BANFF, Alta. – Some key changes to the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) legislation slated to kick in Sept. 1 could have an impact on some carriers.
Pieter Lambooy, vice-president of operations for WCB of Alberta, said the obligation to reinstate continuous employees of your organization, as well as some changes to healthcare contributions will take effect soon, and employers need to be aware of what they mean to their business.
As of Sept. 1, the new WCB legislation (Bill 30) will offer seven alterations, including extending the window for an appeal to two years; removing the cap for maximum compensation earnings (current cap is $98,700); enhancing benefits for severely injured young workers (aged 25 and younger); improved benefits for all surviving spouses; interim benefits for workers or employers in the appeal process and in necessitous circumstances; continued coverage for workers under their employer’s health benefits plan; and the obligation to reinstate for continuous employees.
Under the new health requirements, employers will be required to make health benefit contributions when a worker is absent from work due to a work-related injury if contributions were already being made to the employee and the worker continues to pay for the contribution. If this is the case, the employer must continue to make contributions for up to 12 months after the date of the injury.
With regards to an employer’s obligation to reinstate, Lambooy said it would be wise to focus on two areas – prevention and modified work.
“If you can really invest in training right now then I think it’s really going to pay off,” Lambooy said of prevention, adding that new employees have a significant increase in the chance of getting injured on the job during their first six months of employment.
Having a modified work program in place is also important to managing your biggest controllable cost. If an employee does get injured, having a modified work plan in place right away when they are capable of returning to work is key.
Modified work plans also lessen the chance a worker will need a pension claim, which comes at an average cost of $250,000.
Lambooy said about 75% of workers in the trucking industry come back to work with modified duties following an injury.
Lambooy also pointed out that WCB claim costs are on the upswing due to several claims in the payout process and others being added. The rise in claims is a result of what Lambooy said was 8% to 10% growth in the industry following the recent downturn in Alberta.
Rates are driven primarily by claim costs, so with increased claim costs, carrier rates go up.
In the general trucking category, the disabling injury rate from 2016 to 2017 rose 8.41%, and the lost time claim rate also increased by 6.64% between the same timeframe.
The average number of disability days went from 35.7 in 2016 to 42.7 in 2017, a 19.61% increase. And the modified work percentage dropped 5.2%
Overall, Lambooy said the trucking sector remains in a positive position when compared to pre-2014 numbers, but the risk is that the short-term trends could become long term.
WCB has also launched its “Training on the Job” program, which offers employers wage subsidization, risk coverage, where injuries sustained during the program are not charged to the participating employer, workplace modification, and training costs.
The program enables companies to test out a potential employee, with WCB taking on much of the costs, such as partial wages and training, to help the worker become “employable.”
Employers can then decide whether to hire the program participant; if not, Lambooy said, the worker has at least been trained and is employable.