OP-ED: Workers’ Compensation Has Fallen Short in Nova Scotia – and We’re Committing to do Better

“The Workers’ Compensation System in Nova Scotia falls short of what this province deserves.”

This is what you have told me. You’ve also told me that workers’ compensation is too expensive. Too  many people still get injured at work. 

Injured workers do not always get the help they need to recover. The time people remain off work recovering is among the longest in the country. Other provinces are  doing better than us by almost every measure.

I joined as CEO of WCB Nova Scotia last year. I’m here because I have experience leading companies through change. This is my fifth CEO role. This is what I know to be true: the best leaders listen more than they talk. So that’s what I’m doing. I have travelled from  Yarmouth to Sydney, from Amherst to Musquodoboit, listening to workers, employers, industry associations, labour unions, chambers of commerce, individuals, groups – anyone with an opinion about WCB. That’s how I learned what you think of the workers’ compensation system.

Here’s the good news – we can turn this situation around. We will turn this situation around. Everyone in the workers’ compensation system is ready and willing to change.

An independent review, commissioned by the province’s Department of Labour, is underway. It’s the right thing to do, and I am grateful for the timing as it coincides with my tenure as CEO. Our objectives are fully aligned: all involved want to improve the workers’ compensation system for the benefit of Nova Scotians.

We will give Nova Scotians the workers’ compensation system they deserve. We will help you prevent injuries at work, we will help people get back to work safely if they do get injured, we will support families impacted by tragedy over the long term. Most importantly, we will approach it all with compassion, understanding, and kindness.

We have some distance to travel to get to our goal, which is why we have already started.

Here's what we’re doing inside WCB:

  • Acting faster to better support return-to-work, keeping more Nova Scotians in the workforce where our province so badly needs them.
  • Establishing service level agreements and tracking them – from how quickly we answer the phone to how long we take to return calls to how fast we pay people.
  • Automating where we can, freeing up our people to spend time where it’s truly needed, like writing plainer-language decision letters, helping people understand next steps.
  • Listening to our own employees who are ready to challenge the status quo, filled with smart ideas, and who acknowledge that simplifying processes will help them deliver the service they have always wanted to.

Here’s what we’re doing outside WCB:

  • Hosting multiple webinars and in-person sessions to ensure good understanding of new legislation making work-related gradual onset psychological injury compensable.
  • Consulting widely with employers and injured workers in decision-making about the future direction of WCB, from big ideas around the appeals system to small things like rewriting letters to explain decisions we make about claims.
  • Working with healthcare service providers to improve communication, provide secure channels to share documentation, speeding up processes and service and payment.
  • Talking to other provinces about what they’re doing well and how we can learn from them.

We have a bold new strategic plan. We will track our progress publicly on three pillars: injury prevention, return to work, and exceptional service. You can read more at wcb.ns.ca/protectmore.

It’s early, but we’re already seeing results.

We’ve reduced the waiting period for claim decisions by one third.

We’ve reached thousands of employers and workers with webinars and in-person sessions.

And the most important thing: workplaces injuries are trending down across the province. Thank you to all of you across Nova Scotia who continue to build awareness around health and safety in the workplace. Your efforts are working.

These are small steps. But they’re also quick wins which prove that we have the right formula to effect change.

We will continue to encourage both physically and psychologically healthy workplaces, providing the toolkits and resources all employers need to ensure workers are protected from both physical and psychological injury, particularly with the new legislation taking effect September 1, 2024.

Here at WCB, we need to do better. Through listening and learning, we will change how we work. The result will make it possible for lower employer rates and improved worker benefits.

We will make the changes required. We will turn this situation around. We will give Nova Scotians the workers’ compensation system you deserve.

Karen Adams
CEO of the Workers’ Compensation Board of Nova Scotia

Karen Adams is the CEO of the Workers’ Compensation Board of Nova Scotia. She has held leadership positions in organizations around the world and most recently served as the president and CEO of Fundserv Inc.