Ottawa police see workplace injury and illness costs spike

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Ottawa police see workplace injury and illness costs spike

Ottawa Police Service costs for workplace injuries and illnesses have more than doubled over the last two years, according to a report going to the police board next week.

The report shows city police estimated $2.6 million in costs for illness-and-injury-related wages and health care in 2015, but that figure rose to $5.6 million last year.

If an officer missed work for an illness or injury, they were away for an average of 550 hours — up from 173 hours two years earlier.

According to the report, most of that increase comes from officers dealing with mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder.

More willing to talk

New legislation in 2016 has made it easier for police officers to claim benefits through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

Under that legislation, if an officer is diagnosed with PTSD, it's presumed to have been caused by their work.

Matt Skof, president of the Ottawa Police Association, said that in addition to the legislative changes, officers are increasingly comfortable talking about trauma, stress and mental health.

"We are starting to look at a whole new language around it," he said.  

Skof said officers also feel they're under intense scrutiny, which causes stress.

"It's constantly in your mind, when you're making decisions, about whether or not you're going to be second-guessed," he said.

The police association has criticized both the police executive and city council for not adding more staff, which Skof called a "contributing factor" to the increased costs.

"It is very difficult now after years of attrition, losing bodies. It's going to take several more years to ramp up to a sufficient staffing level that would assist from a wellness or health perspective," he said.

Changes coming 

The report, going to the board Monday, highlights that officers do feel more comfortable coming forward.

"OPS's wellness initiative has helped to create an environment in which members are increasingly comfortable reporting psychological injuries," the report says.

The report also says the hope is that wellness initiative will reduce and prevent psychological injuries as its mandate expands.

Skof said that while there may be more programs and resources coming to help officers, the workplace health issues will remain until the police force has more boots on the ground.