(Canadian OH&S News) — A recent study by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) in Toronto examined the factors that determine whether an occupational injury results in lost work time. Although the severity of an injury can make a difference, IWH researchers found that physical workload and the employer’s insurance premium rate may also be linked to time loss.
“Premium rates, work demands play role in whether injuries involve time loss” has been published in the January issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine and the Winter 2015 issue of At Work, the IWH’s quarterly research journal. Lead author Peter Smith, Ph.D. and his team examined a random sample of 7,000 no-time-loss claims from the Workplace Safety & Insurance Board, Ontario’s workers’ compensation organization, and then matched them up with lost-time claims for similar injuries and incidents. These comparisons helped Dr. Smith’s researchers to highlight common characteristics of claims.
Dr. Smith and his team found that physically demanding work, predictably, often led to time-loss claims. But while age and time on the job did not appear to have a connection to time loss, nor did the size of the company, claims from employers paying high insurance premiums were less likely to submit injury claims resulting in lost work time.
“Most people assume that lost-time and no-lost-time injuries would similarly rise or fall with a change in safety performance,” Dr. Smith told COHSN. “However, this is not always the case, as our research has shown.” He added that the distinction between both types of injuries “is becoming more blurry” and that their rates now “paint different pictures of safety performance.”
This is a significant change in perception from that of the current workers’ compensation system, Dr. Smith pointed out. “In Ontario, lost-time injuries have been the most common measure used to track the performance of occupational health and safety initiatives or programs,” he said. “No-lost-time injuries – when someone is injured and requires medical attention, but is still able to return to work the day after the injury – have traditionally been viewed as representing less severe injuries.”
The study findings highlight the necessity for the worker’s compensation system to incorporate multiple measures into safety-performance assessment, Dr. Smith explained. “Firm-level incentives, in particular the premium rate paid by an employer, influence whether a worker will return to work or not the day after his or her injury. We don’t know why.
“For example, is it due to a workplace’s culture or policies and practices that people are less likely to take time off after an injury? If it is due to workplace practices, are they practices such as work accommodation or claims management and claims suppression?”
Dr. Smith said that the study results showed that safety-performance assessment of employers needed to expand beyond lost-time claims as the only measurement factor.
“We need to include all injuries in assessing performance, and when a claim does not result in time off work, we should collect information that tells us whether no time was lost because the injury was relatively minor or because modified or alternate duties were available,” he said. “Preventing absences does not tell us about whether we are preventing serious injuries, only that we are preventing absences.
“Ideally, this data would also be complemented with information about hazards, awareness of rights and responsibilities and workplace policies and procedures to prevent injuries – things that I would term ‘leading indicators’ – which will mean we don’t have to wait for injuries to occur to think about where to intervene and what to do.”
The winter issue of At Work is available for download at http://www.iwh.on.ca/at-work/79.