Businesses cry foul over rising WCB rates

Some businesses will shoulder a disproportionate burden of the Yukon Worker's Compensation Health and Safety Board's assessment rates for 2010.

Some businesses will shoulder a disproportionate burden of the Yukon Worker’s Compensation Health and Safety Board’s assessment rates for 2010.

Most employers will pay lower rates, as the safety board shakes off an upward trend of yearly increases.

The average assessment rate will decrease by two per cent next year, falling to $2.95 from $3 per $100 of payroll, officials announced Thursday.

However, not all employers will be paying less next year.

This is the first time rate changes won’t be felt across the board, thanks to a new re-classification system introduced by the board. About 1,100 of the territory’s 2,800 employers will actually pay more than they did in 2009.

It’s an effort to place higher costs on the sectors producing the most claims, said Craig Tuton, chair of the Yukon Worker’s Compensation Health and Safety Board.

For instance, resource and transportation businesses rated as “medium” risk, such as short-haul trucking companies and placer miners, will see an increase of about 11 per cent in their assessment rates next year.

And businesses once classified as low-risk construction companies, such as Northerm Windows, now face higher assessment rates after the board chose to remove the category from its 2010 assessment rates.

All companies that were classified as low-risk construction have been bumped into the medium-risk category.

This worries Jane Olson, manager of finance and administration for Northerm Windows. Her company will see its assessment rates jump 164 per cent from $2.09 to $5.51 over the next two years.

“This could cost us $20,000 next year – we’ll have no choice but to absorb the cost,” said Olson.

Being bumped into a higher-risk category means that no matter how safe Northerm employees are at work, the employer will still get stuck with high assessment rates.

“It’s very unfortunate that we’re getting re-rated,” she said. “We’ve been doing so much to keep our workplace safe, but it doesn’t seem to count for anything.”

Northerm only had seven submissions of potential worker claims, “most of which didn’t include any time loss or rehabilitation,” said Olson.

Every year, the board reclassifies industry groups that have shown either an increase or decrease in claims over a multi-year period. Although Northerm Windows experienced few claims last year, the sub-group it is classified under, “machine, carpentry and glazing,” has seen more injuries and claims.

Olson wants to work with other employers in her sub-group to try and reduce the number of workplace incidents next year. But because of privacy issues, the board can’t release the names of the other employers in her group, hindering Olson’s efforts.

It’s a similar story for Melanie Graham, who owns Kutters hair salon.

Last year, the board reclassified hairstylists and other personal aesthetic services as a high-risk service industry, putting them in the same category as security guards and animal-control workers.

“We’re getting lumped in with these other industries—but a lot of them seem more strenuous and prone to injury,” she said.

Graham has never made a claim to the Yukon Worker’s Compensation Health and Safety Board in the 12 years she has owned her business, but her rates keep increasing.t

“It’s frustrating for someone who has never had a claim to see their rates go up and up,” she said.

“I know that in British Columbia if you go a certain number of years without a claim then your rates go down. You’re not penalized for keeping your staff safe.”

Most of the other hairstyling companies in the territory duck high assessment rates by renting out their chair to hairstylists rather than hiring them on as staff, said Graham.

She wonders why she should be punished for offering benefits to her staff.

The Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, which has long denounced high assessment costs, also doesn’t see the recent news as positive.

“We’re pleased to see that the rates aren’t escalating further, but on average Yukon businesses pay the highest assessment rates in Canada,” said chair of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce Muriel Chalisoux.

“We’re asking for WCB to show leadership and acknowledge that the rates are the highest in Canada.”

She points to rates in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, which hover at about $1.80, and questions why the Yukon can’t see similar rates here.

For its part, the Worker’s Compensation Board will consider “super-assessing” any employer that is responsible for a disproportionate number of injuries and claims in that industry group. That way the extra costs will be borne by the employer and not the rest of the companies in that group, said Tuton.

The board also announced it will spread the burden of high-cost claims and fatalities across all nine industry groups as opposed to the industry group that the claim came from.

“Additional costs will be shared across the system,” said Tuton. “It’s the most fair and equitable way of doing it.”

The overall decrease in assessment rates is a result of lower claim costs and fewer injuries reported this year as opposed to last year.

Tuton credits work safe education programs and initiatives like CHOICE, which offers employers rebates for improving workplace safety, for reducing the number of workplace injuries and

claims in 2009.

Details of the 2010 rates can be accessed online at wcb.yk.ca.

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com

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