US faces battle in using workers’ comp data
The US Government would like to use workers’ compensation data to help devise policy to reduce workplace risks, but diverse IT systems and the lack of any central repository remain huge obstacles.
Acting on a recommendation by the National Academies, the US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in September 2009 held a workshop to find ways it could tap workers compensation data, which the Department of Human Services recently published under “Use of Workers’ Compensation Data for Occupational Injury & Illness Prevention”.
While there is widespread agreement that workers compensation data, taken in combination with other sources, such as unemployment or health data, would help identify emerging hazards and devise better prevention strategies, numerous challenges remain. These included the use of different interpretations of industry terms, proprietary interests in insurance data, public release of internal analyses, and methods for linking workers compensation data with other sources.
A call for the use of workers’ compensation data has been posed as the the US can expect huge changes to its workforce as war veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“An influx of war veterans entering the workforce after suffering from internal injuries in Iraq or Afghanistan that, but for modern military medicine, would have resulted in mortality previously, and will now complicate any workers’ compensation claim should they become injured on the job,” John Howard, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health said at the workshop.
Combining unemployment and workers compensation data may allow better prevention strategies to be put in place to deal with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), according to Barbara Silverstein of the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.
“For example when comparing earnings after filing a claim for carpal tunnel syndrome or upper extremity fracture, it is clear that workers with CTS generally do not recover their pre-claim wages even seven year after claim filing whereas there is a rapid return to full wages for those with fractures. These kinds of WC trend analyses can be used to focus prevention efforts.”
Tom B. Leamon, PhD, Adjunct Professor, Harvard School of Public Health - criticised the impoverished state of OHS in education, arguing that workplace safety was often mis-used to describe subjects from violence and handguns to drug abuse and obesity.
Leamon went on to point out the difficulties in defining “occupational”. A study he had conducted in a developing country found that 42 per cent of injured workers reported injury occurring in the workplace, compared with a 62 per cent response by the same workers to the question of: “Were you hurt while working?”.