the employers.

Income replacement

The cornerstone of the workers compensation plan is the idea of income replacement. In other words, an injured worker is fairly compensated for the loss of their earning capacity when they experience a work-related injury or illness.

No right of action

In return for security of compensation, workers gave up their right to sue employers.

Prevention of workplace injuries and diseases

WCB believes that workplace injuries and illnesses are preventable and that safe workplaces should be the norm for all employers and industries in Manitoba.

Timely and safe return to health and work

Research has demonstrated that timely return to work leads to better recovery and reduces the impact of the injury or illness on the worker's quality of life. Early return to work also reduces costs to employers.

Independent administration

The WCB acts as an independent board-managed agency which, in turn, administers the accident fund and compensates workers for their injuries. Each case is decided on its own merits and without regard for strict legal precedent.

Today, the WCB in each province provides a full range of benefits such as wage-loss payments, medical benefits and rehabilitation services, while employers receive protection against lawsuits from workers injured on the job. The agency also provides for grants to fund high-quality scientific research and programs that develop, implement or evaluate innovative, practical, shop-floor solutions for improving workplace health and safety.

Luckily, Manitoba companies pay one of the lowest average rates in Canada and can continually strive to reduce their assessment rates by improving health and safety at their workplaces and improving return-to-work programs.

So, what's new? Following widespread consultation with stakeholders, WCB has now broadened its base of coverage. Effective Jan. 1, about 7,500 more employers and about 30,000 more workers throughout the province will now be covered by WCB. This means that more people and more employers will work together with WCB to achieve a provincewide vision of safe work being a way of life.

The list of companies now part of the WCB family is wide-ranging and includes businesses engaged in advertising and marketing, animal services, call centres, cemeteries, driving schools, farm-related services, fitness facilities, gaming, graphic design, greenhouses, laboratories, mail-order services, museums and galleries, photography shops and political parties. The full comprehensive list can be viewed on the WCB website at www.wcb.mb.ca

The ultimate goal for WCB in its 2008-2012 five-year plan is to see that "no worker is injured while on the job." This increased and aggressive focus on workplace safety and health has already yielded positive results. For instance, prevention initiatives have helped to decrease Manitoba's time loss injury rate by 25 per cent since 2000.

At the same time, while the awareness and practice of workplace health and safety has steadily grown, it has also led to the development of a whole new profession. The Canadian Society of Safety Engineering (CSSE) for instance, has quickly become the leading health, safety and environmental organization for professionals in Canada with 31 active member chapters.

Training in this occupation is also now widespread as more companies recruit highly trained workplace health and safety officers for onsite service.

Safety practitioners become highly skilled in areas such as risk management, hazard recognition, control, prevention and safety management systems in the workplace, and strategies for developing a health and safety culture.

Change is all around us. While some people see change as detrimental, in my view, the changes in the WCB legislation can only help to reduce those distressing statistics on workplace injuries and deaths.

Take the opportunity now to register and get your company involved in these benefits. For those companies who continue to be excluded, take a look at your skyrocketing health-care benefits, perhaps this alternative might well be worth looking at.

Source: wcb.mb.ca, Statistics Canada, the Daily, Tuesday, July 10, 2007 Health Reports

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC is president of legacy Bowes Group and vice president of Legacy Executive Search Manitoba. She is also host of BowesKnows on CJOB 68 and author of three books.