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Quebec’s Occupational Health and Safety Plan: Fewer Accidents, Higher Costs

Montreal, February 24, 2011 – In the last 20 years, rates of industrial accidents and occupational diseases have been falling constantly in Quebec. The number of deaths has followed this same trend, with a 75% decline in proportion to the number of workers. However, despite this very positive record, the costs of the system run by the CSST (Quebec’s Occupational Health and Safety Commission) have kept rising. In an Economic Note published by the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI), Jacques L. Archambault, an attorney and human resources consultant, observes a number of inconsistencies that result in costs rising substantially. He notes that the CSST system costs $2.55 billion to Quebec employers.

Longer waiting times for victims of employment injuries Faster treatment enables employees to restore their health more quickly and reduces the risk of chronic injury. The current CSST system serves the interests of thousands of workers quite poorly. For those requiring surgery following an employment injury, waiting times are four times longer than the average for the general population.

Paying for ineffective treatments While the systems in other Canadian provinces generally cover a maximum number of physiotherapy or occupational therapy treatments, the CSST has not managed to impose this type of limit. Despite the fact that only the first 20 treatments are considered effective for a simple injury, the Quebec average is 53 treatments. The author suggests limiting the number of eligible treatments to 30 (with some exceptions), a more generous standard than what applies elsewhere in Canada. This would provide better cost control without reducing the effectiveness of care received by workers.

CSST compensation that exceeds wages Mr. Archambault explains that it is possible for a wage-earner who has chosen to leave the workforce to receive a retirement pension in addition to getting CSST benefits. This results in the employee receiving a higher income than the abandoned job would have provided, something referred to as overcompensation. It is clear that this practice is unfair and provides little incentive to return to work, he adds.

Injuries not reported to the CSST There have been suggestions that the reduction in employment injuries is illusory, meaning that some injuries are not reported to the CSST. "Failure to report an employment injury to the CSST in no way explains the increase in the system’s costs," says Michel Kelly-Gagnon, the president and CEO of the MEI. "Fewer declared injuries should, on the contrary, mean fewer payments and thus declining costs. But this is not what we are seeing. As such, Mr. Archambault’s conclusions remain just as valid, despite this possible phenomenon."

The Economic Note titled Quebec’s Occupational Health and Safety Plan: Fewer Accidents, Higher Costs, written by Jacques L. Archambault, a lawyer and certified human resources consultant and president of Archambault avocats / Archambault Groupe-conseil inc., may be consulted free of charge on the Institute’s website.

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The Montreal Economic Institute is an independent, non-partisan, not-for-profit research and educational organization. Through its publications, media appearances and conferences, the MEI stimulates debate on public policies in Quebec and across Canada by proposing wealth-creating reforms based on market mechanisms. It does not accept any government funding.

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Information and interview requests:
Ariane Gauthier, communications coordinator, Montreal Economic Institute
Tel.: 514 273-0969 ext. 2231 / Cell: 514 603-8746 / Email: agauthier@iedm.org

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