Chair blog

February 2017 – Data Symposium

Since being formed, our Panel has spent many months learning about Alberta’s workers’ compensation system and listening to a diverse range of Albertans about the strengths and opportunities for improvement that exist in the system.

Early in our work, we heard a number of recurring concerns related to data about workplace injuries and illnesses. As part of its operations, the WCB collects data from employers about workplace injuries and illnesses, resulting in the largest repository of data of this kind in Alberta. Various stakeholders have recognized the importance and potential usefulness of this data. Stakeholders have also expressed concerns about this data, its limitations, and how it’s being used.

To investigate these issues, our Panel worked with representatives of Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) branch to host a data symposium at the end of January. Approximately 100 people attended the symposium, representing unions, industry associations, safety associations and other stakeholders.

The data symposium featured guest speakers who presented on issues such as information and privacy rights and data-driven decision-making. The symposium also enabled stakeholders to discuss what’s working well, and not working well, when it comes to data in the workers’ compensation system.

As always, participants were not shy about expressing their views. We will be reviewing and considering all of their input in detail. For now, I wanted to share some of our big “takeaways” from the data symposium.

  • There are some things that people think are working well when it comes to data in the system. For example:
    • The data that’s requested from employers is generally easy to collect.
    • The data is protected and stored securely, which gives people confidence about maintaining privacy.
    • Approved organizations can easily access the data online.
    • People find the data relatively easy to navigate, which makes it easier for them to mine the data for trends and information.
  • There are also ways in which the collection and use of data is not working well for stakeholders. For example:
    • Data collected by the WCB has been collected for “insurance”-type purposes (such as helping establish premiums), but it is being used for purposes for which it was not intended. This is having consequences on the ground.
    • A significant concern is the use of “lost time claim” data, which the WCB makes available. Companies in various sectors are using this data as an indicator of employers’ safety records when they hire subcontractors, even though the data is neither intended for this purpose nor a particularly great indicator of safety. There are concerns that this dynamic is contributing to suppression of WCB claims, because employers (and their workers) do not want to be disqualified from securing work.
    • The data collected by the WCB does not identify details or root causes about injuries and illnesses. For example, one cannot discern the severity of a particular injury or the circumstances surrounding the injury, even though these are important things to know if one wants to make workplaces safer.
    • Data results are not always timely, and this can undermine their usefulness. To be useful for informing injury and illness prevention in workplaces, data has to be relatively recent in nature.
    • Different provinces and territories use different definitions, classifications and coding methodologies for data in their systems. This makes it difficult for organizations to assess the performance of industries and employers in Alberta relative to those in other provinces and territories. Being able to clearly see how Alberta workplaces “stack up” would be informative.
    • Even within Alberta, different definitions and classifications are used by organizations that collect various types of data around worker injuries and illnesses. This makes it more challenging for our province to undertake prevention efforts.
  • When we asked people to describe their vision for data in an improved system, we heard a lot of consistent things. For example:
    • Definitions, methodologies and coding structures should be harmonized across provinces and territories. But even before that, these things should be harmonized within Alberta. Right now data sets are not aligned and harmonized among WCB, OHS and other organizations that might have data which is informative for workplace safety. An improved system should feature harmonized data collection among these players in Alberta.
    • Data should be used for the purposes for which it was intended. If a different use for the data is contemplated, this should be discussed with stakeholders that have interests in the system.
    • An improved system should strive to identify and adapt the best practices that are used by jurisdictions across Canada and around the world.
    • There needs to be trust amongst those who are providing information (employers and workers), the WCB and OHS. People need to have trust that data will be used appropriately and fairly, consistent with what has been committed. The roles and expectations on all sides should be clear.

Overall, stakeholders told us they would like to see enhanced data collection, use and management to assist in improving the worker’s compensation system.

By the end of the data symposium, one of the strongest messages we received was: this needs more work. Our Panel did not expect that the complex issues around data were all going to be solved during the symposium, but it was very useful to shed some sunlight on the issues and get people talking to one another.

Our Panel heard a great deal of consensus that some kind of forum should be established –featuring representation from employers, workers, the WCB and OHS – to delve deeper into the issues and make improvements to data collection and use. That will be on our minds as we turn our attention to developing our report and recommendations to the Government of Alberta.

Mia Norrie, Neutral Chair

Mia Norrie

Human Resources and Labour Relations Consultant

Mia’s practice is focused on conflict resolution, workplace harassment and labour relations as a mediator, investigator, adjudicator and trainer. Throughout her career, Mia has had the unique opportunity to work for both management and unions in the private and public sectors. She works with a broad range of organizations across Western Canada in a neutral role to help unions and employers identify and resolve their issues in an effort to avoid expensive and adversarial litigation.

John Carpenter, Workers’ Representative Partner

John Carpenter

Chivers Carpenter law firm

John has represented trade unions and their members in arbitrations, before the Alberta Labour Relations Board, the Alberta Courts and the Supreme Court of Canada. On behalf of injured workers he has appeared before the WCB, the Appeals Commission and the Courts. He has been a panellist in a number of forums, including the National Academy of Arbitrators Annual Meeting, the Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers Annual Conference and the University of Calgary Labour Arbitration Conference. He continues to serve as Chair of the Alberta Workers' Health Centre where the focus is information and awareness on workplace health and safety.

Pemme Cunliffe

Pemme Cunliffe

Labour Relations Consultant

Pemme has recently retired from her role as In-house Counsel with Covenant Health having had an extensive career in a variety of health care settings, both in practice and in administration. She has served as an employer nominee in labour arbitration hearings for other health authorities/employers. Her current role as a Labour Relations Consultant focuses on labour and employee issues, collective bargaining, workplace investigations and other employment-based issues.