Anne Naser

Around for more than a century, the workplace insurer is changing with the times, says new CEO Anne Naser

It’s no secret that the leaders of large businesses tend to be men, and those on our list of B.C.’s top 100 companies by revenue are no exception: the number of women CEOs can be counted on one hand. WorkSafeBC, however, has had two: Diana Miles, president and CEO from 2014 to January 2019, and Anne Naser, who assumed the same role in June.

Both women had occupied previous positions at the provincial agency: Miles as senior vice-president, worker and employer services, and Naser in senior leadership posts since 1998, most recently as chief information officer from 2009-18. The latter went to British Columbia Investment Management Corp., as senior VP, information technology, before her recent return to the WorkSafeBC roost.

The Workers’ Compensation Board of B.C., known as WorkSafeBC since 2005, first made the BCBusiness Top 100 list in 1988, when we began including Crown corporations, but the organization has been around since 1917. That year the provincial government passed the Workmen’s Compensation Act mandating employer-funded no-fault insurance to indemnify injured workers. In return, employees lost the right to sue employers for job-related accidents and illnesses.

Today, Richmond-headquartered WorkSafeBC serves some 2.4 million workers and 238,000 employers, and its revenue has grown from about $570 million in 1987 to nearly $2 billion in 2018. It tends to be positively perceived, scoring well in our annual ranking of B.C.’s Most Loved Brands.

“Awareness and understanding are strong drivers of corporate reputation and corporate trust,” says Mike Rodenburgh, executive vice-president for Western Canada with Ipsos, which conducts brand research on behalf of BCBusiness. “British Columbians know that WorkSafeBC is there as an organization to help them when an unfortunate mishap happens on the job. That in itself is a positive message for both the employee, that they’re covered, as well as the employer.”

WorkSafeBC’s Naser agrees. “When workers are injured, we need to ensure they have the supports they need to recover, including compensating them for wage loss and returning them to their work and their life,” she notes. “We also need to keep rates stable for employers while maintaining funding levels that ensure the long-term health of the system.”

Naser points out that WorkSafeBC is participating in two reviews: an assessment of its actions following the Babine Forest Products and Lakeland Mills sawmill explosions in 2012 (a report is to be delivered to B.C.’s attorney general in mid-July) and a broader analysis of the compensation system. “We look forward to any opportunities they provide to make workplaces safer and to better serve injured workers,” she says.

When B.C. passed the Workmen’s Compensation Act in the early 1900s, working conditions in the province’s core industries—fishing, forestry and mining—could be extremely dangerous. Vancouver Island’s coal mines were considered the most hazardous in the world, according to WorkSafeBC. Today the organization’s officers conduct more than 40,000 workplace inspections a year. WorkSafeBC is taking a more risk-based, data-driven approach to identify and focus attention on industries with the highest rates of serious injury, and is pursuing health and safety initiatives in areas like oil and gas, fishing and agriculture, Naser explains.

On the other hand, she observes, employment is evolving away from a traditional industrial model. This creates new challenges, from changing health and safety risks to a growing focus on work-related mental illness and issues such as bullying and harassment. As workforces become increasingly diverse, there’s a need for services that respect cultural and language differences, as well as for educating employees about their rights. Older workers sustain different kinds of injuries and tend to have more complex recoveries. Employment relationships are also changing: employees often have flexible arrangements through contract or freelance work that may involve several firms.

WorkSafeBC must keep pace with the times, Naser says. “To be truly innovative, I believe we need to collaborate effectively with all of our stakeholders: workers, unions, employers, industry associations and other safety organizations.”