Asbestos exposure also top priority
WorkSafeBC might be best known for providing compensation and support to injured workers, but it’s not only focused on physical injuries; psychological injuries are a large part of its mandate as well.
“Mental health is a topic that is very relevant in all aspects of society — including work — and how do you ensure that workplaces are not having a negative impact on the workers that are in those workplaces?” says Anne Naser, who became the new president and CEO of WorkSafeBC in June.
Mental disorder claims are becoming the fastest growing type of claim at the agency. In 2018, these claims increased by 21 per cent compared to 2016.
In January, the agency was the first compensation board in the country to appoint a chief mental health officer, whose goal is to ensure mental injuries do not result in disability. The agency has recently created a network of mental health experts for workers that is continually being expanded.
“What are the best practices out there in terms of a fulsome approach to mental health, both through the specialist psychologist, but also occupational health therapists to support workers during crisis, recovery and return to work?” asks Naser.
WorkSafeBC practises what it preaches, and it has implemented mental health programs for its workers. This includes a strong employee and family assistance program, access to LifeSpeak — an online resource for a variety of health and wellness topics — and partnering with the Compensation Employees’ Union (CEU) to end the stigma around mental illness in the workplace. This includes joint materials developed for employees, including a series of tool kits on the importance of language, the positive impact of kindness and compassion and the benefits of listening and asking about mental health.
“It really helps people because, at the end of the day, mental health is a broad thing; it’s everything happening in your life. And we can all have life events, whether it’s a personal relationship or aging parents or things that we might be struggling with at work that we could use support in,” she says.
Asbestos is also a big focus for WorkSafeBC. In 2018, about 36 per cent of the work-related deaths in B.C. were due to asbestos.
“Sometimes, those can be tough because an injury that is immediate and instant tends to impact people in a different way than something that happens many years after your exposure to it,” says Naser. “So, it’s a tricky area from that perspective, but it’s a very important one.”
The agency recently launched a media campaign to boost awareness of the risks of asbestos exposure during construction projects. WorkSafeBC has also been conducting a lot of inspections at residential demolition and commercial building projects. In 2018, these inspections resulted in 742 orders and 26 penalties.
Workers are most at risk when demolishing or renovating older homes.
“Construction is a very active and big industry in British Columbia,” says Naser. “Ensure before any work begins that you do a proper evaluation with a company that is qualified to do that… Before exposure occurs, do your bit.”
WorkSafeBC is in the spotlight these days with two reviews underway. The first is a review of the workers’ compensation system with recommendations from the government expected at press time. Naser says the agency is looking forward to any input on ways to provide more support to injured workers.
The second relates to the two tragic sawmill explosions in 2012 that killed four workers. After the incidents, the Dyble Report and Macatee Report issued several recommendations. The B.C. government has recently retained a lawyer to assess the actions of WorkSafeBC in relation to the explosions. Naser says the agency has been providing the lawyer with all the information she needs and is keen to learn how it can improve.
INNOVATION AND COLLABORATION
Throughout her tenure as president and CEO, Naser wants the workers’ compensation system to be financially stable for the future, be even better at supporting injured workers and use more technology and collaborative efforts.
“Innovation has always been near and dear to my heart… That whole concept of innovation and collaboration and how do we use those in a way to really move us to the next level is a key part of my focus,” she says.
WorkSafeBC is looking at developing expertise in predictive analytic models, machine learning, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and other emerging technologies.
On the collaboration front, Naser wants all stakeholders, including employers, to get more involved with WorkSafeBC. She wants to engage them in conversation and find out what else the agency can do to support them.
“How do we engage and collaborate to make our influence larger?” Naser says. “At the end of the day, it’s about a cultural shift. That’s the gold standard we are all hoping for. That’s what we all think of first. The more people and partners we can engage in that, the better we will be at it.”
Like many people, Naser stumbled into workplace health and safety by chance.
“But then I realized how awesome it is and how much I love it,” she says.
Naser joined WorkSafeBC in 1998 because she knew a lot of people who worked there and there was a lot of opportunity in technology, her area of expertise. Most recently, Naser was chief information officer at WorkSafeBC between 2009 and 2018. Naser says she was taken by the noble work of the organization and felt that it was much more than “just a job.”
“Once I started working here and started seeing what the organization did and how big a difference we could make and how I could help through leveraging innovation and technology to really change societal stuff, it’s a bug you get that’s hard to drop.”
This article originally appeared in the October/November 2019 issue of COS.