Blazing a Paper Trail Before & After a Workplace Injury

November-December 2010

THE RESPONSIBILITIES AND OBLIGATIONS of tree service entrepreneurs who begin to employ other people are often unfamiliar to the skilled tradesmen and women within the ranks of the Ontario arboriculture industry. Few of us obtain formal education in this subject area and in the end develop our knowledge and understanding via the U of OTJ – the University of On The Job.

Providing employees with Workplace Disability Insurance is a moral (and legal) obligation to protect the workers, the clients and the business. Those of us who provide only residential tree care, and do not work in proximity to energized conductors, fall within the Schedule 2 industry designation which does not require the employer to provide Workplace Disability Insurance through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). Schedule 2 industries can provide disability insurance through another insurance provider. It is important to note that if your services include providing tree care for line clearance purposes, or for working in proximity to energized conductors, you immediately become a Schedule 1 industry and you, the employer, are required to provide Workplace Disability Insurance via WSIB.

Our unified goal as an industry, as employers and employees, is to eliminate workplace injuries and accidents. The Ministry of Labour (MOL) and WSIB provide a clear path to zero accidents. We are required to do our part under the guidance and enforcement of a number of government bodies and legislative acts. However, the reality is that accidents do occur. And a framework should be created within your company to ensure the appropriate steps are followed to ensure insurers and regulators are provided with the necessary documentation they require. Many of us within the industry voluntarily insure our employees via WSIB despite the Schedule 2 designation. We have created a flow chart internally at Advanced Tree Care to help us fulfill our obligations and protect our team, the company, and our clients from the negative circumstances that could result from an injury.

1) An Employee is Hurt
The first step to complete in a workplace injury event is to provide the injured person with the appropriate medical care required. Onsite first aid treatment of wounds and scrapes for minor injuries may be all that is required. The employer (if not immediately present) must then be notified by the worker of the injury. More intense injuries will require that care be provided by a health care practitioner and the employer is responsible for arranging transportation for the injured worker to obtain this medical attention. It is important to note that few employers are professional health care practitioners and to assess or diagnose an injury can be inappropriate and possibly misidentify the extent of injuries. When in doubt, always obtain a professional diagnosis. This will protect the worker and ensure a safe and expeditious return to work.

2) File The Report
At the point of professional medical attention being administered for an injury, the employer is required to report the injury to WSIB. This report is made via the WSIB Form 7 document which must be filled out within 3 days of you becoming aware of your reporting obligation (administration of medical treatment) and must be received by WSIB within 7 business days after you learn of your reporting obligation. Many of us have made such reports and don’t understand their importance within the WSIB process. The Form 7 report initiates the insurance claim. The insurance may only be required for the medical expense of the claim, or it may be required to cover lost time and compensation to the worker as they take time off to heal from their injuries.

3) Recover at Home or Plan B
The goal of all parties is to get the injured worker back to full work capabilities as soon as possible. However some injuries may not require the worker to stay at home to recover. They may have the ability to complete tasks that do not interfere with the proper healing process of their injuries. These may be tasks that are modifications of their normal duties and are thereby described by WSIB as modified duties.

The important thing for employers to realize is that they are not health care practitioners, and though they may have a reasonable assessment as to the duties that the injured worker is capable of, the employer should consult with the medical practitioner via the Functional Abilities Form to ensure that a clear understanding of what the injured worker is capable of completing is documented. It is also important for the employer to use this information to guide the development of modified duties befitting the extent of the injuries.

At this point in the injury management process, the employer would offer the worker modified duties. These modified duties ensure that the injured worker gets back to work as early as medically feasible, relieving them of the emotional and financial strain often accompanying an injury.

The Functional Abilities Form will list work restrictions to help guide the development of these modified duties. When the employer offers the modified duties to the injured worker, they should refrain from verbal communication as this can be misunderstood by the worker. List the modified duties in great detail in a letter format. This will allow all parties – WSIB, the health care practitioner, the worker and the employer – to ensure that the modified duties are in fact appropriate.

4) Assess Plan B Again
As the injured worker heals, he/she may begin to express an ambition to regain full unrestricted duties. In the interest of due diligence, avoid the decision to assess this ambition as full injury recovery. Instead, obtain a new Functional Abilities Form from the medical practitioner that assesses the worker’s recovery and indicates that the worker no longer requires work restrictions. This will prevent the recurrence of injury of those so often overly ambitious tree workers who love their jobs and want to get back into the trenches as quickly as possible. When returning the injured worker to unrestricted work duties, do so again in the form of a letter so that clear avenues of communication are maintained between the insurer (WSIB), the health care practitioner, the worker and the employer.

5) Home Recovery
Should the injury require the worker to take time away from work to heal, you will have to report to WSIB a summary of their wages so the insurance claim can be calculated to account for this lost time. The injured worker will have their loss of pay covered by WSIB. You as the employer do have the option of continuing to pay the injured worker while they recover at home, however because they are absent from work it is still classified as a time lost claim. During the recovery time for an injury of this nature, maintain clear lines of communication with all parties to ensure that the injured worker can return to work as soon as they are medically capable. Again, this will reduce the emotional and financial strain that the injury will exert on the injured worker’s lifestyle.

6) Get Advice & Get it Often
During this entire process, seek guidance from a very valuable resource, the Office of the Employer Advisor. They will guide your process and ensure that you as the employer are fulfilling your obligations. It is my suggestion that these processes are in place before you need them. If the entire team is aware of the process and reasoning behind your company’s injury policy, the culture of safety within your ranks will improve.

Luckily, my experience in the tree care industry has been relatively injury-free. However as stated earlier, the culture of our ranks tends to encourage those who tenaciously want to work and will often degrade or minimize injuries to keep the team effective and productive. The result is that I have had little experience with the injury process over my career. However, I am no longer someone else’s employee. As an employer of multiple workers, my level of responsibility is very high. Responsibility flows uphill. You and I, as employers, need to protect our teams from injury, yet when unfortunate circumstances arise we also need to provide the processes and systems to ensure our workers, our clients and our enterprises are protected.

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