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OSHA weighs more involvement from comp insurers in safety efforts

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WASHINGTON — Workers compensation insurers have to play a stepped-up role in preventing workplace safety incidents now that information about the injury and illness rates at their employer clients' workplaces will soon be publicly available, particularly as the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration seeks counsel on whether to identify insurers in these reports.

OSHA's Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses rule requires certain employers to electronically submit injury and illness data to the agency, which will publicize the information via a yet-to-be-finalized webpage.

The agency is not planning to identify workers comp insurers in these reports, partly because it does not always have that information, but would welcome recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety & Health on including insurer information, David Michaels, assistant secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, said at a NACOSH meeting in Washington on Wednesday.

Robin Baker, director, research to practice, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley and a NACOSH member, advised OSHA to include information about the employers' workers comp insurers in these public reports whenever possible.

“If you can get the information, I think it would be very useful because the workers comp industry, the insurers have really lost interest in loss control services whereas I think if their company is publicly tied to these reports, it would create an incentive to become more active” in addressing injuries and illnesses, she said.

“If you look at the staffing levels, the budgets available within arguably all of the workers comp carriers, there have been significant reductions which have impacted greatly mid-size and small employers who used to rely on those insurance companies or visits from the safety representatives,” said James Johnson, vice president, partnerships, at safety consultant DEKRA Insight in Oxnard, California, and a NACOSH member. “I will point out, though, that there are complex, financial, market considerations and it's not solely the insurance company, it's also the marketplace and employers who purchase the policies. You just have to be clear what the objective is … and understand all of the variables that have driven the reduction in staffing at the insurance companies.”

William Bunn, a physician and NACOSH member, noted that many large employers have self-administered, self-insured workers comp programs and “the carrier may have very little to do with that.”

Mr. Michaels agreed with Ms. Baker and cited the agency's practice of naming workers comp insurers in news releases about citations and fines issued against employers.

“I've gotten some feedback from carriers who are quite surprised that we list them,” he said. “These are cases in which the employer's actions really were egregious, one or more workers were hurt very seriously and the actions taken by employers should have been stopped long before the workers got hurt.”

“I had a discussion with one executive at one carrier saying 'why did you list us on the press release, we had nothing to do with this',” Mr. Michaels continued. “I said, 'that's exactly right'. The workers compensation carriers should play a role in this.”

Insurers look at an employer's OSHA inspection history during the underwriting process for new clients, but that is “a passive approach,” he said.

OSHA has received a number of injury and illness notifications because the workers comp insurers inform their employer clients of the agency's reporting requirements, Mr. Michaels said.

“From OSHA's point of view, what I'd like to see first would be a more collaborative relationship where the carriers know to look at this data that's going up in case cases aren't being reported to them … and then for them to help us in terms of ensuring these cases are all reported,” he said. “Then if they're looking at this data, hopefully they have some interest in seeing patterns and seeing what they can do to do additional prevention work.”