NIOSHBy David F. Utterback, Ph.D.; Alysha R. Meyers, Ph.D., AEP; Steve Wurzelbacher, PhD, CPE, ARM

Workers’ compensation insurance has been established in all states to provide income protection, medical treatment, and rehabilita­tion for employees who are injured or become ill as a result of work. Workers’ compensation claims and medical treatment records along with other information resources have been used to conduct occupational safety and health research and surveillance and to identify intervention needs. The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention (SHARP) program, among many other public health agencies, have produced numerous publications based on workers’ compensation data analysis. 

Earlier this week, NIOSH released a document, Workers’ Compensation Insurance: A Primer for Public Health to help public health researchers and practitioners, particu­larly those in occupational safety and health, broaden their understanding of workers’ compensation insurance, relevant aspects of the insurance industry records, and the potential uses of that information for public health pur­poses.

The primer follows two workshops (September 2009 and June 2012) sponsored by several government agencies, including NIOSH, and private organizations on the use of workers’ compensation data for occupational safety and health purposes.  Workshop participants noted that while much progress is being made in understand­ing the merits of workers’ compensation data resources, significant limitations exist. For example, these data appear to constitute an incomplete record of occupational injuries and illnesses at the state level. While standards for col­lecting and compiling the data exist, they are not uni­versally used. Some fields on the record forms are often blank or incomplete and essential information for public health purposes, such as occupation, race, ethnicity, and duration of employment, may not be recorded. Multiple parties add data to the records at various stages as claims work their ways through the employees, employers, medical facilities, third-party administrators and state agencies.

Yet, important public health research and surveillance can be conducted with available data as long as the limitations and their effects on generalizability are considered.  For example... Click here to read the rest of the article.