A recent study calculates that work related injuries and illnesses cost the United States at least $250 billion a year. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) notes that this cost is greater than the individual cost of other major health diseases like cancer, stroke, and diabetes. Of course, this begs the question – Shouldn’t we focus our efforts on prevention in this area just as we do with these other terrible health problems?
Where is the priority for preventing these workplace injuries and illnesses? The answer to dramatically reducing the number of injuries is simple – increased safety. In my workers’ compensation practice, it is far too common to see injuries needlessly result because the employer failed to have a safety plan or failed to follow their safety plan. I have written on many occasions about issues surrounding workplace safety. I have also written about the lack of corporate/employer safety incentives in Alabama’s Workers’ Compensation Act. The Act penalizes workers for certain unsafe conduct. Yet, it does nothing to either penalize or encourage employers in the area of safety.
Increased safety, that is how you prevent many injury costs. How can you reduce long-term costs if an injury does occur? Can we reduce the long-term costs of disability benefits? In Alabama, a State Senator recently proposed changing the workers’ compensation laws to reduce long-term medical benefits. Such a proposal does absolutely nothing to reduce costs. It merely shifts those costs from the insurance carriers to the taxpayers. It benefits insurance companies and hurts the rest of us. The real answers are quality medical care and genuine vocational rehabilitation. In Alabama, where the workers’ compensation carrier gets to pick the doctor, too many injured workers don’t receive adequate care. In fact, it seems as if some carriers have an entire process devoted to getting the worker quickly released by the physician without needed treatment. While this may save the carrier money, it results in huge costs to our communities burdened with the lack of results. In addition, Alabama’s workers’ compensation system provides no real requirement of genuine vocational rehabilitation. Most injured workers I’ve helped want to return to work. They want a real job. The system could do much better in giving them that opportunity. Even if it cost a little more now, the long-term results would be much better for everyone.by Jeff Blackwell