Finding work for those with disabilities

KANANASKIS, Alta. — Over the past three years, lost-time claims in the trucking industry has gone up at a higher rate than any other sector in Alberta.

Workplace injuries cost the trucking industry a lot of money, and with lost-time claims numbering 2,732 last year compared to 2,099 in 2016 – or a greater than 30% increase – those costs continue to rise.

Pieter Lambooy, vice-president of operations for the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) of Alberta, said provincially, growth in lost-time claims over the same period was over 15%, and an increase in the amount of time it took workers to return to work following an injury was having an impact.

“There’s pressure on the rate right now and the pressure is coming from permanent disability,” Lambooy said of the industry’s WCB rates, which for the average trucking company increased to $3.98/$100 from $3.58 three years ago.

The average provincial rate is $1.08.

The total number of disability days in the trucking industry went up 18% between 2017-18, and nearly a third of all industry claim costs came from permanent disability – just shy of $27 million of almost $250 million province wide.

Lambooy said one of the keys to reducing claim costs, and subsequently WCB rates for the industry, is to find modified temporary work for injured employees as quick as possible.

“Invest some money in this and get great at it,” he said. “It pays.”

It’s also important to carve out a spot for people dealing with permanent disabilities.

Lambooy said most people living with a permanent disability are capable of doing some form of modified work. In Alberta there are about 700 workers who fall under the category of requiring permanent modified work due to a disability, 105 of them in the transportation sector.

The economic impact of these few workers is significant, according to Lambooy, as he said they are vulnerable because they have not worked for some time, may never work again if not given the chance, and could be forced to rely on reduced incomes for the remainder of their lives.

WCB does offer a training program for companies looking to hire workers with barriers. The program helps employers by providing liability protection if a worker is re-injured in any way while training on the job. It also helps with salary subsidization, paying full wages for the first couple of months and reducing the amount gradually while the worker gets up to speed.

WCB and the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) are part of a working group that helps pair those with permanent injuries with potential employers.

Despite Alberta’s recent economic downturn in the last few years, Lambooy said the trucking sector has experienced moderate growth, but nothing significant.

General transportation represents about 8% of the overall payroll in Alberta, accounting for 12% of the province’s total WCB claim costs.

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A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media and trucking industries as a writer, editor, and now as western bureau chief of Today's Trucking and I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels.

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