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Workplace Stress

Stress Linked to Workers’ Comp Claims

A study concludes that stress at work increases the likelihood of worker injury.
By: | November 4, 2016 • 4 min read

Reducing employee stress levels could help organizations reduce workers’ compensation claims, according to a new study from the Center for Health, Work & Environment at the Colorado School of Public Health.

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The study, which analyzed claims occurrence and cost from nearly 17,000 employees at 314 organizations of various sizes across multiple industries, found that stress at work increased the likelihood of workers getting injured, while the source of stress was found to influence claims cost.

“Stress at work is predictive of workplace accidents — if you want to prevent workers’ comp claims, you need to look at causes of stress in the work environment,” said Dr. Natalie Schwatka, lead author of the report, entitled “Health Risk Factors as Predictors of Workers’ Compensation Claim Occurrence and Cost.”

Dr. Natalie Schwatka, instructor and researcher, Colorado School of Public Health

Dr. Natalie Schwatka, instructor and researcher, Colorado School of Public Health

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data suggests the frequency of occupational injuries and illnesses is gradually declining in line with improving health and safety measures, but the cost per workers’ compensation claim is rising. Overall, workers’ compensation claims cost employers around $250 billion annually.

In 2013, more than three million non-fatal workplace injuries and more than 4,000 fatal injuries occurred. Of the non-fatal injuries, around one-third resulted in lost work time, with an average absence of eight days.

“With the exception of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) among first responders, stress is not covered under a workers’ comp policy, but stress can manifest itself as a physical claim that would fall under workers’ comp,” said Karen Curran, director of worksite wellness for Colorado WC insurer Pinnacol Assurance.

“There are a number of health risk factors that are predictive of frequency and severity of industrial injuries, but when that data is modified to take into account demographics and work environments, stress keeps rising to the top,” she said.

“Businesses these days have robust safety programs but the next step is to introduce worksite wellness programs to tie safety and wellness together.”

According to Schwatka, the majority of claims analyzed in the study concerned injuries such as strains, sprains, lacerations and contusions. While several health risk factors — such as obesity and smoking — were commonly found among claimants, stress was the only factor to display a consistent relationship with claims occurrence and cost when researchers factored in demographics and workplace variables such as employment type, occupation, income and company size.

“The first thing you have to do as an employer is take the taboo out of the workplace. Depression is a clinical diagnosis, not a character flaw.” — Karen Curran, Karen Curran, director of worksite wellness, Pinnacol Assurance

One notable finding was that claims made by workers experiencing stress at home were typically more expensive, while those made by workers perceiving stress over their finances were less costly.

Schwatka said it appears workers who don’t get enough support at home struggle more with recovery than workers who worry about financial risk and thus get back to work as soon as they can.

Holistic Approach to Work Safety

The study called for organizations to implement a “total worker health” approach, including heightened focus on mental well-being, which may reduce both the occurrence and cost of workplace injuries.

Karen Curran, director of worksite wellness, Pinnacol Assurance

Karen Curran, director of worksite wellness, Pinnacol Assurance

“Our findings strengthen the argument that businesses should address stress management as part of their safety programs and also focus on the systemic factors in their business that may cause stress, such as poor leadership, poor social support, lack of control over work demands and lack of work/life balance,” said Schwatka.

“If you are an employer with limited resources, there are simple things that can be done to help employees identify and manage stress,” said Curran.

Measures organizations could take to reduce workplace stress include flexible working hours and the inclusion of dedicated breaks for deep breathing or meditation during the working day to help keep workers minds’ “in the present,” she said.

Schwatka added that companies should also consider incorporating stress management into return-to-work programs.

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However, Curran noted, many male-driven industries still struggle to overcome cultural stigma associated with mental health issues.

“Industries with high suicide rates such as construction, and oil and gas are also the ones that have the hardest time wrapping their arms around workplace stress, which is seen as a touchy-feely subject,” she said.

“The first thing you have to do as an employer is take the taboo out of the workplace. Depression is a clinical diagnosis, not a character flaw. Leaders have to acknowledge it is OK to talk about stress.” &

Antony Ireland is a London-based financial journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

2018 Most Dangerous Emerging Risks

Emerging Multipliers

It’s not that these risks are new; it’s that they’re coming at you at a volume and rate you never imagined before.
By: | April 9, 2018 • 3 min read

Underwriters have plenty to worry about, but there is one word that perhaps rattles them more than any other word. That word is aggregation.

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Aggregation, in the transferred or covered risk usage, represents the multiplying potential of a risk. For examples, we can look back to the asbestos claims that did so much damage to Lloyds’ of London names and syndicates in the mid-1990s.

More recently, underwriters expressed fears about the aggregation of risk from lawsuits by football players at various levels of the sport. Players, from Pee Wee on up to the NFL, claim to have suffered irreversible brain damage from hits to the head.

That risk scenario has yet to fully play out — it will be decades in doing so — but it is already producing claims in the billions.

This year’s edition of our national-award winning coverage of the Most Dangerous Emerging Risks focuses on risks that have always existed. The emergent — and more dangerous — piece to the puzzle is that these risks are now super-charged with risk multipliers.

Take reputational risk, for example. Businesses and individuals that were sharply managed have always protected their reputations fiercely. In days past, a lapse in ethics or morals could be extremely damaging to one’s reputation, but it might take days, weeks, even years of work by newspaper reporters, idle gossips or political enemies to dig it out and make it public.

Brand new technologies, brand new commercial covers. It all works well; until it doesn’t.

These days, the speed at which Internet connectedness and social media can spread information makes reputational risk an existential threat. Information that can stop a glittering career dead in its tracks can be shared by millions with a casual, thoughtless tap or swipe on their smartphones.

Aggregation of uninsured risk is another area of focus of our Most Dangerous Emerging Risks (MDER) coverage.

The beauty of the insurance model is that the business expands to cover personal and commercial risks as the world expands. The more cars on the planet, the more car insurance to sell.

The more people, the more life insurance. Brand new technologies, brand new commercial covers. It all works well; until it doesn’t.

As Risk & Insurance® associate editor Michelle Kerr and her sources point out, growing populations and rising property values, combined with an increase in high-severity catastrophes, threaten to push the insurance coverage gap to critical levels.

This aggregation of uninsured value got a recent proof in CAT-filled 2017. The global tally for natural disaster losses in 2017 was $330 billion; 60 percent of it was uninsured.

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This uninsured gap threatens to place unsustainable pressure on public resources and hamstring society’s ability to respond to natural disasters, which show no sign of slowing down or tempering.

A related threat, the combination of a failing infrastructure and increasing storm severity, marks our third MDER. This MDER looks at the largely uninsurable risk of business interruption that results not from damage to your property or your suppliers’ property, but to publicly maintained infrastructure that provides ingress and egress to your property. It’s a danger coming into shape more and more frequently.

As always, our goal in writing about these threats is not to engage in fear mongering. It’s to initiate and expand a dialogue that can hopefully result in better planning and mitigation, saving the lives and limbs of businesses here and around the world.

2018 Most Dangerous Emerging Risks

Critical Coverage Gap

Growing populations and rising property values, combined with an increase in high-severity catastrophes, are pushing the insurance protection gap to a critical level.

Climate Change as a Business Interruption Multiplier

Crumbling roads and bridges isolate companies and trigger business interruption losses.

 

Reputation’s Existential Threat

Social media — the very tool used to connect people in an instant — can threaten a business’s reputation just as quickly.

 

AI as a Risk Multiplier

AI has potential, but it comes with risks. Mitigating these risks helps insurers and insureds alike, enabling advances in almost every field.

 

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]