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Nurses support adding COVID-19 to occupational diseases list at WorkSafe BC

Last Updated Jul 20, 2020 at 11:01 pm PDT

FILE - A nurse who is working during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto. (Steve Russell via Getty Images)
Summary

Benefits could flow faster to COVID-19-stricken employees if the virus is deemed occupational disease

Over 140 nurses have filed COVID-19-related claims with WorkSafe

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The professionals who are on the frontlines, and contracting COVID-19 while doing their jobs, are eager for a change at WorkSafe BC.

The BC Nurses Union is lobbying the agency to better protect workers who’ve contracted the coronavirus on the job.

This past week, updates to the Workers Compensation Act were introduced to raise the maximum annual salary amount on benefits, and to allow for victim impact statements in workplace trials.

The changes are promising to include fast-tracking the delivery of benefits for occupational diseases caused by viral pathogens. The board of directors at WorkSafe is considering adding COVID-19 to the list of occupational diseases, but they have to vote on the matter later this month.

It’s a development that’s being welcomed by Christine Sorensen, the president of the BC Nurses Union, who points out her members have been hardest hit.

“Four hundred claims have been filed with WorkSafe BC from the health care sector. That’s significantly higher than the 200 from other sectors such as grocery stores and transportation.”

WorkSafe BC numbers show 144 registered, licenced practical and nursing coordinators have filed claims for contracting COVID in the workplace. The next hardest hit occupations are nurses aids and orderlies, with 91 claims filed.

Designating COVID-19 as an occupational disease would eliminate the need for the employee to prove conclusively that the illness was acquired at work.

Sorensen says nurses who have paid a high price for the work they do need to be supported.

“We don’t know the long-term effects of this virus. We are learning more every day. We know that it’s a respiratory virus. But it does have impacts on other parts of the body. The resulting impacts – we don’t know yet.”

Fortunately, no BC nurses have died of COVID-19, but Sorensen knows of colleagues who have been seriously sickened.

“Nurses who have been on ventilators in this province and who are still recovering and off on long-term leave. We we don’t know how long they’ll be on leave until they’re fully able to return to work.”

Sorensen is receiving reports of nurses who have tested positive and who are expecting, which worries her.

“Nurses who are pregnant and have now tested positive. I have great concerns about pregnant and immuno-compromised nurses who are working in the health care system and the risks to pregnant nurses and their unborn child.”

An employee who makes a successful WorkSafe claim can receive up to 90 per cent of their salary while off work.

Various business interests have voiced their opposition to the changes. The Association of Consulting Engineering Companies, the Retail Council of Canada and the Surrey Board of Trade say presuming employees acquired COVID in the workplace shifts too many costs onto a compensation system that is funded by the employer.