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Young: Front-End Focus

By Julius Young

Monday, April 17, 2017 | 739 | 0 | 0 min read

Most of the focus of various workers’ comp studies are on the “back end” of workers’ comp.

Julius Young

Julius Young

By that, I mean studies on medical costs, the litigation process, indemnity cost trends, loss adjustment and medical cost-containment expense, prescribing practices, provider abuse and the litany of other topics that I cover in this blog from time to time. These are the bread and butter topics that Rand, California Workers' Compensation Institute, Workers' Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau, Workers Compensation Research Institute and other organizations analyze.

But the “front end” is something we must never fail to keep in mind.

The “front end” topics are worker safety, worker training, compliance with occupational health and safety regulations, corporate culture toward employees, claim incentives and other factors that drive injury claims in the first place.

Focus on the “front end” is timely now because funding for various federal health and safety programs is very much up in the air. While California has its own safety program (Cal-OSHA), it is likely that federal funding cuts in many areas will filter down and affect California programs.

According to the California legislative analyst, “Cal/OSHA activities are primarily funded by (1) a federal grant and (2) an assessment levied on employers that is equal to a percentage of workers’ compensation insurance premiums and is deposited into the Occupational Safety and Health Fund.”

For example, in 2014, out of a $113.8 million budget, federal funds covered $31.3 million.

Among the programs slated for elimination in President Trump’s proposal are the Occupation Safety and Health Administration's Harwood training grants (used for worker safety training) and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. And the Trump budget proposes cutting 21% of the U.S. Department of Labor budget. Research funding on occupational health would be greatly affected.

Here is an April 7 summary of where things stand on the federal budget as it applies to OSHA health and safety programs. Bottom line: It seems certain that the Trump budget will reduce California funding in many programs, from transportation to health funding. Occupational safety is likely to be one of these, but the amount of the hit is not yet certain.

How much backfill funding California can and will provide to competing programs isn’t clear, either.

Meanwhile, I noted with interest a recent investigative reporting piece done by NBC Bay Area. The TV segment focused on the amount of injuries to garbage haulers in the tiny upscale town of Piedmont, a wealthy enclave surrounded by Oakland.

Piedmont allows residents to pay extra for trash service, which requires workers to haul loaded bins down steep driveways and stairs, and more injuries are occurring as a result. The pictures from the undercover investigation document the difficult work. It’s easy to see why injuries there are common.

This is the sort of “front end” focus that’s important. What drives injury claims is often in plain sight.

Julius Young is a claimants' attorney for the Boxer & Gerson law firm in Oakland. This column was reprinted with his permission from his blog, www.workerscompzone.com.

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