For members of the workers’ compensation bar, insurers, physicians, expert witnesses, and anyone else who spends most their time in the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation universe, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, Bureau of Workers’ Compensation’s Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation and Workplace Safety Annual Report is a must-read. The report’s statistics about the Bureau’s operations are interesting, but the statistics about the injuries Pennsylvania workers suffered on the job and the demographics of those workers gives readers an opportunity to see and infer trends in the workplace that would have otherwise been impossible to glean given the nature of that data.
The 2022 Annual Report, which the Bureau released recently, is no different. Here are twelve noteworthy statistics from the report and what they may tell us about Pennsylvania workers, their jobs, and their employers.
The number of reported injuries have increased dramatically
Statistic #1: In 2022, there were 167,254 work injuries and illnesses in Pennsylvania, of which 82 were fatal. That’s an increase of 3.5% (5,622) from the number of injuries and illnesses reported in 2021, but a decrease of 4% (3) in the number of fatalities.
Statistic #2: Going back ten years, the number of work injuries and illnesses in 2022 was about 96.5% higher than those in 2012 (85,117 reported injuries and illnesses in 2012), albeit with 19% fewer fatalities (101 reported fatalities in 2012).
Statistic #3: Going back 20 years, the number of work injuries and illnesses in 2022 was about 75.7% higher than those in 2002 (95,206 reported injuries and illnesses in 2002), with, again, 44% fewer fatalities (146 reported fatalities in 2002).
While the increase in injuries reported may be in part because of a change in the Bureau’s claim reporting standards in 2014 when it began including medical-only claims, that reported injuries have almost doubled within two decades should be concerning, even if the number of fatalities has decreased. Despite their increased use of technology and additional workplace safety regulations going into effect over that time, it appears employers are not taking necessary steps to keep their workers safe.
The leading types and causes of injuries were minor—maybe?
Statistic #5: In 2022, Sprain/strain injuries (59,145 cases) accounted for the highest percentage (35.4%) of total cases reported. The next highest was contusions, crushing, and bruising injuries (34,930 cases, 20.9%).
Statistic #6: In 2022, overexertion (lifting, pulling, pushing, etc.) was the leading cause of injury with 41,771 injuries (25% of all injuries). Being struck by objects (falling, flying, etc.) was the next leading cause of injury, with 34,733 cases reported (20.8% of all injuries).
These two statistics suggest that relatively minor injuries are the most prevalent kinds of injuries (although, obviously, “crushing” injuries are typically not minor). That’s good for injured workers as, presumably, these injuries will keep them out of work for a shorter time compared to serious injuries and will not be accompanied by the hefty medical bills that often come with serious injuries.
However, it’s important to remember that these classifications are made by insurance carriers and are always more conservative at the start because these designations are made immediately after the injury and without the aid of any diagnostic testing. It would be interesting to see how these initial classifications change once testing is done and through the use of review petitions filed by claimants’ attorneys to more specifically describe the injuries.
For example, an injury classified initially by an insurer as a sprain of the cervical or lumbar spine is often a herniated disk or even a fracture. Likewise, a sprain of the wrist could turn into carpal tunnel syndrome after a proper evaluation and testing.
The industries with the most injured workers reflect our changing economy
Statistic #7: More than half of reported injuries and illnesses in 2022 (92,642 out of 167,254 cases) occurred in two industries: Trade & Transportation (47,621 cases, 28.5% of all cases) and Education & Health Services (45,021 cases, 26.9% of all cases).
Statistic #8: The industry sub-category with the highest rate of injuries and illness per 1000 workers in 2022 was “Couriers & messengers,” which had a rate of 115.1 (down from 133.6 in 2021).
Statistic #9: Across all industries, that rate was 28.0 (up from 27.9 in 2021). The highest increase across industries in that rate from 2021 was in Manufacturing (3.1%), followed by Utilities (2.5%) and Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing & Hunting (2.5%).
Given that our society has been transitioning to an “order/delivery” society with more and more employees and contractors on the road making deliveries while on/in bikes, scooters, cars, and trucks, it’s no surprise that Trade & Transportation was a leading industry in terms of injuries and illnesses, and that “Couriers & messengers,” a sub-category of Trade & Transportation, had the highest rate of injuries and illness among sub-categories.
That the Education & Health Services industry had the second highest number of injuries and illnesses in 2022 is not surprising given how frequently health services professionals come in contact with people who are ill and the many opportunities they have to contract whatever illnesses their patients are suffering from. However, this also raises the question whether employers in the Education & Health Services industry are properly educating and training their workers about worker and workplace safety. The same question could be asked of employers in the Manufacturing, Utilities, and Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing & Hunting industries given the 2022 increases in the injury/illness per 1000 rate in those industries.
Statistic #10: The six age groups that had the highest percentages of injuries were:
- 25-29 – 11.6%
- 30-34 – 11.4%
- 50-54 – 10.4%
- 55-59 – 10.2%
- 35-39 – 9.9%
- 21-24 – 9.4%
This statistic shows interesting trends regarding the younger and older portions of the workforce.
With roughly 23% of injured workers being between the ages of 25 and 34, we can infer that employers may not be stressing workplace safety to younger employees. We could also infer that some younger employees might not heed the warnings from their employers and more seasoned colleagues about safe work practices.
The statistic also suggests that as workers enter their 50s, they may not be as safety conscious as they once were because they think they’re too experienced to get injured so they can cut safety corners, or, perhaps, they’re distracted with thoughts of retirement.
All in all, this statistic shows employers should remind workers of all ages about the workplace safety practices protocols at their facilities.
Mediations have a low success rate, but it’s not clear why
Statistic #11: In 2022, the Workers’ Compensation Office of Adjudication conducted 7,689 mediations statewide, producing 3,279 settlements for a success rate of 42.6 percent.
This statistic is notable for the questions it raises. A mediation success rate of 42.6 percent is low. Since mediations are designed to settle a case, the success rate should be at least between 65 to 75 percent.
As an initial matter, it’s not clear what the Office of Adjudication means by a “success rate.” Is a mediation successful if only the entire case is resolved? Could it be successful if any part of the case was resolved after mediation?
Putting that aside, why is that rate so low? Does it have to do with the nature of the cases or participants in the mediation program? Does it have to do with how the Office of Adjudication conducts its mediations?
Without more information, it’s impossible to know why this success rate is so low and what the Office of Adjudication could do to increase it.
Insurers’ claims about the “skyrocketing” costs of workers’ compensation payments are dubious
Statistic #12: The total amount of workers’ compensation (indemnity compensation + medical compensation) paid over the past decade was:
Even without accounting for inflation, the amount of total workers’ compensation paid to Pennsylvania workers decreased by about 6.5% from 2011 to 2021, and the amount paid in 2021 was about 13% less than the highest amount paid during that time period, which was in 2016.
The insurance industry would have politicians and the public believe that “skyrocketing” costs of workers’ compensation claims are causing employers and insurers to shut down or leave Pennsylvania. These figures, which again do not factor in inflation, suggest otherwise.
A reflection of the changes in society
Each edition of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Annual Report is a Rorschach test for readers in the workers’ compensation world. Other claimants’ attorneys may agree wholeheartedly with my observations, while defense counsel, employers, and insurers might have other points of view.
But no matter where they stand, the statistics in the 2022 Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Annual Report, like the statistics in the editions before it, reflect the changes in our society and how employers approach workplace safety.
All the players in the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation universe, but especially claimants’ attorneys, would be wise to take heed of what the statistics in the 2022 Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Annual Report appear to be telling them about injured workers in the state. If they take heed and are nimble, they will hopefully be able to evolve their business practices to handle the changes in our society reflected in those statistics.
Jerry M. Lehocky is a founding partner of Pond Lehocky Giordano LLP, the largest workers’ compensation and Social Security disability law firm in Pennsylvania, and one of the largest in the U.S. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted with permission from the October 10, 2023 edition of The Legal Intelligencer © 2023 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited, contact 877-257-3382 or email@example.com.