Monday, June 15, 2009

Wellness and Workers' Comp

A recent column in the Insurance Journal, entitled "Workers' Compensation Industry Worried About Obesity Claims", raised the issue of one chronic condition and triggered thoughts about others. Many workers with underlying conditions are in the workforce. They carry on their tasks and duties competently. Many observers do not even know they have an underlying health condition. Diabetes, hypertension, asthma and many other conditions do not interfere with their other work duties but can have an impact on recovery if the workers is injured.

Obesity is one condition in this category. Many of us are over our ideal weights and we are told this may impact our health but what about our safety and recovery after injury. A recent Duke University study found:

...obese workers filed twice the number of workers' compensation
, had seven times higher medical costs from those claims and lost 13 times more days of work from work injury or work illness than did non-obese workers. ...and obese workers in high-risk jobs incurred the highest costs, both economically and medically.

The full study (Ostbye, Dement, and Krause "Obesity and Workers' Compensation: Results From the Duke Health and Safety Surveillance System" Arch Intern Med. 2007;167(8):766-773) is available on line.

The Duke study raises an important general question for workers' compensation and prevention organizations: What role, if any, should workers' comp and OH&S organizations play in promoting workplace wellness?

Findings like those from the Duke study suggest workers' compensation and prevention organizations have a vested interest in the overall wellness of workers. By inference, assisting workers to address non-work-related health issues like obesity, lack of exercise, and work-life banance could reduce the number of workplace injuries serious enough to result in claims as well as the duration and associated medical costs of those claims.

The link between wellness and controlling workers' compensation costs is what's behind WorkSafe Victoria, Australia's $218 million investment in WorkHealth. The program includes workplace-based 'health checks', access to advice, and education programs to help workers reduce their risk of chronic disease.

The idea behind this strategy appears sound. It is an investment in societal change with local benefits to the workers and employers in the long run. It is thinking outside the traditional workers' comp box and will be fascinating to watch.

1 comment:

Billy Quirke said...

Hard to believe obesity causes a 13 times greater difference in lost days of work from injury/illness. I wonder if we would see that difference hold in BC? StatsCan released a short report using the Canadian Community Health Survey data that notes the increasing prevalence of obesity in Canada’s workers, and interestingly, that the effect of obesity on work injury appeared very sex and gender specific. E.g. obesity rates rising faster for males