Turning Defeat into Success
Standing up for the little guy is what David Robins does best. And even though he has hung up his WSIB coordinator boots, he’s pledged to continue the crusade for justice into his retirement
When David Robins first came into the role of CLAC’s Ontario Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB) coordinator, the only experience he had was a background in engineering and a desire to help. But he quickly took to the position, and for 18 years he made it his goal to champion those who needed help defending themselves: workers who had been denied the compensation they rightly deserved following an injury at work.
Last year, David, who is now happily retired, took some time to speak with me about his experiences helping members as a WSIB coordinator and the lives he has impacted through his work. While he’ll miss helping members obtain justice for their workers compensation claims, he won’t regret never having to go before WSIB’s appeals tribunal again.
What do you think qualifies a person to be a WSIB coordinator?
I’m tempted to say that you need the wisdom of a father, the heart of a mother, and the hide of a rhinoceros! I love analyzing things, and that I can still do better than ever. And as far as policy, I enjoyed learning it.
But there’s an emotional side to the role. You can’t do this job without getting connected to members when you see what they’re going through.
An injury can turn the life of a member and their family upside down. You want to help them with the judicial side as much as you can. But you’ve got the emotional side, too, when you’re talking to them and asking questions.
I have provided a lot of support for members who were going through difficult times. I’m thankful that CLAC let me do my thing.
In the beginning, what surprised you about this role?
Going before the appeals tribunal was a lot more frightening than I expected. I mean, I always tried to loosen things up.
About two years ago in Sarnia, I found myself facing the same vice-chairman as I did the first time I brought a case before the tribunal. And he remembered me!
This case was about a woman who had hurt her elbow. That same vice-chairman had asked me how she could have possibly injured her elbow in the way we claimed, so I quoted Newton’s third law—for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction—which amazed him.
Her injury was not an action. It was a reaction. He accepted my argument 100 percent, and we won the case.
Do you think the WSIB process needs improvement?
I think it works very well. I am particularly impressed that the tribunal has become more broad-minded about how to settle cases.
I had a really good experience not too long ago where we were in the tribunal hearing and only one person was on the panel. Usually, there is the vice-chairman and two panel members: one is probably in favour of the original decision because they come from the employer’s sector, and one is favouring the worker because they come from the worker’s sector.
This time, there was just a vice-chairman, myself, the worker, and one person representing the employer, because they had an issue with the claim. We talked about it and we came to the realization that I could let them have what they needed, and they could let me have what our member needed.
We worked it out through a mediation procedure that took about an hour. Everyone was very satisfied with the result. But it can be a long waiting period to get to that stage.
When I started, I could get to the tribunal in six months. Now, it’s two years. From there, they have six weeks to send you their decision.
Over the course of your 18 years as WSIB coordinator, what has your success rate been for overturning denied claims?
At first, very good. During the first 10 years, we won roughly two out of every three claims, which surprised me.
Then four or five years later, WSIB revised the appeal system. We started to see many more rejections, and the rate fell.
I can’t really be sure where the success rate is at right now, but I’d say it’s about one out of three. Now, there are more cases going to the tribunal. But as far as I can understand from talking to people employed by WSIB, they never received any more resources for doubling their workload. Hence a six-month wait becomes two years.
What do you feel the success rate should have been? One hundred percent?
No. Very often you can see the case isn’t going anywhere, particularly in carpal tunnel syndrome cases.
About five years ago, somebody wrote a paper on carpal tunnel syndrome that made it very difficult to win these cases. The tribunal follows the paper’s reasoning religiously. It’s not completely correct, but that’s the research they follow.
So you have very little chance of winning if you’ve got carpal tunnel due to the repetitive nature of your job. But before that paper came out, I did win a number of cases on carpal tunnel.
What sort of personal challenges did your role provide?
Definitely the emotional side. It’s not easy to turn your back on members and say you don’t want to hear about their issues—just tell me the technical details. You may think it’s necessary for your own well-being to not get too involved emotionally, but that can be nearly impossible sometimes.
In an early case in my career, a very reckless fellow worked for a construction company in Toronto. He was injured after turning over a front-end loader.
He was probably involved in something that should never have happened on a construction site. But WSIB is a no-fault system, so he still got his claim for his injury. He never had too many problems with the claim, but I helped him with a couple of things.
He had moved back home to Nova Scotia because he was no longer employed by this company. I phoned him to talk about a few details, and a little girl answered the phone.
I asked, “Can I speak with your father?” She said, “Daddy died last week in a car accident.”
You can’t simply say thank you and hang up.
That’s so tragic. I’m guessing you get to know about many members’ lives. Along those lines, what have you found rewarding about your job?
I’m thankful that CLAC gave me a free hand in how I dealt with cases and members. The cases were dictated by what the law says and what the policies say and what we can and cannot do to help members.
But on the other side of it, I could freely advise them and get involved as much as I wanted to get involved.
What do you think makes CLAC special?
When I worked for the Chicago Bridge & Iron Company for 25 years, people said they thought I liked to travel because they saw me go to Saudi Arabia, London—all over the place. But I would tell them, no, I don’t like travel. I go where my paycheque is.
This job with CLAC turned out to be wonderful. I needed something where I could help people while earning a living. It turned out to be a much greater joy than I ever expected in terms of the work atmosphere and the members I was able to help.
How would you characterize your working relationship with CLAC representatives?
It meant a lot that the representatives supported me. I didn’t have any problems in that way. I’m glad to say that over the course of 18 years, I’ve never worked with a representative who I didn’t like—and that’s saying something.
But I was glad to take members’ problems and work to solve them on my own because I am a bit of a loner. I like to get things done on my own.
When I’ve had to work in teams, I’m not as effective. But I think that doesn’t speak to the job. That speaks to my personality.
What stories will you remember years down the line?
This story is not just my story, but I played a part in it. It involved a woman who worked for a company close to the Grimsby Member Centre whose employees were represented by CLAC. She didn’t want the centre built and made it known to area residents.
She also had a WSIB claim and got in trouble when she was overpaid by mistake. She was given $6,000 and had to pay it back.
She came to our office in tears. I took her details and worked on it.
When I was finished talking to WSIB, I told them in no uncertain terms that she was not repaying this debt. It would be a hardship to do so.
They finally agreed. A coworker overheard me on the phone and told me he was glad I was on their side.
The woman came back a few days later and brought a plate of cookies—six cookies, which I called the thousand-dollar cookies. I always thought that was pretty touching. It was an about-turn that showed her we were there for her.
And the building was built anyway. If it hadn’t been, she would have had to pay back the six thousand bucks!
What’s one of the strangest cases you’ve worked on?
One time, a representative sent me a case, and I started working on it, talking to the member on the phone. The man had fallen on rather hard times while I was representing him, and he went to jail.
I think you only get one call in jail? And his call was to his WSIB guy! The downside was I didn’t win his case, and he made his single call from jail to me. So that was a little unusual.
I once won a good settlement for an older claim. It wasn’t one that I would call a winner case when I undertook it. In fact, I figured we were going to lose. I was worried when we walked in because there was only the vice-chairman—no panel—the employer’s rep, the member, and me.
The member sat down and his first remark to the vice-chairman was along the lines of, “That tie doesn’t really go with that suit, does it?”
He insulted the guy! I told him he had sunk the ship before we even got the paddle in the water. But strangely enough, we went on to win his case.
What are you looking forward to in your retirement?
I’m going to do the same things I’ve been doing but with more time. I’d like to encourage young people in any way I can. I’ve recently realized how talented a couple of young musicians I know are, and I’m trying to encourage them.
I also love drawing. I went to engineering school because I didn’t think commercial art was going to stay. Photography was going to blow it away, which it did. And I didn’t get into architecture because I couldn’t afford the tuition at the University of Waterloo unless I got scholarships.
What will you miss most about CLAC and your role as WSIB coordinator?
I think I’ll miss the people more than the work itself. I’m still going to try to help people—doing something similar to what I did in my career but in a different field.
The members are pretty special. There’s great satisfaction in taking something that is, as far as the member is concerned, defeated and turning it into a success. There’s a sense of accomplishment there. It’s a nice feeling to be able to help them.
What to Do If You're Injured at Work
So you’ve been injured on the job. Now what?
After you ensure the health and safety of yourself and others involved, filing a claim with workers compensation is the next likely step.
The workers compensation system is provincially regulated and thus differs from province to province. A rough guideline is included below, but you should ensure that you check and follow your province’s regulations. If you have questions or concerns, please talk to your representative.
What Does Workers Compensation Cover?
Workers compensation covers workplace injuries and illness. This includes traumatic injuries, repetitive strain injuries, occupational illnesses and diseases, and mental health injuries such as post traumatic stress injuries (PTSI) for certain sectors.
How to Begin the Claims Process
Get medical attention as needed.
Immediately report the injury to your employer.
If you miss work or receive medical attention, fill in all forms required by your healthcare practitioner and your province’s workers compensation board. Do not lie and say the injury didn’t occur at work.
If you did not miss work or require medical treatment beyond first aid, you do not need to report the injury to the workers compensation board. But ensure that the incident is appropriately documented in your workplace.
If you do need to report the event to the board, complete any other requirements laid out by your province’s workers compensation system.
Keep your employer informed throughout the process.
If your compensation claim is denied, speak with your representative. In some provinces, your union can represent you in appealing a claim denial. Even if you can’t be represented by CLAC in this capacity, your representative can assist you in getting the information and help you need.
Follow the prescribed modified work and return-to-work program. If you or your physician disagree with the requirements, talk to your CLAC representative.
Learn about the Claims Process and Requirements in Your Province
• British Columbia – worksafebc.com
• Alberta – wcb.ab.ca
• Saskatchewan – wcbsask.com
• Manitoba – wcb.mb.ca
• Ontario – wsib.ca
Think thousand-dollar cookies are steep? Check out these upscale eats that put pricey biscuits to shame.
• Pound for pound, saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, coming in at around $3,000 USD for two pounds of quality product.
• In 2017, a seven-patty burger with saffron bun (no surprise there) was sold in Dubai for a whopping $10,000 USD. Thankfully, it wasn’t completely frivolous—the proceeds benefited breast cancer awareness.
• Pizza has traditionally been a cost-effective dinner—not so for Renato Viola’s Louis XIII Very Expensive Pizza. At nearly $13,000 CAD, this pie features ingredients such as caviar, lobster, and rare Australian pink salt. The kicker? A pizza chef, sommelier, and additional chef will prepare and serve the feast to you in your home.
• Cheese often comes with a hefty price tag. But few varieties can match pule, a white cheese made from the milk of a Balkan donkey, which will set you back $600 USD per pound.
Sources: rd.com, money.cnn.com, forbes.com, renatoviola.com