Bulletin 97-1
January 3, 1997

New Schedule For Rating Permanent Disabilities To Be Implemented April 1, 1997

A new Schedule For Rating Permanent Disabilities has been adopted by the Division of Workers' Compensation effective for injuries which occur on and after April 1, 1997.

According to DWC Administrative Director Casey L. Young, the new schedule: overhauls the sections dealing with the occupation and age adjustments; schedules some commonly used ratings that were previously unscheduled; eliminates archaic, unused provisions; and adds extensive instructions, examples, and other guidance in the proper use of the schedule.

The Schedule For Rating Permanent Disabilities sets forth standard ratings for specific impairments and work limitations, creating a framework of rating benchmarks which encompass most disabling conditions. The schedule then sets forth procedures to rate impairments and limitations which fall between the scheduled benchmarks. The schedule also sets forth procedures to adjust ratings to account for the occupation and age of the injured employee at the time of injury.

"The new schedule will be a much more useful tool to compute permanent disability ratings," Young said. "The provisions of the schedule governing occupational adjustments have not been updated for nearly half a century. Occupations, the demands to perform occupations, and even the provisions of workers' compensation law which provided the rationale for varying compensation by occupation have all changed considerably since this issue was last addressed."

No fundamental change is made in the approach to occupational adjustments, Young said. The objective was to simply update, simplify, and clarify this part of the schedule. Three basic steps were taken to achieve these objectives:

Young explained why the most extreme variants were eliminated. "We could find no rationale for the extreme variation in permanent disability compensation based on occupation, which has increased dramatically since the early 1980's. For example, an athlete with constant slight pain in the neck, back, and upper and lower extremities now receives over $105,340 plus a small life pension, compared to about $28,647 for someone in an occupation with the lowest variant for these disabilities. The current difference of $76,692 compares with a difference of just $12,105 in 1983."

The other changes in the schedule were not as significant, but should also be helpful in achieving more consistent disability ratings. The age adjustment was simplified by changing the adjustment every five years rather than every two years; some common unscheduled disabilities were added to the schedule; archaic, unused provisions were eliminated; and the instructions, examples, and other guides were expanded to help in understanding the proper use of the schedule.

To determine the effects of the changes, a study was conducted in the summer of 1995. Approximately 2000 cases which had been rated in 1993 were re-rated using the new proposed schedule. This study indicated that the overall effect would be to increase average permanent disability ratings less than one half of one percentage point (from 19.8 to 20.2), and that there would be no significant shifts between occupational groups, age groups, or disability types. (See attached tables for actual results.)

"I am very pleased and proud of my staff for their monumental effort and accomplishment in completing this schedule revision," Young said. "In particular, Disability Evaluation Unit Manager Blair Megowan, and Sharon Collins, who chaired the DEU Schedule Revision Committee, deserve a tremendous amount of the credit for the completion of this project. The entire DEU staff contributed to this effort and deserve credit as well."

Young noted, however, that there is one piece of unfinished business. "The law also requires an update of the standard disability ratings to reflect changes in the labor market, which is not part of this revision. The Commission on Health and Safety and Workers' Compensation, which must approve any change in standard disability ratings, has contracted with the RAND Institute to obtain information to assist in this effort. I look forward to working with the commission to devise updated standard disability ratings when the RAND study is completed this summer."

Advance copies of the new Schedule For Rating Permanent Disabilities are being distributed to interested organizations for distribution to their members. As in the past, it will soon also be available from the Department of General Services, Documents and Publications Section, P.O. Box 1015, North Highlands, California 95660.


Table I

Permanent Disability Rating Change By Occupational Category

Occupational Category Number In Sample PD Rating Change (1)
Cleaners/Attendants 181 +1.65
Construction 273 -0.16
Drivers 212 -0.16
Hand Intensive 215 +0.54
Laborers/Material Handlers 250 +0.77
Machine Operators 99 +0.17
Mechanics/Installers 108 -0.30
Miscellaneous 231 +0.64
Professional/Technical/Clerical 426 +0.35
Total Weighted Average 1995 +0.41

Table II

Permanent Disability Rating Change By Age Category

Age Category Number In Sample PD Rating Change (1)
21 & Under 75 +0.28
22-26 217 +0.20
27-31 239 +0.36
32-36 327 +0.53
37-41 298 +0.13
42-46 264 +0.37
47-51 220 +0.37
52-56 169 +0.81
57-61 109 +0.89
62 & Over 79 +0.46
Total Weighted Avg. 1997 +0.41

Table III

Permanent Disability Rating Change By Disability Category

Disability Category Number In Sample PD Rating Change (1)
Brain/Nervous Sys. 28 -0.81
Chest 12 +0.56
Face/Head 5 +3.15
Hearing 24 +0.58
Lower Extremities 296 +0.22
Multiple 244 +0.79
Spinal/Abdomen 787 +0.46
Upper Extremities (2) 592 +0.30
Vision 7 -0.04
Total Weighted Avg. 1995 +0.41

(1) This is the average change in the permanent disability rating percentage, not a percentage change in the permanent disability rating.

(2) It should be noted that the changes evaluated included a set of proposed upper extremity guidelines, which are not being adopted at this time. The effect on cost and benefits should not be significantly different from the changes evaluated, however. As noted above, the change in ratings of upper extremity disabilities changed less than one percentage point. The rating of upper extremity work restrictions will continue to be done by analogy to scheduled disabilities, as in the past.