Symposium considers implications of financial incentives

Last November’s first-of-its-kind international symposium brought together policy-makers, workers’ representatives, employers and researchers to discuss the merits and shortcomings of financial incentives for preventing work injury.

Published: February 12, 2013

Challenges surround the experience rating of workers’ compensation premiums in Ontario and elsewhere, and we need to rethink how financial incentives can be used to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses. This was a theme running through the Institute for Work & Health (IWH)’s International Symposium on the Challenges of Work Injury Prevention through Financial Incentives.

The symposium was held last November in Toronto. It brought together more than 180 researchers, policy-makers, members of the injured worker community, employer representatives, worker representatives and other stakeholders from Ontario, the rest of Canada, United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand to discuss the social, economic and policy implications of using financial incentives to prevent workplace injuries.

Plenary and workshop speakers, delegates and panelists explored a wide range of issues related to financial incentives. These included research on their effectiveness, the merits and shortcomings of existing programs—particularly experience rating—and suggestions for improving health, safety and return-to-work outcomes of existing programs. (Experience rating refers to a way of setting workers’ compensation premiums so that individual employers’ claims activity and costs affect the amount they pay in workers’ compensation premiums.)

Although opinions varied on the way forward with respect to financial incentives, a consistent theme became evident during the two days: experience rating can have undesirable side-effects. This gave rise to a thoughtful and respectful exchange of ideas about what needs to change and to what degree.

To help answer questions and find solutions, a number of speakers and delegates asked researchers to step up to the plate. They suggested pilot studies and randomized controlled trials be carried out to find and test improvements to experience rating and other financial incentive programs before they are implemented on a large scale.

For more information on the symposium, as well as access to presentation slides and slidecasts where available, go to