Section VI

The Commission's Future Activities

During its first year of operation, the Commission on Health and Safety and Workers' Compensation devoted its attention to the significant changes in the workers' compensation and injury and illness prevention programs in California.

In future years, the Commission plans to expand its focus to include a comparison of workers' compensation and injury and illness prevention programs in California to those in other states. The following activities have been suggested:

Symposium

The California Commission is planning to host a symposium in the spring of 1996 for interested persons from throughout the nation to discuss the successes and problems of their workers' compensation and industrial injury prevention programs. The purpose is to determine how other states are approaching and dealing with various issues. That information will enable the Commission to identify programs for possible further study.

Permanent Disability

Some members of the workers' compensation community believe that permanent disability awards are the basis for most of the litigation in the California workers' compensation system.

The rating of permanent disability is viewed as one of the most difficult tasks in the workers' compensation system. The difficulty lies in the very process of estimating the degree of a worker's impairment and the amount of economic loss caused by such impairment. This process more often than not leads to disputes and litigation. The manner in which California rates and compensates injured workers for total and partial permanent disability has enormous impact on the adequacy of their benefits, their ability to return to gainful employment, the smooth operation of DWC's adjudication system and the cost of the workers' compensation system to employers.

The Commission may look at California's permanent disability benefit levels and the costs of providing those benefits in comparison with other states. The Commission is also interested in various approaches to compensating injured workers for permanent impairment resulting from industrial injury or occupational disease. This may include a comprehensive review of the existing permanent disability system in California and research into other approaches utilized or contemplated by other states.

The Commission also plans to continue its evaluation of various aspects of California's health and safety and workers' compensation programs. Such areas may include:

District Office Performance

One Commission member noted that the performance of the WCAB at the local boards has been criticized widely. The Commission acknowledges the efforts of the administrative director to rectify the problem but it has no specific assurance that the problems will be resolved in the near future given the historic complaints. Inasmuch as this is such a crucial portion of the overall workers' compensation administrative system, the Commission may study such district office performance issues.

Another Commission member recommends that the Commission focus on the delays in the workers' compensation process and its effects on the injured worker. While previous legislation has helped to accelerate this process, there are still areas such as the length of time it takes to get a hearing date and, once a settlement is reached, the length of time it takes to receive what was settled upon, as in the case of compromise and release agreements.

Levels of benefits with respect to savings in California Workers' Compensation

A Commission member has observed that during the negotiations on the 1993 reform legislation, labor was promised incentives for movement on certain issues, given the amount of savings to be realized by employers in the 1993 reforms. He does not feel that labor has received a fair portion of what was promised. If in the future labor is going to be asked to support issues which impact their membership in a negative way, he believes that labor needs to be guaranteed increases in benefits that will help the majority of their membership. The benefit increases do not necessarily have to be limited to the area of workers' compensation, they may be in the form of employer health plans which provide higher benefits at a lower cost.

Return-to-work programs

One Commission member recommends that the Commission review workers' compensation Return to Work programs in the public sector. During his tenure in California state service and in his personnel dealings with the system, the Commission member has observed that the return to work system is not functioning in the manner in which it was designed. He believes that Return to Work programs are not consistent or applied equally, personnel are changed frequently, and most do not appear to have received adequate training in the many complex issues on which they are required to make decisions.

Injury and Illness Prevention Programs

One Commission member suggested that the Commission focus on the effectiveness of injury and illness prevention programs. Preventing injuries from occurring translates into tremendous cost savings for both the employee and employer.


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