Recent funding change by Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board puts those benefits at risk
Safe and healthy workplaces matter to industry. Saskatchewan is fortunate to have seven safety associations dedicated to preventing workplace injuries in this province by developing and delivering industry-focused training.
A recent change implemented by the Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) undermines industries’ opportunity to shape and ensure the training and support their dedicated safety associations develop and deliver.
“We are encouraging our members and stakeholders to engage with the decision-makers to let them know how these changes will negatively impact our industry,” said Shantel Lipp, president of the Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association (SHCA). “There is too much at risk to not speak out and defend the safety associations that deliver the training that keeps Saskatchewan workers safe.”
At the beginning of 2021, a new funding agreement was introduced by the WCB. The new agreement makes safety associations accountable to WCB rather than the industries funding them. That is a radical change to the nature and purpose of safety associations in Saskatchewan as well as the role of the WCB.
“The best people to train our industry on safety are those who come from the front lines because they know what is best for the worker,” said Lipp. “If the changes go forward, we risk losing this and the industry as a whole loses.”
Industry has not been provided any evidence that WCB appropriately analyzed the new funding agreement before it was implemented. However, there is data from the WCB showing that these safety associations have made a difference and that their work is reducing injury rates in their industries.
How industry-focused safety training is funded in Saskatchewan
All seven provincial safety associations in the province are funded by industry. They are:
- Energy Safety Canada, Saskatchewan Petroleum Industry Safety Association
- Heavy Construction Safety Association of Saskatchewan
- Motor Safety Association
- Safety Association of Saskatchewan Manufacturers
- Saskatchewan Association for Safe Workplaces in Health
- Saskatchewan Construction Safety Association
- Service Hospitality
- Safety associations focus on the needs of the industries that organized, sponsored and fund them. Funds for the safety associations are collected from employers by WCB. Those funds are then distributed to safety associations through grants from WCB, which acts as a fund administrator.
Industry funds these safety associations because those in industry are most qualified to identify current hazards in their workplaces that could lead to injuries. They are also able to distinguish what is best practice for employers in their industry to implement to prevent injuries.
Safety associations develop and deliver that practical and relevant training, advice and support by engaging industry members. This ensures that emerging issues that could cause injuries are quickly pinpointed and addressed to keep more workers and workplaces safe and healthy.
Safety associations also engage one another to improve the training being developed and delivered in the province. They collaborate to develop standards for training and trainers as well as course material that elevates their effectiveness. One example of this is associations’ work to develop fall protection training in Saskatchewan, which is needed in numerous industries.
According to the WCB, the total injury rates for industries with safety associations have decreased from 5.46 per cent in 2016 to 4.74 per cent in 2020.
How industry holds safety associations accountable for funds intended for safety training
For the last 25 years, safety associations have operated successfully as independent cooperatives. These safety associations are not-for-profit organizations and are governed by boards made up of workers and employers.
Board members approve strategic plans and budget, as well as associated grant requests. They oversee operational activities, evaluate the effectiveness of the association’s programs and initiatives and are 100 per cent accountable to their association’s membership.
How WCB is separating industry from Saskatchewan’s safety associations
Under the new funding agreement:
- WCB requires safety associations, when requesting funding, to provide details about initiatives and staff positions that go far beyond what is provided to a board or CEO.
- WCB assumes the power to approve and deny portions of a safety association’s funding request. This means WCB, rather than industry, will determine the safety associations’ individual strategies, initiatives, activities and more.
- WCB is proposing it has the power to audit safety associations. These audits would be done at the expense of the safety association if WCB felt the association was not complying with the funding agreement. WCB has not yet established criteria for reasonable cause to audit.
- WCB will monitor and evaluate safety associations’ reporting requirements, meaning WCB wants the power to manage the activities of the safety associations throughout the year.
This new funding agreement means WCB – rather than industry boards – would now:
- Approve and manage the budgets of safety associations
- Approve the strategic plans of safety associations
- Approve and manage the operational plans of safety associations
- Evaluate the effectiveness of all programs and the association
The risks of this new funding agreement to Saskatchewan workplaces
Administrative costs will increase – for safety associations and WCB – due to the new reporting requirements.
Industry could no longer have a direct impact on the training and support developed and delivered through safety associations.
Most important is workplace safety and injury prevention. The likelihood that the risk to workers will be reduced and workplace safety will improve under this new funding agreement is unknown.
It is uncertain how quickly or adequately safety risks due to emerging issues can be addressed by safety associations in the future. This is because funding is uncertain. WCB assuming authority to approve or deny funding a safety association’s individual strategies, initiatives or activities means safety association staff can only work at the speed of WCB, which impacts their productivity and responsiveness.
This raises the possibility that injury rates –which have gone down through the work of safety associations – could rise in Saskatchewan.
What industry expects of WCB
The WCB needs to be reminded that its authority, as it relates to safety associations, comes from legislation (The Workers’ Compensation Act, 2013).
Funding requests need to be approved in their entirety. WCB oversight should focus on ensuring industry funds are used for injury prevention and that boards of safety associations are representative of industry.
The WCB Board of Directors needs to direct the administration of WCB through motion and/or policy to withdraw this funding agreement implemented in 2021 in its entirety.
A cost/benefit analysis should be undertaken as well as a comprehensive impact analysis before any new funding agreement is implemented. A negotiator should be appointed to facilitate a new funding agreement. The agreement should balance the interests of all stakeholders and industry should be appropriately consulted.