From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Combining Workers Comp Data to Prioritize Prevention Efforts

The Revised Proceedings from the September 2009 NIOSH sponsored Workers’ Compensation (WC) Data Use Workshop have recently been released.  The Workshop was convened to discuss opportunities for collaboration in the analysis of WC data in order to help reduce the risks of occupational injuries and illnesses. 

Stakeholders from private insurance carriers, insurance associations, self-insured corporations, academic institutions and government agencies participated.  Presentations described differences among state laws, proper interpretation of common industry terms, proprietary interests in insurance data, public release of internal analyses, and methods for linking WC data with other health and employment data.

Washington State has a unique government agency design which allows for access to WC data from a variety of sources.  It is the only state where the Labor Department has a state OSHA, an exclusive workers’ compensation system, and a Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention (SHARP) Program.

Utilizing this perspective, Barbara Silverstein (Research Director of the Sharp Program) showed how WC data can be used to estimate injury magnitude, severity, cost, frequency, and trends.

Dr. Silverstein’s analysis of State of Washington WC data revealed that 90% of all claims, all time-loss days, and costs are within seven categories (respectively below – type of claim, % of all claims, % of all costs, and % of time loss days): 

  • Neck, back, upper extremity MSDs – 42.3%, 45.2%, 49.3%
  • Struck By/Against – 15.6%, 15.6%, 12.9%, 12.7%
  • Fall on same level – 9.1%, 10.1%, 10.7%
  • Lower extremity MSDs – 7.6%, 6.5%, 6.2%
  • Fall from elevation – 6.6%, 10.3%, 10.5%
  • Motor vehicular – 2.9%, 4.7%, 3.8%
  • Caught in/under/between – 2.4%, 2.2%, 1.8%
  • Other – 13.4%, 8.1%, 4.9%

To prioritize information for action, SHARP Program created a prevention index (PI) to help prioritize information for action.  The PI is constructed by rank ordering all industries by claims incidence rate and by incident count and then averaging the two ranks (PI = [Incidence Rank +Incidence Rank]/2).  Different prevention strategies may be used depending on where an industry is ranked:

  • High rate with high count – industry wide approach with enforcement , consultation and education/outreach
  • High rate with low count – risk concentrated in small industry; focused inspection approach may be appropriate
  • Low rate with high count – risk in large industry/lots of people; likely no single workplace at high risk, education campaign
  • Low rate with low count – minimal resources needed unless complaints or unique injuries/hazards emerge over time

The Workshop Summary offered an overview of the strengths, limitations, potential ideas, and proposed next steps to improve the use of WC data across the United States.

The Bottom Line – How This Applies To Ergonomists
Because ergonomists are “in the trenches”, they tend to have first-hand-but-undocumented knowledge of the common work related injuries within their company or among various industries.  Ergonomists see the weaknesses of workers’ compensation data and tend to use the information in a marginal way, if at all.

However, these Proceedings are important to be aware of due to their indication of potential future cooperation among stakeholders that have specific data which, when combined, could produce a verifiable picture of workplace injury/illnesses.  The Proceedings make mention of having the Workshop become an annual event.

Further, the Proceedings contain case study information relative to the use of workers’ compensation data to identify, track, and evaluate the effectiveness of preventative measures (Bernacki, John Hopkins University and Hospital) which may be useful in application to your activities.

Other Key Points
The Workshop’s concluding statements were optimistic:

  • Workers’ compensation data could be used to great advantage while protecting the interests of individuals, employers, and carriers – both private and public (state and federal) plans
  • Collaborations could improve the ability to utilize workers’ compensation data for surveillance purposes in order to identify trends, sentinel events and potentially higher risk work arrangements and to test strategies that are intended to reduce work-related illnesses and injuries

A National Academy of Social Insurance annual report, Workers’ Compensation Benefits, Coverage, and Costs, 2007, states that workers’ compensation insurance covered more than 131 million U.S. workers at a total cost of $85 billion to employers in 2007.1 Total private insurance coverage accounted for nearly 60% of this total while state managed funds provided about 17%, Federal funds provided about 5%, and self-insurance accounted for more than 18%, respectively.

This study can be completely acquired at:

Publication: Use of Workers’ Compensation Data for Occupational Injury and Illness Prevention: Proceedings from the September 2009 Workshop (Revised August 2010)

DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2010 – 152

Editors: D F Utterback and T M Schnorr


This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2010-09-14.