By SARA MOJTEHEDZADEHWork and Wealth Reporter
Thu., May 31, 2018
The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board exists to compensate injured workers and promote safety on the job — but its own employees say they are so overburdened that their work environment is “toxic,” according to the results of a survey obtained by the Star.
Work overload and understaffing at the provincial workers’ compensation board have left front line employees unable to “keep up with the volume of work,” a January 2018 survey conducted by the Ontario Compensation Employees Union (OCEU) to assess workplace strain found.
A OCEU newsletter sent to staff in March says the union provided the survey results to the WSIB as well as “troubling real-life stories” of “members that have had to take time off work due to work-related stress.” (FRANCIS VACHON / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Some 90 per cent of the 263 employees who responded to the survey said work-related stress was impacting their personal lives and 92 per cent attributed the workload issues to understaffing.
A OCEU newsletter sent to staff in March says the union provided the survey results to the WSIB as well as “troubling real-life stories” of “members that have had to take time off work due to work-related stress” and “who are experiencing insomnia due to anxiety tied to concerns with job performance and the lack of support from the organization.”
The newsletter notes that a petition spearheaded by the union on workload issues attracted 1,321 signatures. OCEU represents 3,301 employees at the WSIB.
The WSIB did not say whether or not it believed its organization had a staffing issue or if anything specific had been done to address it. Spokesperson Christine Arnott said the board has “a very talented team of professional staff who are here to help people recover and return to work.”
“Our results show we’re helping people and continuously improving,” she added.
Around 8 per cent of the unionized workforce responded to the workload survey conducted by OCEU, which represents the WSIB’s front line workers such as case managers.
The union’s March newsletter claims that “WSIB senior leadership does not agree there is a workload problem. But the newsletter says the issue has “plagued” members and is “a direct result of the hiring freeze or hiring slowdown in 2016.”
In 2014, there were 3,515 unionized staff members and 926 managers at the WSIB, according to OCEU. By 2017, there were 3,301 unionized employees at the board — a 6 per cent decrease. Conversely, the number of managers grew to 1,098 — a 16 per cent increase.
WSIB employees’ workload has also worsened because of an unforeseen increase in the number of Ontario injured workers’ filing claims, the newsletter said, as well as a legislative reform that opened the door to new kinds of injury claims; last year, the Ontario government made significant legal changes to make workers with work-related chronic mental stress issues eligible for WSIB coverage.
Steve Mantis says workload issues faced by WSIB staff can impact the service received by injured workers filing compensation claims. (HANDOUT)
A 2017 survey conducted for OCEU by Toronto-based pollsters Environics found that job satisfaction amongst WSIB staff had dropped to a “new low” of 45 per cent and that 61 per cent of employees described their workplace as “not psychologically safe and healthy.” The survey results do not cite the methodology.
Steve Mantis, who became an injured worker advocate after losing his left arm in a workplace accident, says workload issues faced by WSIB staff can impact the service received by injured workers filing compensation claims.
“You know you need help — often times both in terms of health care as well as financial support — and you’re not getting any clear information,” he said. “The folks that are there to help me are feeling stressed out as well. It’s a double problem because they don’t feel able to handle the situation in a way they would like to handle it either.”
Mantis sought an assessment from the WSIB in December for the deterioration of his right arm, which he relies on after his workplace accident. He is still waiting for a decision.
“Luckily I’ve got support in other parts of my life, so it’s manageable. But I can really get stressed out by this interaction and lack of response on something that is really critical to my health and long-term well being,” he said.
The Star has previously reported on complaints that workers sometimes face delays in receiving fair benefits, a process that can be complicated by cumbersome appeals. A report by the Industrial Accident Victims Group, a Toronto-based legal clinic, found that the independent workers’ compensation appeals tribunal was overturning hundreds of WSIB decisions determined to be “unreasonable” and “arbitrary.”
The WSIB’s Arnott says the board receives around 250,000 claims every year and that 93 per cent of eligibility decisions are made within two weeks of the claim being registered.
“People are now receiving their first benefit payment cheque more than 10 days faster than they were just one year ago — 80 per cent of people are being paid within three weeks of their claim being filed,” Arnott said, adding that a declining number of appeals indicates the board is also “making the right decisions the first time around.”