Labour and chamber play safety tug o war

Dealing with workers’ compensation through agencies in Alberta or BC might make things cheaper, but it won’t keep Yukoners safer.

Dealing with workers’ compensation through agencies in Alberta or BC might make things cheaper, but it won’t keep Yukoners safer.

And, if the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce understood anything about workers’ safety it would know that, said Doug Rody, the policy director with the Yukon Federation of Labour.

“The idea (of joining Alberta or BC’s workers’ compensation board) has been floated before, several times over the past few years,” said Rody earlier this week.

Advocates of that idea believe exporting responsibility for the Yukon WCB to either of the two larger provincial bureaucracies would reduce administration costs, saving territorial businesses money.

But that’s not the case, said Rody.

“Administration is not the problem, claims costs are the problem,” he said. “It’s the number of injuries that are the problem.”

Hearing chamber president Rick Karp cite moving administrations is the answer is discouraging, said Rody.

It sends the message to labour that Karp doesn’t know much about workplace safety.

It suggests the chamber president doesn’t understand the workers’ compensation system, he said.

“He doesn’t understand what’s driving it; he doesn’t understand the issue.”

The answer to both reducing workers’ compensation costs borne by employers and lower injury rates is safety training, said Rody.

Employers need to seek safety certification.

And employees and employers alike need to learn about return-to-work initiatives, he said.

“That’s how we’re going to reduce the number of injuries and reduce the number of claims.”

Rody’s comments follow Karp’s calls for a workers’ compensation regime change last week.

Karp called for changes after the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board announced that 2008 assessment rates were going up in 39 of 52 Yukon industries.

The average rate is set to rise about 11 per cent from 2007 to $2.94 per $100 of payroll.

Employers cannot be blamed for every injury, said Karp on Tuesday.

The fact is, employers represent the minority of people in every workplace and can’t be everywhere all the time, so employees have to take some responsibility, said Karp.

“I can’t babysit every minute of the day, it’s got to be a co-operative effort.”

The effort to make workplaces safer might improve if Rody’s membership started joining in the effort instead of leaving the responsibility for safety solely at the feet of employers, he added.

As for costs, injuries are not the only factor, said Karp.

“When they say it’s only the number of accidents that’s the driver for the costs, that’s simply not true,” he said.

The costs of running the workers’ compensation board in the Yukon are rising; the board is hiring more employees and it’s costing more in the territory to get the same coverage larger jurisdictions offer, said Karp.

“For my business, I pay about $3.30 for every $100 of payroll. In BC, it would be about .76 cents,” he said.

“When I heard last week that rates were going up, I just about fell off my chair.”