Commission on Health and Safety and Workers' Compensation

1994-95 Annual Report

Executive Summary

This document is the first annual report of the California Commission on Health and Safety and Workers' Compensation.

Mission of the Commission

The Commission, created by the workers' compensation reform legislation of 1993, is charged with overseeing the health and safety and workers' compensation systems in California and recommending administrative or legislative modifications to improve their operation. The Commission was established to conduct a continuing examination of the workers' compensation system and of the state's activities to prevent industrial injuries and occupational diseases and to examine those programs in other states.

Workers' Compensation Reform in California

During the first year of its operation, the Commission began the process of assessing the impact of the 1993 workers' compensation reform legislation -- a package of several bills that made widespread and significant changes to the California workers' compensation system. The reform legislation was enacted because, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, California employers had one of the highest workers' compensation premium costs in the nation, while the maximum indemnity benefits to California injured workers for temporary and permanent disability were among the lowest in the nation. Moreover, California had one of the highest rates of workers' compensation claims filing, which also increased costs to employers.

The reform legislation made sweeping changes to the whole California workers' compensation system, specifically in the areas of insurance, fraud, psychiatric and post-termination claims, medical care, medical-legal evaluations, vocational rehabilitation, alternative benefit delivery systems, benefit levels, injury prevention, disability evaluation, claims adjudication, and information systems. This reform legislation affects not only industrially-injured workers, but the entire workers' compensation community -- employers and employees, insurers, medical care providers, applicant and defense attorneys, state government agencies, and members of the public.

Commission Activities

The Commission has solicited the opinions of all affected by the reform legislation to determine areas of concern and to ascertain the optimum point to begin formal evaluations of specific functions. The workers' compensation community responded enthusiastically by making presentations at Commission meetings, providing statistical data, inviting Commission members and staff to attend their meetings, and sharing their perspective of and expertise in the workers' compensation system.

Commission's Areas of Interest

On the basis of this information and its own collective experience, the Commission focused its attention on examining how these areas have been impacted by the legislative reforms of 1993:

* Vocational rehabilitation

* Medical-legal evaluation

* The experience of the injured worker with the workers' compensation system

* Health Care Organization program

* Elimination of California's minimum rate law

* Alternative benefit delivery system for the construction industry

* Delays in the provision of permanent disability ratings

* State agency district office procedures and referee performance

* Loss Control Certification program

* High hazard or targeted inspection and consultation program

* Proposed ergonomic standard

Joint Responsibilities with the Division of Workers' Compensation

The Commission also has joint responsibilities with the Division of Workers' Compensation (DWC) to fulfill certain requirements of the reform legislation (See report section V). The DWC administrative director must submit the following to the Commission for approval before implementation:

* Revisions to the Permanent Disability Rating Schedule

* Conflict of interest regulations for medical evaluators

Commission's Study Projects

The Commission has contracted with various organizations, including the University of California and the California State University, to begin study projects on certain topics (See report section III).

The workers' compensation community has been very supportive in these endeavors by participating in the technical design of these projects, by providing data, by serving on project advisory committees, and by indicating their willingness to complete survey documents and participate in interviews.

The Commission's contracted projects include:

* An evaluation of the impact of the reform legislation on the workers' compensation vocational rehabilitation program, conducted by UC Berkeley's Survey Research Center

* An analysis to the changes to the medical-legal evaluation process by the workers' compensation reform legislation, conducted by the University of California.

* An evaluation of the experience of the injured worker with California's workers' compensation system, conducted by the Labor Occupational Health Program.

* Assessment of Loss Control Services, conducted by the School of Health and Social Work of the California State University at Fresno.

Commission's Grant Program

The Commission reviews and approves proposals for grant funds to assist in establishing effective illness and injury prevention programs. Applications are received from employers, from employee organizations, and from employers and employee associations filing jointly.

The Commission approved nine grant applications totaling $503,656. A summary of those 1994 grant proposals awarded is included at the end of report section IV.

Future Activities

The Commission is making plans to begin examining health and safety and workers' compensation systems in other states, as discussed in report section VI.

A major step in this process will be a Symposium in California hosted by the Commission in the spring of 1996. Representatives from programs in other states will be invited to participate in a series of discussion panels. This symposium is intended to provide an opportunity for the Commission and the entire workers' compensation community to find out about other programs and to share ideas.

Return to Outline of Sections