NIOSH Report Examines Opportunities, Challenges in Using Workers’ Comp Data

Opportunities for maximizing the use of workers’ compensation data for occupational safety and health surveillance and research – and challenges that researchers face in exploring those opportunities – are examined in a report of proceedings now available from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

“Use of Workers’ Compensation Data for Prevention of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses: Proceedings from September 2009 Workshop,” DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2010-152, is available for download at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2010-152/pdfs/2010-152.pdf. The 2009 workshop was co-sponsored by NIOSH, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Council for Compensation Insurance and the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries’ Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention Program.

“As researchers and practitioners seek innovative means to improve the surveillance of occupational injuries and illnesses, workers’ compensation data offer a potentially useful answer – but the limitations and uncertainties of those data must be addressed,” said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. “We are pleased to offer these proceedings as a unique resource for assessing current uses of workers’ compensation information for health surveillance, suggesting new uses, and engaging the uncertainties that we face in doing so.”

Although workers’ compensation programs record cases of occupational injury and illness that have already occurred, they generate data that may also serve useful purposes for preventing future injuries and illnesses. Those data may provide insights into the severity of cases, recent trends, and emerging concerns that other data sources may not.

However, several factors pose difficulties for using workers’ compensation records as a surveillance and research resource. Because different states have different rules on compensability and because data are not always coded according to a standard system, it may be difficult to harmonize and interpret data nationally. Where larger data sets exist, they generally are proprietary, and access is restricted beyond the purposes for which they were originally established.

The proceedings include more than 30 prepared presentations and a summary from the workshop. Nearly 80 participants from federal and state agencies, labor, academia and the insurance industry made presentations and engaged in discussions.

Limited numbers of the report in a free print version can be ordered at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/pubs/niosh.aspx.

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