DWC Issues Final Report on COVID Claims in State System

DWC Issues Final Report on COVID Claims in State System

In its final report on COVID-19 claim trends in the state’s workers’ compensation system, the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC), says insurance carriers reported more than 99,400 COVID-related workers’ compensation claims and 472 deaths from the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 through April 2023.

More than two-thirds of all COVID-19 claims (72%) involved injured employees who tested positive or were diagnosed with COVID-19. Among these positive test claims, insurance carriers accepted more than half (60%) as work-related, denied fewer than half (39%), and are still investigating less than 1% of claims.

According to DWC, 34% of COVID-19 claims filed had medical or indemnity benefit payments associated with them. Most of the benefits paid on COVID-19 claims were indemnity benefits.

DWC says it will not continue its data call for COVID-related claims because of the low number of new claims.

DWC’s administrative data as of May 5, 2023, for the claims reported from March 13, 2020, through March 31, 2023, shows that insurance carriers and employers paid about $90.6 million in indemnity benefits on COVID-19 claims; $49.3 million (54%) in employer salary continuation, $34.2 million (38%) in workers’ compensation income benefits, $6.7 million (7%) in death benefits, and $488,554 (1%) in burial benefits.

During that same time frame, DWC data show that insurance carriers paid a total of $48.3 million in medical costs on COVID-19 claims. Of those payments, $35.9 million (74%) was for hospital/facility services, $10.8 million (22%) for professional services, and $1.5 million (3%) for pharmacy services. These costs are likely to increase over time as claims mature.

The report is available here.

OSHA Official Outlines Enforcement Priorities

The head of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says the bulked-up agency’s top goals are implementing heat illness standards, addressing the workplace violence and infectious diseases faced by health care workers, and targeting companies that repeatedly violate safety rules.

OSHA has added more than 600 employees since January 2020, including 181 certified health and safety inspectors, which brings the total number of safety inspectors to 931.

Doug Parker, assistant secretary of labor for Occupational Safety and Health, told attendees at Safety 2023, the American Society of Safety Professionals’ annual conference, that the agency expects to bolster enforcement programs, including the recently announced expansion of the severe violators program — once restricted to high-risk industries but now open to all workplaces.

Additionally, he told Business Insurance magazine that targeted enforcement strategies have been created since 2021 to boost enforcement for heat illness, fall protection and trenching hazards.

Ensuring the needs of minorities, including undocumented workers, is also a focus for the agency, he said. OSHA will offer spaces for workers to speak out and is providing immigration protections to those involved in investigations, he said.

OSHA has also launched online tools for employers to find help managing employee mental health and stress.

Study Identifies Leading Causes of Significant Injuries and Fatalities in the Workplace

Contact with an object or equipment has consistently been the leading cause of significant injuries and fatalities (SIFs) in the workplace over the past five years, according to research from ISN, a leader in contractor and supplier information management.

ISN analyzed more than 94,000 recordable incidents from 2017-2021, which showed more than 20,000 SIFs cases consisting of more than 17,000 hospitalizations, 2,773 amputations and 677 fatalities. It notes the rate of significant injuries and fatalities fluctuated broadly during the five years studied. Starting with a baseline in 2017, the SIF rate increased 12% in 2018, decreased 17% in 2019, spiked again in 2020, and sharply declined by 35% in 2021.

ISN’s analysis shows upper extremities surpassed lower extremities as most affected over the last five years. By identifying the most common type, nature and affected body part within an organization, companies can focus time and resources into mitigating strategies that have the most impact in reducing SIFs.

The utilities sector showed a sustained decline of 72% in its SIF rate from 2017 to 2021. The highest rates of significant injuries and fatalities were recorded in the construction, manufacturing, transportation and warehousing, and administrative support and waste management and remediation industries.

ISN says COVID-related data collected from 2020 to 2021 shows only 37 COVID-related cases were classified as a SIF, which resulted in 25 cases involving days away from work and 12 total fatalities.

Information about downloading the white paper is available here.

OSHA Asks Employer for Input on Injury Indicators

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is considering developing a leading indicators resource and asks for stakeholders’ input on their use of leading indicators.

Leading indicators are proactive and preventive measures that can provide insight on the effectiveness of safety and health activities and reveal potential problems. Lagging indicators reflect events that have already taken place and can alert an employer to a failure in their safety and health management system.

OSHA asks interested stakeholders to share detailed feedback on how/where they use leading indicators at their workplace. OSHA is interested in various perspectives on stakeholders’ experiences, such as answers to the following questions:

  • What leading indicators do you use?
  • What lagging indicators do you use (OSHA incident rates, for example)?
  • What leading indicators are, or could be, commonly used in your industry?
  • What metrics do you share with top management?
  • How do you determine the effectiveness of your leading indicators?
  • Do you link your leading indicators to outcome data, such as OSHA incident rates, to evaluate results?
  • How could employers be encouraged to use leading indicators in addition to lagging indicators to improve safety management systems?
  • What barriers and challenges, if any, have you encountered to using leading indicators?

You may submit comments and attachments electronically here.

Comments should be submitted by July 17, 2023. Submissions must include the agency’s name and the docket number for this public comment process (Docket No. OSHA-2023-0006). All comments are placed in the public docket without change and may be made available online at www.regulations.gov. OSHA cautions commenters against submitting information they do not want made available to the public.

Surveys Cite Empathy and Burnout Issues in the Workplace

A pair of separate surveys reveals workers are more burned out and less empathetic toward their employer, with human resources professionals especially in despair.

Empathy levels among HR professionals and employees have plummeted to their lowest levels since 2017, according to Businessolver’s 2023 State of Workplace Empathy Study. Businessolver is a provider of SaaS-based HR benefits technology.

Key findings include:

  • 68% of HR professionals view their CEO as empathetic, a 16-point decline from 2022.
  • 68% of HR professionals view their organization as empathetic, down 23 points since 2022.
  • 51% of employees and 61% of HR professionals report that they have experienced a mental health issue in the past year, up 9 points from 2022 for HR. Additionally, 61% of HR professionals say they are aware of their company’s mental health benefits, down 11 points from 2022.

Meanwhile, Robert Half, an international employment agency, conducted an online survey to gauge employee burnout and says 38% of respondents report being more burned out than a year ago. Workers said the top factors contributing to burnout today are:

  • Heavy workloads (56%).
  • Lack of communication and support from management (32%).
  • Insufficient tools and resources to perform effectively (27%).

Nearly four in 10 professionals (37%) feel uneasy about expressing feelings of burnout with their boss. Further, one in five workers said their manager hasn’t taken steps to help them alleviate work-related stress. Those who are receiving support have been:

  • Encouraged to take time off (26%).
  • Provided greater schedule flexibility (24%).
  • Given guidance on prioritizing projects (22%).

You may view Businessolver’s 2023 State of Workplace Empathy Executive Summary here.

More information about the Robert Half survey is available here.

Fed Agency Offers Workplace Stress Kit, Tips

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) calls work-related stress a significant problem and says that mental health hazards should be recognized as occupational hazards.

OSHA says 83% of workers report suffering from work-related stress and that work-related stress has been reported to cause 120,000 deaths a year. Addressing workplace stress can have a favorable bottom-line impact, the agency says, citing statistics that show for every $1 spent on ordinary mental health concerns, employers see a $4 return in productivity.

OSHA has prepared an online resource that it calls a workplace stress toolkit for employers, with guidance, training, real-world solutions and outreach materials to help improve employee mental health and well-being.

OSHA also says it is trying to help employers gain confidence in talking to workers about workplace stress, mental health and substance use.

OSHA offers employers the following suggestions:

  • Be aware that people carry an emotional load unique to their own circumstances. They may be experiencing heightened levels of loneliness, isolation, uncertainty, grief and stress, and some may face additional demands, such as caring for children or elderly household members, and those with existing mental health or substance use challenges.
  • Identify factors that are making it harder for workers to get their jobs done and determine whether adjustments can be made.
  • Show empathy. Assure workers that they are not alone, their employer understands the stress they are under, there is no shame in feeling anxious, and asking for help is important.
  • Research from the American Psychological Association suggests 50% of employees find a lack of paid time off or sick leave has a negative impact on stress levels at work. Provide access to coping and resiliency resources without penalty. Be flexible with leave, if possible.

The online toolkit is available here.

Report Focuses on Exertion-Related Injuries of Laborers

Heat is the number one cause of exertion-related injuries and fatalities on U.S. work sites, according to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Exertion-related deaths and injuries comprise 3% of all workplace deaths and injuries. Researchers used data reported to OSHA to determine that within that 3%, 89% were related to heat stress.

The researchers noted there is a body of scientific literature examining exertion-related injuries and fatalities among athletes and soldiers, but until now, no one had conducted a similar study for laborers.

Researchers said the data may also be underreporting exertion-related injuries and fatalities because the data employers report to OSHA is limited to events that happen at the work site. That means it does not include when someone suffers an injury or fatality related to on-the-job heat stress elsewhere.

Additionally, some heat-related illnesses treated on-site with simple measures like hydration and body cooling, are not included in OSHA data.

Researchers say heat-related injuries and fatalities are preventable. Employers can take simple, low-cost measures like hydration, body cooling, environmental monitoring and educational training to protect workers in hot conditions. Employers can also engage workers in heat acclimatization, which gradually exposes workers to hot conditions to adapt to heat and decrease their risk of injury.

The Korey Stringer Institute has been working to promote the health and safety of athletes since its founding in 2010. It has since expanded its work to include other populations that are especially vulnerable to heat illness, like soldiers and laborers.

The study is available here.

The Toll of Distracted Driving While Working

Nearly one in three business leaders (32%) are concerned about employees using technology while driving for work purposes.

That’s according to the 2023 Travelers Risk Index for Business compiled by The Travelers Companies, a leading provider of property casualty insurance. Travelers commissioned separate surveys of 1,000 consumers between the ages of 18 and 69, and 1,116 executives from businesses of all sizes to compile the index.

Distracted driving was responsible for 8% of fatal crashes and 14% of injury crashes in 2021, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA estimates the economic cost of distracted driving crashes in the United States in 2019 (the most recent year for which cost data is available) was $98 billion.

Electronic devices were among the leading causes of distraction in the 2023 Travelers Risk Index. Activities that drivers acknowledged engaging in while behind the wheel include:

  • Making or receiving calls (80%).
  • Using handheld devices (57%).
  • Posting social media updates (28%).
  • Taking photos or videos (27%).

More than 30% of executives said their employees have been involved in distracted driving crashes while driving for business purposes.

Additionally, 37% of workers surveyed said that they have taken work-related calls, texts or emails while driving.

The following are some of the steps employers report taking to combat distracted driving:

  • 74% have an official policy about employees sending or receiving phone calls, texts or emails while driving for work.
  • 60% of those require employees to sign a distracted driving contract or agreement.
  • 87% of businesses formally train employees on their distracted driving policy.
  • 72% of companies discipline employees who do not comply.
  • 43% of companies use technology to track employees when they are driving.

More information is available here.

Texas News

Yahoo! Finance
Texas Mutual Insurance Company Deploys Guidewire Cloud for Workers’ Compensation Business Growth
Texas Mutual Insurance Company, Texas’ leading provider of workers’ compensation insurance, and Guidewire (NYSE: GWRE) announced that Texas Mutual successfully deployed Guidewire InsuranceSuite on Guidewire Cloud to power their core business, simplify IT operations, adapt quickly to changing market demands, and deliver value to stakeholders more quickly. Click here for full article. 

Texas Department of Insurance
Are Employers Required to Have Workers’ Compensation Insurance in Texas?
Business owners have many decisions to make, including whether to provide workers’ compensation coverage to their employees. Texas is the only state that gives private-sector employers that choice. Businesses that provide workers’ compensation coverage are called “subscribers.” Those who do not are called “non-subscribers.” Click here for full article.

Texas Department of Insurance
Information for Workers’ Compensation Non-Subscribers
If you are a non-subscriber you must file DWC Form-005, Employer Notice of No Coverage or Termination of Coverage, each year by April 30, or when you end your coverage. Check out our video tutorial below for help filling out this form. Click here for full article.

State News

Insurance Journal
Connecticut High Court Nixes Workers’ Comp for Firefighter With Heart Condition
A firefighter must be shown to have worked 20 or more hours a week to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits under state law, the Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled in reversing an appeals court and state workers’ compensation officials. Click here for full article.

Business Insurance
Exclusive Remedy Bars Lawsuit for Worker Hit by Coworker’s Car
An appeals court in Georgia ruled that a worker can’t sue a coworker who struck him with a car in the employer’s parking lot, as the driver was on his way to work and thus workers compensation is the exclusive remedy. Click here for full article.

Business Insurance
Lawsuit by Comp Insurer Wrongly Dismissed: Appeals Court
The Court of Appeal of Louisiana reversed a lower court’s decision to dismiss a case brought by a workers compensation insurer that sought to be reimbursed for costs paid to treat an injured worker. Click here for full article.

Ohio: Spot These Warning Signs of Workers’ Compensation Fraud
There are many signs of potential workers’ compensation fraud, including when an injured Ohioan is working another job and still collecting benefits. Still, fraud can take a long time to prove. Click here for full article.

Two Widows Successfully Lobbied Lawmakers to Change Tennessee’s Workers Compensation Law in Favor of Laborers
While there are several new laws every year, Tennessee lawmakers hadn’t touched workers’ comp since an overhaul a decade ago that heavily benefited businesses. But a new law is significant because it’s to the benefit of employees. Click here for full article.

General News

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 
Ventilation in Buildings
When indoors, ventilation mitigation strategies can help reduce viral particle concentration. The lower the concentration, the less likely viral particles can be inhaled into the lungs (potentially lowering the inhaled dose); contact eyes, nose, and mouth; or fall out of the air to accumulate on surfaces. Click here for full article.

The Conversation
How COVID Lockdowns Distorted our Sense of Time – New Research
The perception of time is a psychological phenomenon, meaning external factors can modify the way we experience it. For example, time may seem to fly by when we’re in good company, whereas if we’re somewhere we don’t want to be, it may appear to slow. Click here for full article.

1 in 6 Unvaccinated People Struggle With Symptoms 2 Years After Getting COVID
People unvaccinated for COVID-19 have significant odds of lingering illness if they get the virus, with one in six still suffering symptoms two years later, new research shows. Click here for full article.

96% of Americans Have Some COVID-19 Immunity
More than three years into the pandemic, an overwhelming majority of Americans have some level of COVID-19 antibodies circulating in their bodies, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found in a new report. Click here for full article.

University of California San Francisco
COVID-19 Masks: Expert Tips for What You Should (and Shouldn’t) Do
Face masks are one of the most crucial measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but confusion and misinformation still surround their use. Click here for full article.

How Does The End Of The Covid-19 Public Health Emergency Affect Health Insurance?
The Covid-19 crisis triggered a public health emergency, which gave the federal government authority to waive and change requirements related to private health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) plans. Click here for full article.

JAMA Network
Development of a Definition of Postacute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 Infection
What symptoms are differentially present in SARS-CoV-2–infected individuals 6 months or more after infection compared with uninfected individuals, and what symptom-based criteria can be used to identify postacute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC) cases? Click here for full article.

Insurance Journal
Workers’ Comp and Mental Health: Panel Examines Why Worker Wellbeing Matters
American workers are struggling. Employee stress has reached record highs. Symptoms and formal diagnoses of mental illnesses like anxiety, depression and PTSD are rising. Substance abuse disorders are up, too – as are suicide rates in some demographics. Click here for full article.

JD Supra
How Gig Work is Creating Special Risks in Workers’ Compensation
If you are an employer experiencing high turnover and labor shortages or looking for ways to reduce increasing business costs, and you’re considering using gig workers to meet these challenges, buyer beware. Click here for full article.

Business Insurance
Federal Court Rules Against Boeing in Injured Worker Lawsuit
A federal court allowed a lawsuit by an injured Boeing Co. employee to continue, ruling against the company’s summary judgment motion in a workplace failure-to-accommodate case. Click here for full article.

Inflation and Workers Compensation Medical Costs – Prescription Drugs
This last installment of NCCI’s series on inflation and workers compensation (WC) medical costs focuses on changes seen in drug costs and, in particular, how changes in opioid prescribing have impacted those cost trends. The study explains how these shifts in prescribing patterns contributed to changes in workers compensation medical costs. Click here for full article.

Insurance Business
How Workers Comp is Calculated in the USA
When calculating workers’ compensation rates, several variables come into play, resulting in premiums that often vary significantly from policy to policy and insurer to insurer. Click here for full article.

Best Workers Compensation Insurance Of June 2023
It is all too easy for mistakes to happen in the workplace. Just one accident can have significant consequences, and if you don’t have workers compensation insurance for your business, you could be found legally liable. That could cost you a lot—even your business. Click here for full article.

Avoid These Common Misconceptions About Workers’ Compensation
There are many misconceptions about workers’ compensation, particularly about grounds for claim denials. This article highlights common misunderstandings and explains various requirements for workers’ compensation eligibility. Click here for full article.

An Interactive View of Workers Compensation Frequency and Severity
The COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impacts have had both direct and indirect effects on the workers compensation industry. This article provides an overview of countrywide changes in lost-time claim frequency and severity. Click here for full article.

Average Workers’ Comp Permanent Disability Settlemen
What can you expect for a workers’ comp permanent disability settlement? Answering this question is difficult because the amount your work injury claim is worth is determined based on the type of injury, the affected body part, the injury severity, and the ways in which your injury will affect your ability to work. Click here for full article.

Insurance Business
Workers Comp Settlement Chart: Everything You Need to Know
Getting sick or injured while doing your job qualifies you for workers’ compensation, which covers your treatment expenses, as well as a portion of lost income. However, because of the myriad of factors involved, determining the exact cost of coverage can be a tricky endeavor. Click here for full article.