Pandemic good and bad news for N.S. Workers' Compensation Board
Number of claims dropped in 2020, but workers were off the job longer than year before
The first year of Nova Scotia's pandemic has delivered good and bad news when it comes to workers injured on the job in 2020.
According to statistics released Wednesday by the Workers' Compensation Board of Nova Scotia, there were 666 fewer claims filed for time lost on the job in 2020 than there were in 2019.
There were a total of 4,997 time loss claims filed last year and 5,663 filed in 2019, a 12 per cent decrease.
But there was an even larger increase — 21 per cent — in the length of time workers were off the job as a result of an injury. In 2020, the average amount of time injured workers were off the job was 178 days, up from the 147 day average in 2019.
Stuart MacLean, board CEO, said the pandemic is partially to blame for the drop in injuries and the increase in time off the job.
"We saw during the pandemic the lowest number of time loss injuries that we've seen on record ... but obviously some of that is driven by the activity in the pandemic," MacLean said in an interview. "Some industries did very well over the course of the last year in terms of their activity, and there's other industries that have been challenged.
"But certainly to see less people injured is always a good news story."
He said trying to get injured workers back on the job has been more difficult during the pandemic, in some cases because needed services and care are unavailable.
"Can't go to the physio clinic, they have to do it virtually, so that's been a challenge. Or you can't see the doctor and that means that they can't get their medical impairment or whatever the thing looks like," said MacLean.
The pandemic also made it harder to reintegrate workers who could return to work in another capacity because of temporary layoffs and cutbacks.
"There's less opportunities if somebody gets hurt to say, come and try something different or work in this environment," said MacLean. "So as a result, there's not as much opportunity for injured workers to get back to work. And again, more days paid get added to the system."
WCB expects spike in mental health claims
Although there were slightly fewer claims filed in 2020 for psychological injuries, MacLean worries the added stress of the ongoing pandemic might drive up numbers over this year.
"Mental health issues have been exacerbated during the pandemic," he said. "We know that mental health is important, mental health toward healing is important."
The good news for employers is that the impact of the pandemic on compensation overall is not likely to drive up the rates companies pay for board coverage.
"I don't expect that rates will change for next year," said MacLean. "That's obviously a decision of the board, but I don't see that."