B.C. government brings in changes to workers' compensation system

VICTORIA — Workers' compensation benefits in B.C. would be based on a higher maximum salary amount under legislation introduced Tuesday by the provincial government.

Amendments to the Workers Compensation Act would increase the maximum insurable earnings to $100,000 from $87,100.

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The government says it is aiming for at least 90 per cent of workers to have 100 per cent of their earnings covered if they are can't work because of an injury suffered on the job.

The bill would also allow the safety agency to obtain search and seizure warrants when it investigates workplace safety infractions, if authorized by a court.

As well, it would allow victim impact statements to be heard in court in serious workplace prosecutions.

Labour Minister Harry Bains said the changes will help injured workers and their families, while also giving WorkSafeBC more tools to investigate workplace incidents.

"This bill makes modest but important improvements to several aspects of British Columbia's workers compensation system," Bains told the legislature.

The legislation would strengthen the way occupational diseases caused by viral pathogens are handled by fast-tracking the presumption for when a virus was contracted on the job, if established by WorkSafeBC's board of directors.

The government says this would mean people who are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 at work are able to get benefits more quickly.

It would also expedite health care for a worker before a claim is accepted in cases when treatment would likely prevent a significant deterioration in health.

The government says in a statement that the legislation would allow WorkSafeBC to adjust a one-year time limit on mental health claims because it "is not realistic for most workers, given the delay or gradual onset of some mental disorders."

The amendments to the Workers Compensation Act were developed after three expert reviews, which included consultations with employer, labour and Indigenous organizations.

The government says it also considered systems that are in place elsewhere in Canada and took into account the possible effects of the changes on employer premium rates.

More than 100,000 new claims are made in B.C. every year due to workplace injuries or fatalities, the government says.

There were 140 workplace fatalities last year, with 84 of them caused by occupational disease, 40 by traumatic injury and 16 the result of a motor vehicle incident.

The province says WorkSafeBC conducted 141 investigations in 2019.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 14, 2020.

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