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Questioning drug and alcohol stats


Merchants Information Solutions Inc. says that drugs and alcohol are a factor in 65% of all work-related accidents and up to 50% of all workers compensation claims.

Peter Rousmaniere believes the claim is not just false, but dangerous and he questions Merchants Information's marketing integrity.

That is a little ironic because Merchants Information provides employers with pre-employment screening services and integrity testing for potential hires. It produces the American Tescor behavioral test.

So Mr. Rousmaniere, who is well respected for the workers comp columns he writes, contacted Merchants Information and told a company representative that if Merchants Information could prove its claim he would contribute $500 to a charity selected by the company.

Mr. Rousmaniere CCd me and other workers comp bloggers on his email as he said, to assure his pledge is “fair, square and transparent.”

In response, James B. Collins, Vp of sales & marketing for Merchants Information Solutions, sent his own email to us to back up his company's claims.

The email said “we only state the facts as we find them published,” and he attached two articles where the facts as he found them have been published.

But I found both articles extremely weak on documentation. While one had footnotes, purporting to back up its statistics, I couldn't track down the source it cited and the source didn't appear to be a party that actually conducted research into the matter. It looked more like a secondary source.

Further searching revealed that the statistics cited in the two articles come up frequently in papers available on the internet. The statistics get cited a lot. But none of the papers using them lead me to the actual research that found that up to 50% of all work comp claims and 65% of all workplace accidents are related to alcohol or drug use.

As a journalist, I like to judge the validity of research by determining who conducted it, who paid for it, how it was conducted, the number of subjects surveyed, whether other tests have found similar or different results, etc.

So far Merchants Information hasn't provided that. But Mr. Collins did decline Mr. Rousmaniere's offer to contribute $500 to the company's favorite charity if it could prove its marketing information.

I also searched around Department of Labor and other information sources for data on the percentage of workers comp claims related to drugs and alcohol. I didn't find any.

Perhaps a reader can tell me where I might look.

But so far I am skeptical of the numbers cited by Merchants Information. For one thing, if 50% of workers comp claims were related to drugs and alcohol, you would think employers would much more frequently take advantage of laws that allow denying such claims.

And here is why Rousmaniere thinks potentially exaggerated claims about the prevalence of alcohol and drugs in workers comp claims is dangerous: he says it “perpetuates an unhealthy tendency to shift attention away from safe worksite policies and towards blaming the worker.”

I don't know that the information provided by Merchants Information is exagerated or incorrect. I just haven't seen any proof that up to 50% of work comp claims are related to drugs and alcohol. Thus, I remain skeptical.