S.B. 45 is Unfair to Injured Workers
Occupation Disease and Cumulative Trauma
The number one cause of workplace injuries in Ohio and America are jobs that require repeated motions. These injuries are called cumulative trauma. A common one is carpal tunnel syndrome. Women are more likely than men to get these injuries. As women have entered the workplace in greater numbers, these types of injuries have increased.
S.B. 45, despite accepted medical knowledge, classifies these injuries as occupational diseases and then changes the definition of occupational diseases so that these injuries will, for the most part, not meet the new definition.
By two strokes of the pen, Governor Voinovich and his Republican cohorts have eliminated the most common injury in Ohio’s workplace from effective coverage under the Ohio workers’ compensation law.
The new definition of occupational disease will also eliminate many other currently accepted industrially related diseases. Occupational diseases now represent less than three percent (3%) of total workers’ compensation claims. Under S.B. 45 that small figure will go down.
Is Governor George Voinovich’s ultimate goal the total elimination of occupational disease claims from Ohio’s workers’ compensation law? The most conservative estimate of occupationally caused cancer deaths in Ohio is about 520 annually. In the last publicly reported year the Ohio workers’ compensation system compensated for nine (9) cancer deaths. That, apparently, was nine too many for Governor Voinovich.
Disability and AMA Guidelines
One of the basic principles underlying the workers’ compensation laws of every state is that an injured worker is compensated for their disability. The injured worker is given permanent partial disability compensation for the permanent loss of body functions which interferes with ability to work. And in some cases, permanent total disability is paid when the worker can never return to work. Governor Voinovich has eliminated the word “disability” from the law. He would compensate only for impairment.
Impairment is a medical term meaning an individual’s health status that is assessed by medical means by a doctor. Disability is a legal term which includes impairment and the effect the impairment has on the job demands of an injured worker. That is, how the impairment affects the ability of an injured worker to earn an income.
The elimination of disability as a factor will drastically reduce compensation for the injured worker. An injured worker who is handicapped and can no longer do his job because of a workplace injury will be treated the same as a worker with a similar injury who can, however, return fulltime to the job. For example, think how the same serious hand injury might affect a mechanic as compared to a teacher.
In determining impairment S.B. 45 dictates that the American Medical Association Guidelines for Evaluation of Permanent Impairment be used. The American Medical Association [AMA], acutely aware of the difference between impairment and disability, warned another state legislature against the improper use of their Guidelines when it said:
Unfortunately, without consulting the AMA, the Legislature ignored those warnings and created a worker compensation system which utilizes the Guides in an inappropriate manner. In so doing, it has placed the Guides at risk of being used to generate unfair, arbitrary, and unreasonable compensation decisions, with the physician unwittingly placed in the role of decision maker. [Emphasis added.]
Governor Voinovich and the Ohio Legislature didn’t take the time to consult with the AMA either and the Ohio workers’ compensation law is now “unfair, arbitrary and unreasonable.”