Monday, April 30, 2012

What was new at the Saskatchewan Workers’ Comp Institute?

A few weeks ago, I attended a unique event in Regina. Since 1998, Saskatchewan WCB and the Ministry responsible for workplace inspections have been holding an annual Workers’ Comp Institute. The event is open to employers, union reps, safety officers, and human resource professionals - in fact, anyone with an interest workers’ compensation. Over the course of the two-day event, nearly 400 participants learned more about the Saskatchewan workers' compensation system and stakeholder responsibilities in it. Many of the concurrent sessions had basic titles like “Case Management”, “Employer Services (Assessments)”, and “Best Practices (Prevention and RTW)” but the content was of interest to novices to workers’ compensation and to students of workers’ compensation systems like me.

A highlight was the celebration of the “Safe Worker” and “Safe Employer” awards. The luncheon celebrating the nominees attracted media attention and was a fabulous platform for advancing the idea of changing safety culture. In introducing the Safe Employer award nominees, the Deputy Minister spoke about the importance of leadership noting that research shows about 70% of corporate culture is set from the top. Three nominees for employer and worker awards were highlighted in video presentations that showed how individuals and firms can make a difference in making workplaces safe and healthy.

Another highlight was the frank discussion about a new and controversial initiative: summary offense ticketing. The Ministry is seeking an amendment to the Summary Offence Regulations of the province. These regulations allow peace officers in different fields to issue tickets (like traffic tickets for speeding). The amendment would allow occupational safety officers to issue on-the-spot-tickets to employers, supervisors, contractors, owners, and workers for certain prescribed offences. The benefit of this program is the immediacy of issuing a ticket. If you are trying to change behaviour, a summary offense ticket is an immediate tool with far lower administrative costs than prosecutions or many administrative penalty processes. Still to be worked out would be the schedule of offences and the values of associated fines (large enough to be a deterrent without being overly punitive). Consultations are continuing to decide which behaviours should be targeted.

The event was well run and included a range of representatives from all stakeholder groups. In the plenary and concurrent sessions I attended, there was no grandstanding; yet, questions from all stakeholders were welcomed and respectfully addressed.

I’m not certain the Workers’ Comp Institute idea is right for every jurisdiction but it seems to be working well in Saskatchewan. Other jurisdictions may find inspiration from the the approach and the content of this very successful event.

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