David Anderson: The Guardian

David Anderson, president and CEO, WorkSafeBC

David Anderson, president and CEO, WorkSafeBC

Double-digit decreases in revenues and income might be bad news for other businesses, but for WorkSafeBC – the government agency that handles workers compensation in the province – it signifies success. The past two years have been the best years in the history of the organization, says David Anderson, the agency’s 59-year-old president and CEO. Historic benchmarks for 11 key indicators the organization uses to chart its progress were achieved in 2006, and nine were exceeded in 2007. “Across the board,” says Anderson, “things are going very well.”

Revenues, derived largely from insurance premiums collected from employers, fell 11 per cent between 2006 and 2007, to $2.2 billion. The drop is an indication that aggregate costs for workplace injuries in the province are falling. At the same time, the base rate for insurance premiums has fallen from a 1996 peak of $2.29 per $100 of assessable worker payroll to the current rate of $1.55 per $100 of assessable payroll.

While good returns on its investments have helped reduce premiums (the return last year was 4.4 per cent, down from 12.6 per cent in 2006), injury rates have also decreased from five per cent a decade ago to three per cent today. “We like to have fewer and fewer customers every year,” Anderson quips, referring to injured workers. “So we put a huge amount of work into education and consultation, working with industry, working with the employers, working with labour to create safer workplaces.” The goal now is to reduce the injury rate to one per cent – in line with Sweden, Ireland and Great Britain.

While profit at the agency – officially a not-for-profit – fell from $970.8 million in 2006 to $250.2 million last year (a drop of 74 per cent), assets increased to $12.4 billion. This promises to prevent near-term spikes in the insurance premiums employers pay. “They’re going to see stable rates going forward at nice, continuing low levels,” Anderson says. By the same token, he doesn’t want employers to take low rates for granted, noting that the $1.55 base rate is less than the cost of healing workers (approximately $1.70 per $100 of assessable payroll). “We don’t want to price safety too low,” Anderson says. “You send an incorrect message if you take it down much lower.”

One of the most significant changes ushered in by Anderson – who has a background in the retail sector and strategic planning – is WorkSafeBC’s transformation from an “adjudicative tribunal” (a mouthful that sums up its formal approach) to a worker-oriented organization. Staff members are now assigned to specific sectors to develop relationships with industry representatives and major companies, and adjusters are sent into the field to become familiar with the workplaces where injuries were happening.

Perhaps most important, the agency has enjoyed a greater continuity of leadership than at any time in the past 30 years. A dozen CEOs headed the agency prior to 1994; in the past 14 years, there have been just three. “There was no strategic continuity at all,” says Anderson, CEO since 2003. “We’ve been very successful on my watch, but it’s been the success of a 15-year strategy.”