Work-related injuries and illnesses pose immense burdens on workers, their families, their communities, and our economy. According to one study from 2011, costs associated with work related injuries and illnesses in the U.S. are estimated at $250 billion annually. At NIOSH it is our mission to identify, define, and apply ways to reduce these burdens and impacts. One way in which we do this is by conducting surveillance and research using rich sets of data. Workers’ compensation systems are one such source of data. Workers’ compensation systems come into play after a worker suffers a job-related injury or illness. However, for NIOSH’s purposes, data about the nature, severity, and circumstances of a compensated injury or illness may provide valuable scientific evidence for better safeguarding other workers from similar pain and impairment, with attendant cost savings for employers.
NIOSH and its partners have worked closely to explore opportunities and define challenges for using workers’ compensation data to enhance occupational injury and illness surveillance. For example, in 2009 and 2012, in partnership with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and other leaders, we co-sponsored two historic national workshops on these issues. As another example, we have developed several ongoing studies in partnership with the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.
Building on the needs and opportunities for NIOSH leadership identified through those workshops, partnerships, and other discussions, I am pleased to announce that we have established a coordinating Center for Workers’ Compensation Studies (CWCS) within NIOSH to maximize the use of workers’ compensation data for injury and illness surveillance. This new Center hosted within the NIOSH Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations, and Field Studies will encourage collaboration of NIOSH scientists with insurers and other private and public sector organizations to reach several goals related to surveillance of and research on occupational injury and illness. These goals include:
- Identifying trends in work-related injuries-illnesses.
- Understanding the use and limits of workers’ compensation information.
- Integrating workers’ compensation data with other health-related data.
- Understanding the total economic impact of work-related injury-illness.
- Identifying ways to prevent and reduce the severity of work-related injury-illness.
- Developing best practices for prevention and disability management.
NIOSH is excited about its new Center because it will work to organize workers’ compensation analyses by NIOSH researchers across a wide range of industries. This is important because coordinated workers’ compensation research has been conducted mostly at large commercial insurers, state-based insurers, or industry organizations, which have not always distributed their data or research findings widely. Although these systems represent one of the largest, potentially richest information sources for safety and health, research using such data for prevention purposes has been limited. In part, this may be due to the fact that the agencies and insurers collecting these data do so within their mission of administering workers’ compensation benefits, and research is not one of their traditional functions. There may also be reasons related to the proprietary nature of the data.
NIOSH will also work with public and private partners to maximize the use of their own workers’ compensation databases for public health use by sharing best practices for data analyses. We have already started a number of studies that are evaluating trends of claim incidence and costs across industries, the effectiveness of prevention approaches, the use of leading indicators for employer safety and health programs, and cost-sharing for work-related injuries-illnesses that are borne by workers’ compensation and other social and health insurance programs. More information about the Center is available at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/workercomp/cwcs/. I invite you to learn about our work, and to consider ways in which you might participate in this vital endeavor.
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