By the end of this year’s legislative session, California lawmakers are expected to have a grasp on their state’s troubled workers’ compensation program. And if not, they’ll be facing a promised special session, courtesy of the state’s governor, that will require them to fix the system ASAP.
In a state where workers’ compensation costs for businesses have doubled in the past two years and are scheduled to increase again in January 2004, the lure of a reformed system is promising. But so is lowering costs and expenses through decreasing the number of on-the-job injuries – a task custom-built for ergonomics.
Take back injuries, for example. Statistics show that in the U.S., two percent of all workers will receive some sort of compensation for a back injury this year, and that annually, the compensation payouts can run into the billions. “Medical treatment of these injuries is becoming costlier and more prolonged. Injuries are resulting in higher levels of permanent disability than in the past which makes them more expensive and increases frictional costs in the system,” says Dan Hair, MSS, CSP, Senior Vice President and National Director, Safety & Health for Zenith Insurance Company.
It’s a not a situation of employers blatantly ignoring the problem of back pain and injury, but it could be a situation where employers aren’t taking quite the right steps to minimize the potential for injury. “Many more employers are now relying on Early Return to Work programs but the literature suggests that injured employees often have lingering problems, probably because the modified duty has not been closely matched with the injured workers physical limitations,” says Hair. “[W]e must get better at disability management to have an impact on the enormous costs they generate.”
So how can an employer improve back pain related disability management? Hair’s company takes the approach with its own clients that each workplace, like each worker, has its own unique features that require a customized plan.
“First we work with the employer to help them develop a sound and comprehensive safety and health program, appropriate to their needs, exposure and regulatory environment. Second, we work with them on reducing low back injuries by attacking the exposures that produce or may produce them,” says Hair.
But Hair also has some general advice for any business that is attempting to manage back pain:
“Healthy workers are generally more productive workers and every employer has sound financial reasons for doing all in their power to prevent low back injury to them,” says Hair.
For more information on managing back pain in the workplace, see the September 2003 issue of The Ergonomics ReportTM.
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