The Yukon government has released the results of public consultation around modernizing the Workers’ Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Participants were asked to weigh in on existing gaps and proposed changes to the legislation, including the expansion of mental stress injuries and which workers are presumed most at risk for cancers and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The feedback from the public consultation process will be used when the Yukon government begins drafting new legislation to update both acts.
The Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board held public engagement in 2019, including online surveys and public meetings with employers and workers.
“I would like to thank our staff, stakeholders and the public for their efforts as we work towards developing legislation that will create safer, healthier workplaces for Yukoners. Modernizing the Acts is an important step in bringing Yukon’s workplace safety and workers’ compensation systems in line with other Canadian jurisdictions,” said the Board’s president Kurt Dieckmann.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act has remained largely the same since it was first introduced in 1984, while the Workers’ Compensation Act was last updated in 2008. Both are outdated in certain areas, and currently out of step with most other Canadian jurisdictions, according to the Yukon government.
The government is proposing merging the two into one Workplace Safety and Compensation Act.
One of the proposed changes is to expand the definition of “injury” to one that allows for more conditions caused by psychological stress, although “chronic stress” would continue to be excluded.
Feedback from the consultation widely agreed with modernizing the act, but included concerns about additional costs without support to tackle workplace mental health risks. Some feedback also felt the current proposal doesn’t go far enough in covering chronic stress claims and diagnostic criteria.
Participants also suggested changes to groups listed as “presumptive” for certain conditions, meaning that diagnoses for certain conditions are considered work-related by default.
In 2017 the act was modified to presume emergency responders are at risk for PTSD, including firefighters, police officers, paramedics and nurses who attend ambulance calls or air ambulance medevacs.
Feedback suggests expanding that list to include social workers, all nurses, bus drivers, corrections staff, educational workers, coroners and frontline staff in facilities such as homeless shelters and women’s shelters.
Right now, firefighters are presumptive for certain cancer risks.
Feedback from the consultation suggests expanding this to include all Yukon firefighters, including wildland firefighters, and including additional types of cancer such as multiple myeloma and skin cancer, as well as cancers that affect primarily women.
Concerns were also raised about the current cut-off of benefits for workers aged over 63.
Feedback included that the cut-off is based on assumptions about retirement despite the fact that people are working later in life.
The government is also proposing changes to fines for businesses that are found to be breaking health and safety rules. Current administrative fines are up to $5000 for a first offence and up to $10,000 for a second offence. These are considered low compared to other jurisdictions.
One proposal currently on the table would change the way annuities and benefits are paid out in the event of an injury. The new proposal is to pay out a lump sum at one time.
Feedback was mixed. The report notes that full access to funds allows more freedom for the claimant and less administrative burden, but it also requires the management of funds for proper long-term planning.
The report notes that participants said new regulations are needed for avalanche hazard control, traffic control, young worker safety, excessive overtime hours, staffing ratios in remote sites and mental health, harassment and violence.
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