Saturday 17 May 2008

From Injury back to Work Again Part I

The Road to Recovery
Part I The WSIB and the Workplace, part one of three: Safety, insurance, and tips for protecting yourself

Often it is said that when you are young you think you are invincible and thus attempt and do things you should not. Workplace safety i
s one of those areas where youth need to learn to take fewer risks. May 4th-10th 2008 marked North American Occupational Health and Safety (NAOHS) week. Every year together Canada, the United States and Mexico join forces to help to focus attention on the importance of preventing injury and illness in the workplace. As someone who was injured at work and subsequently off work for 2 years, I know first-hand the stress and pain that can be caused by a workplace injury. As such, this is the first in a three part series about The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) here in Ontario. In these articles I will try to chronicle for the reader, some of what a worker in Ontario needs to know about workplace safety, and the process from injury to being back to work again. So come follow me on a journey that was more than two years in the making.

The WSIB has a youth site aimed at high school and university aged students It states that on average 42 young workers are injured or killed on the job every day in Ontario. It also declares
that workplace accidents can happen at any job and can cause serious injuries. The WSIB declares that "By law, you have basic rights, including:
1. The Right to Know about what hazards there are in your workplace and to know what to do to prevent injuries from them.
2. The Right to Participate in health and safety activities in your workplace without fear of discipline.

3. The Right to Refuse work that you reasonably believe can be dangerous to yourself or others.
However, you also have responsibilities includ
1. Work Safely: use all machinery and equipment the way you were trained to.
2. Report Hazards: if you know that Ontario's health and safety laws are not being followed, you must report the circumstances to your supervisor or employer as soon as possible.
3. Use or wear Protective Devices: don't remove a guard or device designed to protect you. "Wear your safety gear--it's the law." As such you are protected by the law but also have responsibilities. In Ontario all companies that hire full time or part-time employees must register with the WSIB within
10 days of hiring the first employee.

The WSIB has a long history of trying to protect employee rights and safety in Ontario. In 1884 it all began with the passing of the Ontario Factories Act, a system of inspection and enforcement of health and safety standards for all factories in Ontario. The immediate precursor to the WSIB was the WCB Workers Compensation Board, which was created by the Workers Compensation Act in 1914. In 1965 the WCB established the Safety Education Department to coordinate resources and programs from different industry associations and labou
r associations. Then in 1998 the WCB became the WSIB for Ontario. What does all that history mean? It means that this organization has over 100 years of history or working to protect and educate Ontario workers. In 2006 the WSIB reports:

There are three types of claims that the WSIB t
racks. They are: 1. Allowed lost time 2. Allowed no lost time and 3. Allowed traumatic deaths. Looking at the statistics can be a little staggering. Comparing 2002 to 2006 will give us a sample of some of the recent data collected. (Click on chart to see larger version.)

As can be seen from these numbers, even with all the advertising campaigns and awareness the WSIB is trying to generate, the number of claims is remaining consistent. Roughly 10 student employees each year are dying on the job because of a workplace injury or accident. Therefore it can only be concluded that all students and all employees must be active in educating themselves and protecting themselves and others in the workplace.

The WSIB is an organization that has developed over time. As working conditions and the labour market have changed, it has also changed to meet the new conditions and requirements. It is there to educate and to help if you happen to fall victim to an accident or injury in the workplace. If you are injured at work you have a responsibility to report it as soon as possible. If your employer tries to dissuade you from seeking medical attention be insistent. In the summer of 2005 I was working for a landscaping company and prior to my injury 2 other employees were injured on the job. One burned his hands on the muffler of a machine, and another hurt his shoulder. Both did not seek medical attention because they were told that 'They would not have a job when they returned.' Both worked with their injuries for months and if they have problems in the future they have no recourse. An employer cannot do this. Even if they offer to cover your wages do not do it. Follow the system and protect yourself for the long term. Your employer cannot threaten to fire you or fire you for seeking medical attention. It is against the law for them to do so. Get the medical attention you need, when you need it. Even if you lose no time from the job, at least the injury is documented. Educate yourself and know your rights.

Yet even with all of that knowledge fluke accidents can still happen. And in September 2005 it did happen to me. I was working as a foreman for a landscaping company. My boss and I went out to do a side job, pulling some conduit for an electrician. Neither my boss nor I had the right equipment in our trucks, or the right information from the electrician. So while we attempted to solve his problem we created a huge one for me, and for my employer. But that is a story for another time. In the next installment in this series I will chronicle the journey from the injury to just over a year later and the surgery to repair my rotator cuff.

According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), the accident investigation process involves the following steps:

  1. Report the accident occurrence to a designated person within the organization.
  2. Provide first aid and medical care to injured person(s) and prevent further injuries of damage.
  3. Investigate the accident.
  4. Identify the causes.
  5. Report the findings.
  6. Develop a plan for corrective action.
  7. Implement the plan.
  8. Evaluate the effectiveness of the corrective action.
  9. Make changes for continuous improvement.
While work injuries sites say they are for employees it is best that one get representation to insure their rights are being met. Protect yourself because although places like WSIB helps employees the organization has also been accused of functioning to favour employers. Also, WSIB has come under scrutiny for issuing rebates to companies found and prosecuted of safety violations that lead to death and/or serious injuries: found here.

At the CIWA (Canadian Injured Workers Alliance) discussion board workers can use posts about injuries as a place to seek assistance, found here.]

(Note: All data in this article taken from here.)
(First published in Imprint 2008-05-15 as 'The Road to Recovery'.)

Part I. Part II. Part III.

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