SafeCare BC aims to cut long-term care injuries

Association will provide OHS training, educational services, safety information

British Columbia has a new agency aimed at reducing injuries in the health-care sector, and the province’s main public sector union is "cautiously optimistic" about its creation.

The British Columbia Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) won’t say much more than that about its expectations for SafeCare BC, according to the union’s health and safety officer Sheila Moir.

SafeCare BC is a workplace health and safety association focused on reducing the severity and frequency of injuries in the province’s continuing health-care sector. It will provide health and safety training, educational services and industry safety performance information.

Moir said the BCGEU is encouraged the association’s board of directors will include two positions for workers but is concerned about how effective those positions will be in bringing about significant change.

"We don’t need to be just rubber stamping things," Moir said. "We need participation that is meaningful and produces results for our members."

High number of injuries

According to SafeCare BC, the long-term care sector has the highest number of time-lost claims of any industry in the province. Long-term care workers face more time lost due to injury than those in manufacturing, construction and forestry — industries more traditionally associated with workplace injuries.

"Because the injury rate is so high… we were created at the behest of the industry," said SafeCare BC’s executive director Jennifer Lyle. "We’re looking to be a member-driven organization that’s responsive to the needs of the long-term care sector, whether that’s providing training or access to education or developing sector-specific tools and resources."

SafeCare BC will cover facilities providing 24-hour skilled care and acting as the primary residence for clients. Facilities operated by health authorities, substance abuse treatment centers and retirement homes are excluded from this list. In total, the association covers 348 employers in the province. It is funded by employers registered with WorkSafeBC under the Long Term Care classification.

"We expect that SafeCare BC will help reduce WorkSafeBC claims in the long-term care sector and support injured long-term care workers in safely returning to work more quickly," said WorkSafeBC’s vice president of employer, industry and worker services Ian Munroe.

The fear that long-term care workers will be rushed back to work following an injury is one of the reasons the BCGEU is approaching the new association with caution.

"This should not be about suppressing injuries and getting people back to work as fast as you can," Moir said. "They want to minimize worker injury, but how do you do that? We want this to be about preventing those injuries in the first place. What kind of corrective measure are they prepared to implement in order to prevent these injuries from happening?"

The vast majority of reported injuries in the long-term care sector are related to over-exertion or repetitive motion. Following closely behind are injuries caused by slips and trips as well as those resulting from violence or aggression, often exhibited by patients.

Managing a workforce with a high rate of injury can make it difficult for employers to retain workers and can lead to additional costs related to backfilling positions.

High workers’ comp premiums

A high-risk industry like the long-term care sector is also subject to considerable WorkSafeBC premiums, Lyle said. "We pay three-and-a-half times the health sector average in WorkSafeBC premiums," she said of employers in the sector.

Just as costly — though less easily defined — is the toll working in a high-risk environment takes on employees.

"As a front-line worker, if my risk of getting injured is lower I’m going to have a better quality of life," Lyle said. "It has a huge impact on everything from your home-life right through to your financial life."

By engaging both employer organizations and front-line workers — something Lyle says SafeCare BC is uniquely positioned to do because of its status as an independent association — the new organization hopes to address industry concerns more effectively.

In addition to bridging the gap between front-line workers and employers, the association hopes to create connections between the programs currently working in the province.

"We’re not looking to reinvent the wheel," Lyle said. "There’s a strong desire among our members as well as within our organization to avoid duplication. Because there are a lot of great programs that are out there and it may be a question of those programs aren’t known, or aren’t specific enough to long-term care, or facilities just don’t have the resources to access them at this time. So what we’re looking to do is leverage the great work that’s been done in the sector and make that available to our members as well as make it applicable."

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