WorkSafeNB chair pushes back against criticisms

The chairwoman of WorksafeNB is rejecting suggestions the agency is deliberately making it harder for injured workers to get compensation.

Denies giving too much to employers at the expense of injured workers

The chairwoman of WorkSafeNB is rejecting suggestions her agency is deliberately making it more difficult for injured workers to get compensation.

Sharon Tucker, who appeared before a committee of MLAs at the legislature on Tuesday, could not explain why hundreds of rulings are being overturned by an appeal tribunal.

But she said the total number of claim rejections is still only a tiny percentage of the number of people who apply for compensation.

"Ninety-four per cent of our employees were very satisfied. Six per cent were not. So we recognize that's not perfect, but we recognize that we're doing some good things. Is there an opportunity to improve? There always is," she said.

In 2011, 75 per cent of workers whose injury compensation claims were turned down successfully appealed their rejections.

Another five per cent had their rejections partially overturned.

Liberal MLA Bertrand LeBlanc, who represents Rogersville-Kouchibouguac, wanted to know why the advice of doctors is being overruled and why treatments are being denied.

WorkSafeNB officials said one reason could be that workers' doctors only deal with a small number of injury-related matters, about 1.6 per cent of their caseload.

Medical advisors for WorkSafeNB, on the other hand, are fully focused on workplace injuries and the best practices for getting workers recovered and back on the job, the officials said.

The chairwoman could not explain, however, why so many decisions by her staff are being thrown out in favour of workers.

"There are a variety of reasons why a claim may not go the way a person would hope and the outcome may not be," said Tucker, a former Progressive Conservative election candidate appointed to the job by the Alward government.

No government direction to limit benefits

Liberal MLA Roger Melanson suggested turning down claims allows WorkSafeNB to do the bidding of the government by lowering the rates it charges employers.

"If you look at the core relationship between the chair of the board being appointed in November 2010 — she ran for the Tories two or three times," said Melanson.

"And then you look at the number of appeals going up and the rates going down. There may be a correlation between government's agenda, trying to reduce the rates, which of course, we want to have our employers, our companies more competitive. But it may be to the detriment of the workers," he said.

But Tucker contends there's been no directive from the government to try to get the rates down.

There is no connection between the two, she said, despite the employer rates decreasing for the past four years in a row.

It's too early to speculate whether the rates will drop again this year, said Tucker, noting rates are determined during negotiations in September.