Claim Suppression Study in B.C. Finds Under-claiming of Work Injury to be Common

Joint study by Institute for Work & Health and Prism Economics and Analysis also finds employer pressure, inducement not to claim seen in four to 13 per cent of work injuries

About half of British Columbia workers who have a work injury or illness that results in time away from work do not report the injury or illness to WorkSafeBC. The two most common reasons workers give are not knowing they are entitled to compensation or how to apply, and not thinking it’s worth their time to make a claim.

This is according to a recent study on claim suppression commissioned by WorkSafeBC and conducted by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) and Prism Economics and Analysis. The study found an estimated four to 13 per cent of people with work-related injuries in British Columbia experience claim suppression—i.e. pressure or inducement from an employer not to make a claim.

The study was conducted using four data sources. They included:

1) a survey conducted in 2019-2020 of 699 B.C. workers who had experienced a self-reported, work-related injury or illness within three years before the survey;

2) a survey of 150 employers across the province, with those in the construction and transportation/warehousing sectors disproportionately over-represented;

3) a document review of 1,043 randomly selected no-lost-time claims filed between 2016 and 2019, conducted by WorkSafeBC staff who provided anonymized results to the research team for analysis; and

4) a document review of 601 claims that were rejected, suspended or abandoned, again done by WorkSafeBC and analyzed by the research team using anonymized results.

Findings from the study are now available in a policy briefing and a report.

In their report, the research team noted important differences between under-claiming, misrepresented claims and claim suppression. Under-claiming occurs when workers who appear to be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits choose not to submit or proceed with a claim. Misrepresented claims are claims that are submitted and classified as no-lost-time claims even though the injuries or diseases do involve lost working time. Claim suppression refers to any overt or subtle act by an employer to discourage a worker from reporting an injury or disease or from making a claim.

Workers’ reasons for not reporting

Among the 699 workers surveyed, almost six in 10 (58 per cent) had lost two or more days of working time due to a work-related injury. Among these, just over half (54 per cent) did not submit a claim to WorkSafeBC. Findings showed that under-claiming was more common among workers who were immigrants, had lower educational attainment, were not union members, were employed by small employers and worked on a temporary basis (directly or through temp agencies).

The main reasons given for not claiming were unrelated to claim suppression (see sidebar). The most common reasons included not knowing they were entitled to compensation or not knowing how to apply for WorkSafeBC wage loss benefits (40 per cent), and thinking it wasn’t worth the time to make a claim (36 per cent).

As for reasons indicative of claims suppression among those who were off work for two or more days but did not submit a claim, the top two were believing they would “get into trouble” (7.8 per cent) and their employer pressuring them not to apply for WorkSafe benefits (4.1 per cent). The survey also found 13 per cent of those off work for two or more days, whether they filed a claim or not, said their employer asked them not to report time loss and/or threatened them with repercussions if they did so.

In some cases, the claim suppression behaviour may have involved front-line supervisors who were acting contrary to the employer’s policy, says Dr. Ron Saunders, an IWH adjunct scientist and principal investigator of the study. About a third of the respondents who reported claim suppression behaviour also said that their employer assisted them in filing the report to WorkSafeBC.

Claim suppression appears to be higher in workplaces that offer rewards to employees if the workplace is injury-free, the survey results suggest. Among workers who indicated their employer engaged in claim suppression behaviour, about 41 per cent reported their employer operated an incentive scheme. In comparison, among survey respondents who did not indicate their employer engaged in claim suppression, 6.4 per cent said their employer operated an incentive scheme.

Employer perceptions

In the survey of 150 employers, the team found 6.0 per cent said they believed that, in their industry, lost-time injuries were “rarely or never” reported to WorkSafeBC. However, about 27 per cent of employers reported their belief that, in their industry, lost-time injuries were reported to WorkSafeBC as no-lost-time injuries “all the time or almost all the time,” and 25 per cent expressed their belief that no-lost-time injuries were “rarely or never” reported to WorkSafeBC.

The employer survey also showed that 72 per cent of employers provided a sick leave/disability plan, medical benefits plan or both. Roughly a fifth of these employers (21 per cent, representing 15 per cent of the total sample) allowed their employees to access benefits through one of these plans instead of claiming WorkSafeBC benefits. As well, 11 per cent reported that they provided a bonus or incentive to their employees to maintain an injury-free workplace.

From the analysis of no-lost-time claims, the team estimated between 4.1 and 12 per cent of these types of claims were misclassified—i.e. they may have indeed resulted in more than two days off work. From the analysis of claims that were rejected, withdrawn or abandoned, the team estimated between 12 and 19 per cent were “problematic” because documentary evidence in the claim file suggested a compensable, work-related injury or disease.

The fact that a file was problematic does not necessarily imply that the worker’s decision not to proceed with the claim was the result of undue pressure from the employer, says Saunders. However, some of the claim files did suggest the potential for employer pressure. For example, in 8.3 per cent of the files, the worker form (Form 6) indicated that the worker missed more than one day of work and sought medical attention, but no employer form was filed for the incident.

The findings of this study are in line with those of others looking at claim suppression or under-claiming in Canadian jurisdictions, says Saunders. Its findings were similar with respect to the approximate magnitude of under-claiming, of lost working-time incidents being misrepresented as involving no lost working time, and of claim suppression on the part of employers.

Read reasons for not reporting an injury and more stats here.

Phoenix Truck & Crane: Raising the Bar on Safety

“When did you get hurt?” may be the response when you mention safety consciousness. Injuries can have long-term—even career-ending—consequences. An injury was the impetus for Phoenix Truck & Crane to build its rigorous safety program.

Bill Dick founded Phoenix 30 years ago. An owner operator, he experienced companies’ poor treatment of professional drivers. It didn’t sit well with Bill, so he started his own company with the credo that drivers would be respected. From one truck, Phoenix has grown to a fleet of more than 150 owner operators and company-owned cranes.

Trucking has changed since Bill started Phoenix, as has the area around the company’s Coquitlam base. Growth in BC’s Lower Mainland meant high-end projects and higher professional expectations. All companies had to step up their game, including safety practices. Phoenix was there and played a role in establishing the requirements for crane operators to be certified (Fulford Harbour Group Cranesafe Certification).

Bill’s son, Trevor, now the company’s vice-president, was injured in 2011 by a load-related fall. Fully engaged in the industry’s growing emphasis on safety, Bill gave Trevor a blank cheque to create a new safety program, one second-to-none. Trevor found a new calling. He notes that “pain and suffering motivate people to watch out for everyone else.” He developed an entirely new safety program and attained COR certification in only four years.

Trevor acknowledges he had to overcome some resistance to the new safety culture; push-back is common whenever you introduce change. Truck drivers tend to be rugged individualists but many veteran drivers embraced the changes immediately, having learned from experience how important safety is.

When it comes to the team or their loads, Trevor “doesn’t mess around.” There are no corners cut, no grey areas; the first instruction to new drivers is that rules will not be bent and doing so is reason for dismissal. The no-nonsense, practical approach protects drivers and assures clients of an impeccable safety record.

Owner operators undergo two days of training and orientation, including a truck inspection to ensure compliance with Phoenix’s requirements. Daily pre- and post-trip inspection reports exceed industry standards. Random monthly inspections are conducted in the field by a dedicated team whose sole job is to visit owner operators wherever they are. Where the industry used to be about telling drivers to “go there, figure it out,” now scout technical field team members assess sites to resolve problems and safety issues before the vehicle arrives. Phoenix drivers have a services department to support them and ensure no one is ever on their own. Regular monthly safety meetings (by phone during the COVID pandemic), memos, emails, and constant communication provide attaboys and continual learning. And Trevor is always available.

The safety program keeps up with the changing workforce. Millennials, not yet highly represented, are joining the transportation industry. Their expectations differ from previous generations’ — they expect more guidance and respect. Companies have to learn to engage them; one way is a safety program that ensures the company has their backs.

Phoenix has that aced. Their safety culture is enthusiastically embraced at all levels, says Sabrina Christie, Phoenix Sales & Marketing. “People are really proud of our program.” The company’s safety committee members happily proclaim themselves safety geeks, which makes Trevor the chief geek.

The results are safe operations, great reputation, repeat customers, good relationship with WorkSafe, and a happy workforce. And recognition: SafetyDriven’s Large Employer COR Award, 2016; SafetyDriven’s Health and Safety Innovation Award, 2016 and 2018; and four Phoenix drivers were recognized in SafetyDriven’s 2020 Driver Appreciation Week.

Phoenix’s safety program is a pledge to its workers, whether they drive a truck, operate a crane, or occupy a desk. It is summed up in the Phoenix Truck & Crane Occupational Health & Safety Manual: “The personal health and safety of each worker of this company is of primary importance.”

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Remember to be Safe

Brushing up on safe practices

SafetyDriven offers this reminder of good habits. Watch your speed and watch for hazards!

While operating under COVID-19 restrictions, you may have gotten used to highways with little traffic. Seeing that broad open road, maybe you saw a clear shot to put the hammer down and gain some time. Stop! As COVID-19 restrictions loosen, the traffic will be back. This SafetyDriven refresher will help you be ready. And remember—when it comes to safety, SafetyDriven – Transportation Safety Council of BC has your back.

Remember Not to Speed
According to ICBC, 89,000 people are injured and 287 killed in vehicle crashes in BC each year. Of those, 82 die from speed-related crashes (exceeding the speed limit, driving too fast for conditions; excessive speed over 40 km/h). Remember not to become a statistic.

Remember Your Good Habits
The COVID-19 protocols and practices have been around long enough to become habit. It takes 18 to 254 days to create a new habit. On average, a new habit becomes automatic behaviour in two months. You’ve built good habits through your training and experience. During this unprecedented time, you could find bad habits creeping into your work performance, especially if the pandemic is affecting your mental health. Be aware; remember your good habits.

Remember to Watch for Wildlife
Spring typically increases the amount of wildlife close to roads, especially young animals that haven’t learned to be wary. With less traffic, there is more than usual wildlife along the highways. It takes a lot of road to stop, so watch your speed. Remember: slowing down by as little as 5 km/h can make the difference between completing your trip or replacing your front end.

Remember to Watch for the Other Guy
A lot of people haven’t been driving much for the past few months, so their skills may be a little rusty; you’ll need to remember for them. With summer coming and typically more vehicles on the road, that lack of practice will combine with lost or confused drivers of overloaded vehicles distracted by kids and trying to listen to their GPS instructions. Remember to expect the unexpected and keep as much space around your truck as possible.

Remember to Stay Focused
It’s easy to let your mind wander when you’re behind the wheel. Remember to focus on the job and don’t let yourself be distracted by problems at home, loose stuff in your truck, hunger, discomfort and the other issues that filter into your mind. ICBC reports that an average of 76 people die each year in distracted driving crashes. A few seconds of inattention can be fatal to you or someone else, especially if you’ve increased your speed. And remember the hazards of stopping roadside. Between 2009 and 2018, four of the 13 roadside workers killed by vehicles were truck drivers.

The pandemic is still here
In your truck and at work sites, follow the COVID-19 protocols to keep you and your colleagues safe. These practices will be in place for awhile yet.

And remember— SafetyDriven – TSCBC provides free health and safety program building, training, and resources to the general trucking and moving and storage industries.

Visit for free online resources to help you make your company safer.

Connecting Workers with Safety—From a Safe Distance

Finding new ways to communicate about safety and stay safe in an uncertain time.

We are all adjusting to the “new normal.” The COVID-19 situation is still changing. It is an uneasy background to businesses reopening after the shutdown and requires essential services, like transport, to work within distancing regulations and strict hygiene procedures.

But one thing that hasn’t changed is the importance of workplace safety. The challenge is to engage workers and provide safety information when physical distancing rules out face-to-face meetings.

We wanted to learn more about communicating safety under COVID-19 restrictions. We contacted three safety advisors at SafetyDriven — Shay Ryan, Darshan Gill, and Brad Zall. They agree that there are advantages to methods such as signage, handouts, conference calls, emails, texts, and online meetings.

“Different tools appeal to different audiences. Find out what catches the attention of your workers, making sure to keep the message brief and on-point,” says Ryan.

“While there is no one perfect solution, a combination of methods is likely what will be the best way to communicate,” Gill adds. “For industries such as trucking where workers are widespread, emails/newsletters or pre-recorded video messages are effective tools.” He echoes Ryan’s point about making communication focused and brief. “Keep the message clear and concise. There is so much information available these days that workers may have a hard time sorting through it all. By consistently delivering a clear and concise message, safety managers provide a trustworthy and consistent source of reliable information for workers to follow.”

Many businesses are replacing in-person meetings with online meetings or video conferencing.

“Zoom has become a very useful tool for meetings,” says Zall. He suggests becoming familiar with your video conferencing tools before a meeting. “And don’t forget to use the mute button when not speaking to limit noise interference,” he adds. Your colleagues probably won’t hold it against you if they can hear a child or pet, but it is distracting.

It is still important to have an agenda for your virtual meeting.

“Keep to the agenda; don’t drag out the meeting. Many find these kinds of meetings stressful and uncomfortable,” Ryan points out. “If an issue is brought up during the meeting that isn’t on the agenda and doesn’t need immediate attention, use a ‘parking lot’ to make note of issues for the next meeting and/or hold a special meeting for just that issue.”

“While the social aspect of being able to see your coworkers can certainly be a good thing, it is important to be aware of overdoing Zoom meetings,” Gill cautions. “As with in-person meetings, some online meetings can and should be replaced by emails. Not every meeting needs to be a Zoom meeting.” He also suggests that organizers send follow-up emails to add value to video meetings. “Very few attendees in Zoom meetings take notes and if the information is relevant and important, having it available after the meeting for reference can be an effective tool.” Soliciting feedback is still key.

“Whether through video meetings or emails/memos, provide workers with an opportunity to communicate their concerns and ask questions they may have about items related to the discussion,” says Gill.

Zall suggests that safety managers ask workers to confirm that they received the communication. Review the information with the worker to be sure there is no misunderstanding.

“Ask questions about the feedback they give you, take notes, and copy them in on all documentation based on their specific feedback,” says Ryan. “Keep going back to them to make sure any suggestions/issues/solutions they have provided remains from their perspective. If they have provided a solution for a safety issue, make sure to also get their feedback after the solution has been put in place, ensuring a control measure actually works for those who face that hazard.”

Finally, with all the distractions right now, how can safety managers ensure that safety remains everyone’s top priority?

Maintaining a presence with regular communication is vital, Zall says. “As a safety manager, you may not be meeting face-to-face with employees, but it’s important for workers to know you are still available.”

Ryan agrees: “Be present and available. Take the time to talk to people on both a professional and personal level, demonstrating that safety isn’t just legislated policies and procedures. Be mindful that everyone’s mind is elsewhere and not everyone will be convinced they can be at work without fear.”

Gill says safety managers can address fear by demonstrating they take the pandemic seriously and are taking measures to keep everyone safe. “When this is done effectively and workers are able to see that their health is being looked after, they are able to spend more time focusing on the safety/hazards of their actual job.”

For COVID-19 resources for trucking and moving and storage, visit SafetyDriven’s COVID-19 page.