Southwest Florida workers face dangers on the job.
Statistically speaking, Southwest Florida is slightly more dangerous for workers than the rest of the state.
Lee and Collier Counties
There were 30 fatal workplace accidents in Lee and Collier counties between 2007 and 2012. These were all at businesses inspected by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).
Common accidents in the two counties include falling, electrocution, being struck or crushed, and even some incidents of drowning.
Based on the percentage of accidents to number of workers, Southwest Florida is more dangerous than Florida as a whole. The 30 fatal accidents for Lee and Collier counties reflect one out of every 13,079 people employed, or roughly .008% of employment. The state as a whole saw 510 fatal accidents over the same time period. That's one out of every 16,553 people employed, or .006% of employment.
Statistically speaking, southwest Florida is more dangerous than the state as a whole.
A Tragic Example
In Fort Myers Beach, for example, what should have been a simple job to replace condominium moldings turned tragic as two workers were killed.
Dustin Manning and Juan Bocanegra were in an aerial lift in an attempt to get close to the moldings that had been destroyed by woodpeckers. Manning's head touched a power line and both men were electrocuted and killed.
When that happened, Manning's wife was eight months pregnant and had a child that was almost two years old. According to her attorney, the incident left her with "just enormous grief and fear." She is suing for wrongful death damages.
"If you follow the rules, no one's going to get hurt," said Hendrik Uiterwyk, her attorney. "If you ignore the rules, you're exposing people to harm."
He went on to say that the lawsuit is an effort to show that breaking the rules can lead to death. He is also looking to receive compensation for Manning's wife and her two children.
Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that it was Bocanegra's responsibility to ensure that the aerial lift would not come into contact with a power line and to ensure that the lift was a safe distance from any power lines. Additionally, the suit states that Bocanegra had a duty to ensure that the power lines were either de-energized, re-routed, or insulated.
Further, the lawsuit also alleges that the construction company, J Baller Construction, should have warned Manning about the power lines. The suit also claims that the company did not properly train Bocanegra.
The trial is set for October.
Workers' compensation insurance carriers have shown signs of recent strengthening. That's not to say that there aren't any challenges that remain. Here are 4 issues to watch with workers' compensation insurance.
For 2014, U.S. salary increases are holding steady at 3%. However, pay raises are just one percentage point above the levels seen prior to the recession, according to the annual Compensation Planning Survey by Buck Consultants.
That's a challenge facing the workers' compensation market.
"Salary stagnation or low growth of wages will have a telling impact on the workers' comp industry in the future for the simple reason that payroll growth is necessary in order to have premium growth," says John Leonard, president and CEO of MEMIC, a Super Regional workers' compensation specialist insurer.
He goes on to say that future workers' compensation insurers will not see enough premium growth to cover all medical costs.
Currently, opioid abuse is the biggest issue facing the workers' compensation industry. According, to Joseph Paduda, principal of Health Strategy Associates LLC, that problem will continue for a long time.
"There are probably more than 200,000 workers' comp claimants who have been on a high dose of opioids for more than six months. The vast majority of those are addicted," he says.
The industry has recently been successful at preventing inappropriate use of the drug for new claims. However, its track record with long-term users has been poor.
Claimants who have become dependent on opioids are not returning to work. "Therefore, their claims are going to continue and that runs up employers' costs, and taxpayers' costs, quite significantly," Paduda says.
Also, some of those claimants are selling the drug, rather than taking it themselves. "The data indicates that about 19 percent of claimants who are prescribed opioids, when they're drug tested, there's no evidence of the drug in their urine," he says. That means that they're selling the drug illegally.
Marijuana At The Workplace
The use of marijuana for medicinal reasons seems to be gaining popular acceptance. That's going to pose challenges for workers' compensation insurance companies.
For starters, there's a disconnect between federal and state laws. Federal law still lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. In contrast, 20 states and the District of Columbia allow medicinal marijuana use.
Also, there is no concrete evidence that medical marijuana will be successful in treating injured workers.
"In other words, there's a lot of commentary regarding it but there's no empirical evidence to support that it actually is effective in treating conditions that we see in workers' compensation," according to MEMIC's Leonard. "It's somewhat of a mystery right now to many of us who handle this line of insurance."
Risks Posed By Acts Of Terrorism
The Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (TRIPRA) will expire on Dec. 31 of this year unless Congress reauthorizes it. This is a cause of concern for many stakeholders in the workers' compensation insurance industry.
"TRIA is absolutely essential to the continuation of worker's comp insurance," says MEMIC's Leonard. "There's no question, but it has to be renewed in some form."
TRIS mandates that business insurers offer terrorism coverage for certain types of insurance. It also provides those insurers with a backstop: The federal government will help them cover losses in the event of a terrorist attack.
"The problem that we have with TRIA right now it it's viewed as an insurance industry problem. That's not the entire story. This is an economic problem for the United States," Leonard says. "Absent the renewal of TRIA, it will have a major impact on the economy of the United States going forward."
Certainly, there are a number of reasons to be optimistic about the future of the workers' compensation insurance industry. However, the sector still faces a series of challenges in the days ahead.
Pablo M Conde