Using nerve conduction tests to avoid hiring workers who may be more susceptible to carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) may not be in the best financial interest of the employer. According to a University of Michigan cost-benefit analysis, an employer with this policy would have produced a net loss of $357,353 with a group of 2150 newly hired workers reported researchers Franzblau et al.
Over a five-year period, all new employees (2150) at two manual assembly plants underwent nerve conduction study of the median nerve at each wrist. Abnormal findings were revealed among 327 of the new employees (15.21 percent). Workers’ compensation records reviewed at the seven-year point disclosed 35 accepted claims of CTS from the group of 2150 new employees. Of the 327 employees with abnormal nerve conduction findings, 13 developed accepted claims (19.36 cases per 1000 person years) while of the 1823 employees with normal nerve tests, 22 developed accepted claims (5.76 cases per 1000 person years).
A formula to determine the financial effect of pre-hire nerve conduction testing was developed that included the following:
1) total direct claim costs (medical costs and time loss wages derived from workers’ comp data)
2) indirect claim cost of lost productivity due to light duty work (estimated to be $74 per eight-hour day by the company)
3) cost of tests performed on all newly hired workers (original group of 2150)
4) cost of hiring/screening additional new workers to replace those who had abnormal nerve conduction tests ($1,083 per worker)
The cost of the program was $536,338 while the savings from the potentially avoided workers’ compensation claims was only $178,985. Altering several assumptions that increased claim costs and lowered program costs still showed the company would lose money with the program.
Franzblau A, Werner RA, and Yihan J. “Preplacement Nerve Testing for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Is it Cost Effective?” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 46:714-719, 2004.
This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2004-09-29.