Thursday, March 26, 2009

What's worrying workers' comp insurers: Part II

As part of my international scan of top issues worrying occupational safety/health and workers' compensation authorities, I've been listing the top issues clusters. In this post, I am continuing that list to round off the top dozen areas of concern.

  • 6. Hearing, Noise and Ototoxins: This cluster is about the impact of work-related factors on hearing. Several sources noted increases in hearing-related claims and in the emerging science of substances and other agents in the workplace that may contribute to hearing loss. This area has implications for both prevention and compensation policy.

  • 7. Pandemic, New Pests and Diseases, Zonotic vectors, Infections and Parasites: Changes in climate and travel as well as antibiotic-resistance are captured in this cluster. There is growing concern over the impact these factors could have in the workplace. Prevention strategies are stressed but contingency planning is advised. Several insurers also raised the issue of how they and their prevention counterparts would operate in conditions of an outbreak (would staff even come to work) so business continuity planning is also advised.

  • 8. Respiratory and dermatological issues: Asthma is a growing concern and endotoxins [causing fever, acute toxic effects, allergies, organic dust toxic syndrome (ODTS), chronic bronchitis, and asthma-like syndromes, or lead to lethal effects such as septic shock, organ failure and death] are noted and forecasted to increase by several authorities particularly in Europe. With the growing population of asthmatics among youth, the potential for exacerbation of pre-existing conditions are increasingly likely as young workers enter and become the future workforce. Work environments that were not a problem for most workers a decade ago may pose a serious health threat a decade hence.

  • 9. Foreign workers: Legal or not, short or long term, skilled or not--the numbers of foreign workers are increasing in Europe, Canada, the US and Australia. Language and culture are only two of the many barriers that may inhibit prevention and may account for a lower than expected access to workers' compensation. Reaching this audience, providing education and access will vary by vulnerability of the population but will almost always take greater effort than for similar citizen and legal permanent resident populations.

  • 10. Musculo-skeletal injuries (MSI): This cluster was raised by several sources. Linked to the obesity issue, demographics, and changing work systems (involving greater repetitive actions) these injuries are and will continue to lead the list of work-related injuries. Ergonomic regulation may be part of the answer but new approaches to MSI are needed.

  • 11. Terrorism: Chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear threats may be directed at more than workers but workers are likely to be injured in any terrorist attack and its aftermath. Workers were injured and killed while in the course of their employment in several terrorist attacks. Whether domestic or foreign perpetrated, workers and their families will suffer. What worries insurers is just how wide and deep the impact might be.

  • 12. Cancer (emerging work-related causes and under-reporting of): As you saw in my previous posts, cancer is likely work-related to an extent far greater than recognized. That IARC study I cited [in my post from January], shift work was implicated as a probable human carcinogen. A few weeks ago, Denmark accepted 40 claims for breast cancer from flight attendants and nurses with long histories of shifts that interfered with circadian rhythms. [See this BBC story for a good lay overview].

There were other issues: human performance enhancement, synthetic biology, work relationships, fatigue/human factors to name a few. This list of issues may signal areas workers' compensation and prevention authorities ought to be looking at more closely--not simply because of the dollar costs implications--but because prevention can actually make a difference in protecting workers. It is the right thing to do.

1 comment:

Billy Quirke said...

The majority of the issues listed here still feel pressing today. Particularly mental illness, MSIs, obesity and the aging workforce. Perhaps in a current day list foreign workers would be tweaked to focus on temporary workers, prescription drugs would be highlighted (particularly opioid use and medical marijuana) and traumatic brain injury would also be included.