Dramatic jump in number of Winnipeg bus drivers on stress leave in 2017, WCB data says
Change in reporting post-traumatic stress came into effect in 2016, Workers Compensation Board says
The number of Winnipeg transit drivers off work because of stress on the job spiked sharply last year, according to data from the Manitoba Workers Compensation Board.
According to figures released to CBC News by the WCB, 14 bus drivers were on sick leave in 2017 because of exposure to traumatic or stressful events. That number is a dramatic jump from two in 2016, three in 2015 and two in 2014.
Aleem Chaudhary, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union local 1505, says he's not surprised.
He says an increasing number of drivers are being threatened on the job or assaulted, and that is causing stress to skyrocket. He believes the numbers are actually a lot higher than what's reflected in the WCB data.
"I mean, 14 is just the number of accepted claims. We aren't talking about the ones that are in the system waiting to be adjudicated or those that are not accepted as far as psychological injuries," said Chaudhary.
'Greater move to accepting these claims'
From 2014 to 2018, the average number of paid sick leave days for drivers on leave in the category of "exposure to traumatic or stressful events" was 46.5 days, according to Dwight Doell, the director of prevention services at the WCB.
Doell says a presumptive clause for post-traumatic stress came into effect in 2016.
Previously, the onus was on the applicant to prove they were suffering from stress and unable to do their job. Doell says there is now more openness to put in these types of claims and a likelihood that they will be accepted.
"Since 2016, it's considered 'yes' unless you prove 'no.' There is a reverse onus, a greater move to accepting these claims. I don't know if we can say that is why there was a spike in the 14 cases, though," said Doell.
See a March 2017 night-shift ride-along with two Winnipeg Transit drivers:
Chaudhary has his own theory.
"More people accept the fact having a psychological injury is not a shameful thing," he said.
"It's more acceptable in society today to say, 'Yes, I have that injury,' and not be ashamed, which you shouldn't be. It's not a physical injury, it's a psychological injury."
It's not known how much the claims for stress leave are costing the city of Winnipeg.
City says many factors may explain spike
A spokesperson for the city said there are a number of factors that may directly and indirectly contribute to fluctuations in the number of WCB claims.
Those include better recognition in the medical community of the signs and symptoms of injuries, whether physical or non-physical; increasing awareness by staff and management of signs and symptoms to watch for; and a broadening of the definition of what represents an acceptable claim by organizations such as the WCB.
The bottom line, says Chaudhary, is that bus drivers experience stress in many cases because they are afraid for their own safety and the safety of their passengers.
The WCB injury report also shows assaults and violent acts by a person have also jumped dramatically — 14 in 2017, up from eight in 2016, seven in 2015 and six in 2014.
There have been several high-profile attacks on Winnipeg Transit drivers recently, most notably the killing of driver Irvine Jubal Fraser on Feb. 14, 2017.
A second-degree murder charge has been laid in that case.
Chaudhary says the union has been pushing for more safety measures to be put in place.
New safety initiatives, city says
The City of Winnipeg says it has responded with a number of initiatives, including a pilot project to test bus operator safety shields, the formation of a transit advisory committee, and a new safety training program for drivers and managers.
Inspectors have also been assigned at set strategic locations to assist operators and passengers.
Chaudhary says despite the city's measures, a number of young drivers are still choosing to leave the job because they don't feel safe. He says two or three transit drivers are leaving every week.
"Drivers have heard people say 'I am going to kill you.' They make the sign of the pistol and say 'I am going to shoot you,'" he said.
"It adds up over time, especially when you are newer on the job. Psychologically it takes its toll on you.… You might not think of it at the time but it does."
Watch Chaudhary explain why young drivers are leaving
The city disputes the claim that drivers are resigning because they don't feel safe.
A spokesperson says when an operator quits, they are asked to put forward information concerning their reason to leave.
Workers Compensation Board injury report (PDF KB)
Workers Compensation Board injury report (Text KB)CBC is not responsible for 3rd party content