WSIB’s Reforms: Smoke, mirrors and broken workers

iwo-bannerBy Orlando Buonastella and Kathrin Furniss, Injured Workers Consultants.

Injured workers and supporters will rally at Queen’s Park on June 1, Injured Workers’ Day, to challenge the most recent scandal involving the workers’ compensation board.

Recently, the mainstream media discovered something injured workers had been warning about all along. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) is systematically ignoring the opinion of injured workers’ treating doctors and health care providers. This has ignited the phone lines of radio shows and has resulted in several follow-up stories about the WSIB’s callous treatment of injured workers. This is not a surprise to our community. Yet it has shaken Ontario’s consciousness in a new way.

In reality, the scandal around the WSIB systematically ignoring treating doctors, something we call medical claims suppression, is just the tip of the iceberg. It is in fact a symptom of the Board’s wider obsession with improving its financial position, which it is successfully doing, on the backs of injured workers.

Medical claims suppression is the tip of the iceberg

Most people were not aware of the extent to which injured workers are being mistreated by the WSIB. This may be due to the rosy, but inaccurate, picture being painted by the WSIB and the provincial government. They say the WSIB’s finances are in wonderful shape, while at the same time, the services for and the health of injured workers is also improving! Apparently, the WSIB is working some miracles over on Front Street.

But that rosy picture is starting to show some cracks. The scandal around the WSIB systematically ignoring doctors has revealed much more extensive problems. The WSIB’s finances are only improving because injured workers have been attacked on all fronts: reduced claims entitlement, premature return to work, blaming pre-existing conditions, denying permanent impairments, and so on. The WSIB reached its nadir of cruelty under the regime of David Marshall, who was President and CEO of the WSIB from 2010 to 2016. For some time now, the system has just been closing the books on injured workers and casting them aside and calling it an improvement.

This is borne out in the WSIB’s own statistics, contained in its 2015 Economic Statement. For example, that report cites a reduction of permanent impairment recognition for back injuries by over 80% between 2010 and 2015, and hails it as an improvement. The same document characterizes a reduction in the percentage of injured workers with a recognized permanent impairment from 12.7% to 5.8% from 2009 to 2015 as a performance improvement. All told, these and other so-called improvements have led to an $800 million annual reduction in benefits being paid to injured workers! In our view, the WSIB’s improved statistics come from its implementation of the dramatic cutbacks recommended by KPMG’s 2010 unabashedly pro-business report. In other words, they reflect an increase in claims denial rather than improved outcomes in worker’s health and safety. It is notable that there has been no similar dramatic drop in the number of fatal claims. Fatal claims cannot be easily hidden or explained away…

In addition to ignoring medical evidence, these improvements have been facilitated by changes to the Board’s internal policies that make it easier to deny claims, such as blaming age or pre-existing conditions. Return to Work programs have also facilitated these improvements, with an increasing number of workers deemed able to return to work when in reality they cannot. Unfortunately, this means many workers are considered to earn wages from jobs they do not have.

Retiring the unfunded liability on the backs of injured workers

Medical claims suppression and other claims minimization initiatives are in fact symptoms of a wider systemic problem: the Board’s obsession with speedily reducing its unfunded liability (UFL), the difference between future obligations to injured workers and the money currently on hand to pay for that. While the problem of the UFL can be traced back to the decisions of people in power, it is injured workers who are paying the price.

Under the leadership of former Premier Mike Harris, employer assessment rates were lowered by 30%. The unfunded liability grew quickly because employers were no longer paying their share of injury costs. Had the Harris government not reduced employer assessment rates, the UFL would have been gone by 2006. Instead, the 2008 global economic crisis made it worse.

Panicked about the UFL, the McGuinty government passed Bill 135, a law to eliminate the UFL within prescribed time limits. At the time, the government unequivocally promised that, “full funding will not be achieved on the backs of injured workers” This was a welcomed promise, but our past experience made us wary.

Who benefits once more? Employers do!

The WSIB recently announced that the UFL was getting so low, and WSIB expenditures were also so low, that employer premium rates would be reduced at a level that would have been unthinkable even by the Harris Tories. As of 2018, employers will benefit from rate cuts amounting to $2 billion annually! This is an insult and a grave injustice to injured workers.

Injured workers did not agree to be sacrificed for corporate profits, but they have been. One would expect that once the UFL is dealt with, that those who sacrificed would see the restoration of their mandated losses. In other words, injured workers should see a return to the pre-Marshall policies and practices. Unfortunately, this is not on the agenda. Instead, employers will reap the benefits at the expense of injured workers.

And it gets worse. The proposed premium rate reductions for employers will effectively make the Marshall cuts permanent. Once there is a rate cut, benefits will be administered in a way that reflects the reduced revenue coming into the system, and the employer lobby will fight tooth and nail to keep their rates down.

The official position of the WSIB has been that the UFL is not being retired on the backs of injured workers. Trust injured workers, it is. This shameful agenda must be exposed and reversed.

Recommending a way forward

There is still time to fix the problem. It will require meaningful and swift change. The cuts injured workers have suffered should be reversed and no rate cut should benefit employers.

Here are some immediate reversals that should take place:

  1. Respect treating health care providers and abide by their recommendations.
  2. Reverse the changes to WSIB policy made under David Marshall’s regime.
  3. A complete overhaul of WSIB employee and management training so that their understanding of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (including regulations and policies made thereunder) respects the original intent of this remedial legislation designed to help injured workers.
  4. Return the integrity and accessibility of the claims and appeals departments. Case managers and appeal officers should listen to workers and make fair decisions.
  5. Reject any rate reduction to employers and restore the rates cut by the Harris government.
  6. Move swiftly to universal coverage so that all workers in Ontario are covered by the workers’ compensation system (Ontario has one of Canada’s lowest coverage rates).
  7. Eliminate the WSIB’s experience rating programs and stop the implementation of the Rate Framework Modernization, which rewards employers for suppressing and minimizing worker’s compensation claims.
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8 thoughts on “WSIB’s Reforms: Smoke, mirrors and broken workers

  1. The same sad results on workers compensation in the U.S.A. Here the insurance is run privately, but obviously as in Canada have the same control of workers compensation claims Anyone who takes KPMG as the expert needs to do it all it by a reputable audit company. AND Where does all the money go out of those claims. In the US, it’s scammed and funneled by some of those in the insurance industry or their ilk. Perhaps employers, judges, lawyers, civil servants and insurance employees need to be audited as well by a reputable audit company and the government itself.
    This is a very tragic result in any case for injured workers who only did their job but that that was not enough for the employer because the employer gets to criminally benefit in profits made by not taking of their employee’s injuries.There really needs to be employers and anyone else who joins in on the, put in the old hoosegow for outright criminal neglect of injured workers.

  2. Terrific Article! Those cracks are soon to be canyons, the truth is coming out. I Thank every Doctor who has stepped forward and told their story, told the truth of WSIB’s actions. My thinking WSIB has broken the Historic Compromise with full approval of employers. I have always wished we could have sued my Husband’s employer instead of the Compensation System, I know many who feel the same way, It’s time employers remember that the Compensation System wasn’t just created to protect those Injured on the job, it protected Employers from Financial ruin from a lawsuit won my an Injured Worker.

  3. I am an injured worker and gave experienced everything that has been said in the article and more. The WSIB said I was suffering from see perceived limitations. The WSIAT during the hearing mocked and made fun of my chronic pain (Fibromyalgia) said anyone can claim to have it. The WSIAT also said I was a “fuck fucking joke and I deserved to have my ass kicked for not working supporting my family. In response I have file a lawsuit, I will also be questioning the constitutionality of the WSIB act. With specific reference to forced return to work.

  4. So glad I came across this website! I have been fighting our province’s WCB now called WorkSafe. After a mining accident in 2013, I am still fighting WorkSafe’s doctor’s OPINIONS on my injuries. Diagnosed by real doctor’s and specialists, I have a neck injury from whiplash. 6 damaged nerves which requires nerve ablations (burning the nerves), 18 month waiting period for the rest of my life, vertigo, diplopia (double vision), headaches, anxiety and depression. Because my employer failed to do an accident report, I was screwed right from the start. WorkSafe doctor gave me a 14% disability award with 1 of the ‘tests’ was to squeeze his fingers!! After an independant company did a Full Functional Evaluation I was deemed Sedentary Work only. A LOT more than 14%! Because my employer failed to communicate with WorkSafe I was forced into Vocational Rehabilitation as a Phase 2 plan, which is finding me employment. WorkSafe’s brainwave of a job for someone with a severe neck injury? BUS DRIVER. I have my class 1. Transit, subway any job of that nature! Of course I had to refuse and even with a doctor’s note saying I am incapable of operating a bus and being responsible for up to 53 passengers. Totally ignored. And because I refused to move to Vancouver area, 10 hours away, I was once again cut off benefits. After reading the articles on this website I have a better understanding how corrupt the system really is. I had my full trust in my employer, 5th biggest coal producer in the world, but the slap in the face was I didn’t matter AT ALL. What mattered more was NOT increasing the insurance rates and the precious safety record. Thank God our union has an arbitrator but it is a slow moving process by design. Absolute joke. Besides the physical hardship, add mental and financial stress but all this affects my loving dear wife. She has had to deal with this crap just as well. Getting a lawyer isn’t possible on our income. I believe in play the cards you’re dealt with but not when the deck is stacked…

  5. The Saskatchwan Works Compension Board, can also be referred to as The Assisted Suicide Board. I was injured on October 4th. 2004. Under went 4 lower back surgeries. I returned to work on my own as the Project Manager / Superentendent in charger of Structural and Pre-engineered Steel Erection. I was employed by a company that had no connection to my injury. My wages package was in excess of $135,000 -$150,000. Plus outstanding bennifits,I continued to work on site of 5 years. When continuing scare tissue creating uncontollable pain and spasms. My employer offered me a office position with the same wage package. If it was possible to get the pain controlled. Narcotics were not a option.
    I elected to try nerve stimulation implant surgery. It was a failure. WCBs medical experts recommended that I was capable of working 2 – 4 hour day behind a counter at a motel / hotel. I have never met any of those call medical experts. WCS Saskatchwan deducts 4 hours x 7 days x minimum wage = approximately $1,000 per/month. If it was possible for me to work even 4 hours a day, I would beable to return to my job, with it’s wages and benifits. Not living in poverty and under threat and harassment from WCB SASK. I how have developed a deadly allergy to all nerve inhibitors, I have suffered near total kidney failure twice. Doctors have prescribed that I return to narcotics for pain controll. 18 months have past since I stop the intake of narcotics that had induced 5 separate individual heart attacks. My intake had reached. 1 – 100 mcg/h Teva-fentanyl patch, plus 1 – 50 mcg/h Teva-fentanyl patch and 18mg of Hydromorph one every four hours. 3600 mg of gabapenten, lyrica. My case worker Heather Johnston still insisted on reducing my benifits. Saskatchwan Workers Compensation and my case worker Heather Johnston has with out a doubt been the major reason I will suffer a poverty ridden early death. Why does a work related injury have to be a death sentence. Case Worker getting Blood money off the suffering of injured workers. WCB IS CRIMMINAL AND SHOULD BE DISMANTLED THEN A WOODEN STAKE DRIVEN INTO THE ASHES.

  6. I was hurt @ Toyota manufacturing Canada, It’s such a long story so ill put it in point form,
    – was put on light duty for a year, harassed and forced me to stand beside the line and sort garbage instead of letting me stay where the garbage was, on some days just to humiliate me and hope I would give in and work injured like many other people in the plant do.
    – After a year they decide they have found me a job suitable for my shoulder, wrist, forearm injuries.
    – This job was in paint wiping down cars”every car” before they went into paint. ” what a great idea!! I couldnt refuse so i said i would try, so they sent me to physio to try a replicate the job. While doing so for 20 min my shoulder sweeled up in frot of toyota physio peole and they said the job was not going to work for me.
    So then they put me up in the office helping with paperwork till they had another job, then one day i was called into the nurses office and told today is you rlast day wth toyota do you need someoneto walk you out. THIS WAS A NURSE!!! I was in shock i was given no warning explanation nothing , I walked out not knowing what was happening only that wsib would be in contact… I remember the drive home only becuase i was shaking so bad and so upset that i knew i shouldnt be driving and didnt know how to go home or tell anyone what had just happened because i didnt know myself..
    then i entered the retraining, we decided on a physio theropist assisstant program.
    after 1 year of upgrading with kids and 1 year into the program feeling like a stupid person and pulling my hair out to try and pass . they pulled me out saying the school and we have decided that this job is not suitable for my restrictions.
    They then gave me 3 weeeks to decide on a course for a career for the rest of my life.
    I was yet again brought to my knees not knowing what thee heck is going on in my life.
    They were threatnig to throw me in a purchasing program , so i said i quess ill do social service work.
    I know this is nt or me but with the options they gave me i had to decide or they would decide for me..
    I am now a year in and i hate it, and dont know what to do .
    I feel so lost and dont know what to do , I have never felt this lost and when im done the school i will be cut down to half of my income or less and they will walk away scott free..
    They never even fought with toyota to try and find me a suitable job.. which there are plenty .. but they never did any of it..
    If anyone has any suggestions please HELP me.. Im so lost, tired , and beaten.

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