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Report shows decline of injury rate in Nova Scotia workplaces, rise in mental trauma

Construction is being done with heavy machinery in an undated file photo. Construction is being done with heavy machinery in an undated file photo.
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The rate of injury to Nova Scotia workers continued to decline in 2023 and is down to half the rate recorded 20 years ago, a new report has found.

The Nova Scotia Workers' Compensation Board says the time-loss injury rate improved to 1.4 injuries per 100 covered workers in 2023, down from 1.54 logged in 2022 and significantly better than the rate of 3.0 seen in 2003.

Board CEO Karen Adams said the numbers are encouraging and indicate a growing awareness by workers and employers of the need for safety on the job.

"Nova Scotians are just doing a better job of keeping themselves safe at work and employers are doing a better job of having good safety cultures," Adams said in an interview.

She said the board has found employers are "really intent" on getting their injury rates down because of the effects felt by other workers, especially in professions such as nursing where there are significant staffing shortages.

"People being off work means that you have to scramble to do your job," Adams said.

She credited recent safety initiatives such as the "Better Safety, Better Care" campaign in long-term care and home care with helping to improve the injury rate, as well as the board's increased efforts to go into workplaces and engage with employers and staff.

Still, the highest rate of injury was in the health and social services sector, where the rate for workers in hospitals, long-term care homes and at home settings fell to 2.35 in 2023 from 2.75 in 2022. The next highest injury rates were in the construction and manufacturing sectors, which also experienced declines last year.

The report found 48.2 per cent of time-loss injuries for workers were due to risky or repetitive movement, with 63.4 per cent of injuries attributed to sprains or strains and 9.9 per cent resulting from fractures and dislocations. Back injuries, meanwhile, accounted for almost a quarter of all time-loss injuries at 23.5 per cent.

The board also noted improvement in the number of days paid to lost work, which declined by 59,000 days or 160 person-years of work last year. The report says, however, that Nova Scotians take longer to return to work than workers in many other provinces.

"Returning to work safely and in a timely manner is the nut that we need to crack in Nova Scotia to improve upon the service we provide," Adams said, noting the province's average assessment rate for employers is among the highest in the country at $2.65 per $100 of assessable payroll. The current average rate in neighbouring New Brunswick, by contrast, is among the lowest in Canada at $1.18.

Meanwhile, another area that continues to be of concern is psychological injuries caused by traumatic events, which are on the rise.

The report found 159 workers were forced to take time off the job in 2023, 24 more than in the previous year. The majority of those workers, 94, were first responders such as paramedics, police and firefighters.

"These are people who are really suffering as a result of what they see," said Adams, who added the coverage for post-traumatic stress disorder is presumptive, meaning coverage is given with no questions asked.

Adams said the board is also preparing to compensate for gradual onset psychological workplace injury in September - a first for Atlantic Canada, although it's already covered in most other provinces. The coverage is for issues such as bullying and harassment in the workplace.

The report also repeated a grim statistic released last month showing 18 Nova Scotians died at or because of their work last year. That figure stood at 24 workers in 2022.

"Every single death is preventable," said Adams. "We are doing everything we can in working with employers to prevent fatalities. The numbers, even though they are going down, that's not a good news story."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 11, 2024

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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