'Something has to change': Criticism for N.S. Workers' Compensation Board after injured worker speaks out about delays
After 50-year-old carpenter Matthew MacKay was paralyzed in an almost eight-metre fall while working on the twinning project for Highway 104, his family says the Workers’ Compensation Board of Nova Scotia (WCB) told them a wheelchair ramp for his house wouldn’t be ready in time for his return from hospital.
His wife, Jodi MacKay, called the regional manager of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters where Matthew is a member, for help.
“I called over to the WCB and there was some pushback on it,” says union regional manager Jeff Richardson. “They said it would be nine months, a year out to do any renovations to Matthew’s house, because of red tape, they can’t find anybody to do it."
“I told him we have managers that can do that work and he says no, there’s policies and regulations and liabilities.”
The phone conversation ended, but then Richardson says 15 minutes later, the WCB called back and asked for a quote.
He says it didn’t take long for members to put one together, and soon union members were at the MacKay home. They built the wheelchair ramp in a matter of days.
For Richardson, it’s an example of a system that’s not working.
“The man is in a wheelchair, and it's life-changing, and it's a year out for renovations? To me that's unacceptable,” he says. “Something has to change.”
According to the WCB, three quotes and multiple assessments are required for accessibility renovations and contractors are hard to find. It also says home modifications can be complex and it recognizes any delay is stressful.
The news the MacKays are still waiting for WCB-approved accessibility renovations to begin at their home, four months after the injury, has generated harsh criticism of the board.
Nancy Beaton, the executive director of the Canadian Paraplegic Association in Nova Scotia, says the stress of waiting is difficult in a case like this.
“That is a heavy burden to put on the shoulders of a person who has just sustained a spinal cord injury,” says Beaton. “It does not just deny him the repairs needed, it denies him the dignity of privacy and independence. All of which he had before his accident.”
“Shame on [the] WCB,” says Vicky Levack, an advocate with the Disability Rights Coalition.
Levack says basic renovations, such as a wheelchair ramp and bathroom modifications, should have been completed in time for Matthew’s transition from rehabilitation to home.
“It’s wrong. This is not about finances, it's about somebody's life,” says Levack.
“Three quotes seems excessive, two I think would be sufficient, if not one. And for his family and friends to have to go do what the government should be doing because they’re dragging their feet due to government bureaucracy. There should be time limits,” she says.
“Bureaucracies can move quickly when they want to,” says opposition Liberal MLA and Shadow Labour Minister Kelly Regan.
Regan was once minister of the Department of Labour under the previous government.
“WCB needs to manage this, they need to step up, they need to make this happen. This family has been impacted so much,” says Regan. “I think [WCB] should have some guarantees there that will provide people with some certainty so that they know when they come out of the hospital that work is done.”
The Department of Labour says the Workers’ Compensation Act and the general regulations don’t specify a timeframe in which home renovations must be done, but says in a statement, “it’s up to all of us to do our best to help people as quickly as possible.”
As for the incident that paralyzed Matthew Mackay on Aug. 3, the Department of Labour won't confirm many details because of the ongoing investigation, so it can't confirm which company or companies are being investigated, or exactly what happened that day. A department spokesperson says it is conducting a “thorough and objective investigation into the incident.”
According to Ryan Quinn of Construction Safety Nova Scotia, "falls are the leading cause of fatalities in construction, [and] a leading cause of injuries.”
He says when it comes to fall prevention, many people may think of fall arrest harnesses, which are designed to stop a fall.
But the occupational health and safety advisor says they’re not necessarily required on a job site.
“In some situations, guardrails may be a better option, it allows more people to work in an area that is protected,” he says.
But he says guardrails must also be built and installed correctly.
“When you look at a guardrail, you should see the top rail be between 42 to 36 inches from the working level, the mid-rail, halfway in between there, and a toe board that’s at least four inches in height,” he says.
Quinn adds guardrails must also be installed around any open edges that present a fall hazard.
In the MacKays’ case, the couple believes a guardrail at the site failed to stop Matthew’s fall – a fall that changed their lives.
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