Businesses consider how to get injured employees back to work

Talking about injury statistics in the Yukon can provoke some uncomfortable moments. Take, for example, a recent exchange between Liz Scott, a…

Talking about injury statistics in the Yukon can provoke some uncomfortable moments.

Take, for example, a recent exchange between Liz Scott, a disabilities management expert with Organizational Solutions Inc., and Valerie Royle, president of the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board.

Scott was discussing injury statistics in the Yukon.

They can be deceiving, she noted.

If someone in a three-person business gets injured, that’s a 30 per cent injury rate — the statistic is shocking, but it is overstated, she said.

“If you were to tell me that the injury rate for the whole territory is 13 per cent, then I’d be quite concerned and I’d say you’d have to have me back more often,” she told a news conference on Friday.

There was an awkward pause before some in the audience began to chuckle.

Others shifted in their seats.

“Actually, that is the number for the territory,” said Royle.

Scott laughed, uncomfortably.

“Then, can I come back?” she said.

Thus began the weekend’s Back-to-Work Symposium at the Yukon Inn.

The Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board announced on September 6 that reported injuries in 2007 have surpassed those reported at the same time last year.

Much of the rise is caused by the 239 injured workers under the age of 25 — an increase of more than 20 per cent.

“I’ll put it to you very bluntly,” said Alex Furlong, president of the Yukon Federation of Labour.

“My daughter will not be working until I see practices in workplaces around safety change.

“I am not risking my daughter’s health and safety by allowing her to go to work.”

Wolfgang Zimmerman has firsthand knowledge about being a young person injured on the job.

Thirty years ago, his first week on the job, he was disabled in a logging accident on Vancouver Island.

“A tree ended up breaking my back,” said Zimmerman, executive director of the National Institute of Disability Management and Research.

“It was one of those scenarios where they say, ‘Here’s a power saw, this is how you fall trees — go for it.”

Zimmerman, who was 20 at the time, found himself in a wheelchair.

He might have spent his life on a disability pension.

Instead, the company found a way to accommodate Zimmerman and bring him back to work.

“These guys got together and broke down all the barriers that were there. They built access ramps, washrooms and came up with innovative and creative solutions.”

It’s solutions like these that this weekend’s symposium hoped to highlight for Yukon employers.

The Canadian Medical Association has found that prolonged absence from work is detrimental to a person’s mental, physical and social wellbeing.

The 160 participants included 50 health-care professionals to learn more about their role in the rehabilitation process.

Government, First Nations, human resource professionals, labour, business, injured workers and the general public were also invited.

They worked to come up with local solutions for the Yukon.

“I think that the Yukon definitely has some unique situations that can be seen as positives,” said Scott.

“If you have 40,000 people, that’s a captive audience as far as I’m concerned.

“You have the opportunity to be the best because you can change 40,000 people — any more than that and it’s a much more difficult road.”

Businesses fall into three categories: the good, the bad and the confused, said Scott.

The confused companies need to be given information on how to make rehabilitation work.

And the bad ones?

“Through peer pressure they’ll come around, or they’ll end up being unsuccessful in their long-term goals,” said Scott.

“The bad will be swayed by the good.”

Zimmerman adopted a tougher approach.

He suggested the bad companies should be publicly identified, rather than waiting for them to come around.

“We’ve publicized the companies that have terrible records in BC,” he said.

“It was published so that everyone knew who they were. I’m a strong believer in institutional change and this has to be a part of it.”

The Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board funded the symposium.

“The symposium is expensive,” said Furlong. “We want the best internationally recognized speakers and there’s a cost to that.

“What is the cost, though, of not doing something like this?

“This is just a fraction, a minute amount compared to the costs of us sitting idle and not addressing this situation.

“From all the input we’ve got so far, the event was a huge success.

“We’re already talking about doing another one next year.”