Workplace injuries increased during pandemic

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THERE were fewer workers, but more injury claims in Manitoba last year.

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THERE were fewer workers, but more injury claims in Manitoba last year.

Injury rates increased during COVID-19 because of a significant drop in the number of full-time workers employed during the pandemic, the Workers Compensation Board said in its annual report.

“We saw a proportional increase in claims volumes in 2021 despite having fewer workers in the system than the pre-pandemic years,” WCB spokeswoman Radean Carter said Friday.

In 2021, the time-loss injury rate increased to 2.7 per 100 full-time workers, from 2.5 in 2020.

The rate is calculated by dividing the number of time-loss claims by the number workers in the system. There were 12,974 time-loss injuries in Manitoba last year compared to 12,044 in 2020.

“More claims in the system, with corresponding fewer workers, have pushed the injury rate up,” Carter said.

While the pandemic sidelined many workers and COVID-19 claims were a factor in 2021, the increase in the injury rate was mostly due to non-COVID claims, said Carter.

Most of the workplace injury claims were reported in health care. The sector had a time-loss injury rate of 4.7, Safe Work Manitoba’s 2021 Injury and Illness Report shows.

Construction had the second-highest injury rate (3.9) followed by public administration (3.6) and manufacturing (2.8).

Nearly one-third of the injury claims involved the trunk, including spinal cord and back injuries.

During the pandemic, when workers called in sick, those still able to work often had their workload expand, says the head of the union that represents health-care aides.

“It’s not a normal day,” Debbie Boissonneault said about employees when they face staff shortages and have to do more during a shift.

“When you’re running from patient to patient and client to client and you’re short (staffed). There are going to be injuries.”

The increased injury claims show that some employers focused on pandemic issues and let routine health and safety practices slide, said Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union.

“Basically, it proves that essential jobs continue to be hazardous and employers took their eye of the health and safety ball during 2021,” a Unifor spokesman said Friday.

“Also, in times of upheaval, there may be a reluctance by workers to actually speak out on unsafe conditions or near-miss events for fear that they may be punished for doing so, or that their employer is overly concerned with keeping the doors open versus keeping the doors open and protecting workers,” the union spokesman said.

While the number of time-loss injuries increased to 12,974 in 2021, it’s well below the 10-year high of 15,136 claims in 2012.

When asked what, if anything, employers could have done in 2021 to reduce injuries in workplaces with fewer workers, the WCB spokeswoman said there a number of programs provided.

Safe Work Manitoba, a division of WCB, works with safety partners in a variety of industries to provide prevention and safe work training for employers and workers, Carter said.

The health-care sector consistently produces the largest number of injury claims every year, so the WCB is funding a two-year pilot project to get the numbers down. Dubbed “MASH”, the Manitoba Association for Safety in Health Care puts workplace safety and health in the spotlight to show the need for a permanent, co-ordinated program in health and other sectors, the WCB annual report said.

The report singled out public administration, which has a time-loss injury rate much higher than the provincial average. It said Safe Work Manitoba continued to work with Manitoba Corrections to help address injuries that have increased “in the past number of years.”

Although the pandemic challenged the WCB’s ability to fully deliver on a number of initiatives, having so many people working remotely worked in the WCB’s favour when it shifted to virtual learning. It was able to exceed training targets and reached 59,939 participants, well above the goal of 50,000. That included nearly 11,000 young people who took the Young Worker Readiness certificate course that trained them to stay safe on their first job.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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