Worksafe BC neither working nor safe for injured workers with chronic pain — study

Tom Sandborn weighs in on the plight of chronic pain patients who deal with WorkSafe BC.

Worksafe BC's head office in Richmond
HEADACHE AT HEADQUARTERS: When the current provincial government came to power it instituted changes in Worksafe procedures and pensions that many critics saw as draconian and anti-worker, says Sandborn.

Some injured workers suffering from chronic pain in B.C. have been so traumatized by the way WorkSafe BC (previously known as the Workers Compensation Board or WCB) treats them that they have attempted suicide.

It is bad enough to be injured at work and left with crippling chronic pain. But if that happens to you in B.C., you could also be subjected to long bureaucratic delays, disbelief from government staff and doctors, and disrupted income and psychological trauma on top of your initial injury, a study released this week suggests. Some of the injured workers profiled in the new policy brief from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (“Work injuries, chronic pain and the harmful effects of WorkSafeBC/WCB compensation denial,” by Dr. Cecil Hershler and Kia Salomons, MSc.) were so hurt by their post-injury experience with WorkSafe that four of nine considered suicide and two made suicide attempts, Dr. Hershler told me in a June 8 conversation.

Hershler, an expert on chronic pain with 30 years experience, told me that the way WorkSafe BC responds to injured workers suffering chronic pain had “a truly catastrophic impact” on their lives.

The stories the nine injured workers (all patients treated by Hershler) told the investigators that their post-injury experience with WorkSafe included off-and-on payment of compensation, or no compensation at all, over long periods of time; long delays between initial termination of payments and the comple­tion of appeals; lack of income and depletion of financial resources; mental health problems (including suicide attempts) and other health issues aggravated by the claims experience; wrestling with disbelief on the part of employers and WCB; frequent change of claims managers; undue pressure to engage in job search, even when injuries should have ruled out such requirements, and being cut off from the WorkSafe BC payments they were entitled to. One patient in the study had been struggling to get the chronic pain recognized for two decades.

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