New disability claim procedures effective April 1
The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) new procedures for processing disability claims took effect April 1. Employer-sponsored plans that deal with disability claims should be amended as needed. This includes retirement plans, medical coverage, life insurance, as well as short- and long-term disability plans. The rule is intended to give workers new protections when dealing with plan fiduciaries and insurance providers that deny their claims for disability benefits.
Implementation of the final rule was delayed 90 days from its original effective date of Jan. 1, 2018. If plan documents have not yet been updated, employers should still prepare to handle claims under the new procedures.
Opioid prescriptions decline in states allowing marijuana
While acknowledging the limitations of the data, Dr. David Bradford from the Department of Public Administration and Policy at the University of Georgia reports an analysis of data for prescriptions filed by Medicare Part D enrollees from 2010 to 2013 revealed the use of prescription drugs dropped when the state fully implemented medical marijuana legislation.
For pain medications there was a decrease of over 10% in prescribing patterns. States that permit medical marijuana distribution via dispensaries – versus states that only permit the private cultivation of marijuana for medicinal purposes – saw a 14% decline in pain medications prescribed under Medicare Part D.
Construction workers more likely to die from opioid overdose than workers in other industries
A 2017 survey by the National Safety Council (NSC) found an estimated 15 percent of construction workers have substance abuse disorders – nearly twice the national average of 8.6 percent. A recent report from the Midwest Economic Policy Institute notes that an estimated 380 construction workers in Ohio suffered opioid-related overdose deaths in 2015, followed by Illinois (164), Michigan (160) and Wisconsin (92).
The report suggests that the demanding physical work, the higher injury rates, and the economic pressures to return to work before fully healed lead to prescription abuse. It offers several strategies to help employers, contractors and labor unions combat the opioid crisis.
Caught-in and caught-between fatalities on the rise in construction: CPWR
Caught-in or caught-between incidents resulted in 275 construction worker deaths from 2011 to 2015 – the most of any major industry – according to a recent report from the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR). About 69 percent of the deaths were attributed to “being caught or crushed in collapsing materials,” a 50 percent increase over the five-year period.
New tools to reduce the risks of workers in nanotechnology
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has released four new documents to help provide employers with strategic steps towards making sure their employees stay safe while handling nanomaterials. The documents are:
- handling and weighing of nanomaterials when scooping, pouring and dumping;
- harvesting nanomaterials and cleaning out reactors after materials are produced;
- processing of nanomaterials after production;
- working with nanomaterials of different forms, including dry powders or liquids.
To access the products, and for more information about nanotechnology research at NIOSH, visit https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/nanotech/pubs.html .
EPA releases guidance on first aid statements for pesticide labels
In response to stakeholder comments and questions, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued final guidance on the placement of first aid statements on pesticide labels. First aid statements on Toxicity Category I pesticides must be visible on the front panel unless a variation has been approved. First aid statements on Toxicity Category II and III products can be placed on any panel of the label – front, back, side or inside.
Forest nurseries, timber tract operations, and fishing have higher risk of hearing loss
Researchers from NIOSH found that although work-related hearing loss in the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting sector (15 percent) is lower overall than most other industries (19 percent), three subgroups had a notably higher number of workers with hearing loss. These were:
- Forest nurseries and gathering of forest products (36 percent)
- Timber tract operations (22 percent)
- Fishing (19 percent)
The study was published in the January issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.
- Adopted its own statewide workplace safety and health regulations to prevent and reduce ergonomic work-related injuries to housekeepers in the hotel and hospitality industry, the first such regulation in the country. The rules, which will be enforced by California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, will become effective July 1.
- The volume of independent medical reviews declined 2.2% in 2017, the first decline since the state adopted its practice of reviewing medical claims for injured workers, according to a report by the California Workers Compensation Institute (CWCI). Physicians upheld 91.2% of modified or denied medical service requests that they reviewed, the same as previous years.
- The Governor signed a bill that will cover post-traumatic stress disorder under workers compensation for first responders.
- The governor signed two new comp bills. One creates a workers’ compensation drug formulary aimed at curtailing the opioid crisis (SB369), and the other penalizes employers for late payments of benefits (SB290). SB290 takes effect July 1, 2018. The state is adopting MCG Health’s Official Disability Guidelines as the formulary, under which doctors cannot prescribe “not recommended” medications unless the insurance company approves. The ban on reimbursement for the prohibited drugs takes effect Jan. 1, 2019, but injured workers who began taking the medications before July of this year may continue until January 2020.
- The average comp rate will decrease 12.9% following a settlement reached by the Attorney General with the State Rating Bureau and the Workers Compensation Rating and Inspection Bureau.
- The Industrial Commission gave final approval to new restrictions on opioid prescribing for injured workers, in keeping with a 2017 legislative mandate. The new rules take effect May 1.
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