From the August 6, 2004 print edition
Hawaii flunks workers' comp
Think tank says state has gone 'bad to worse'
Hawaii's workers' compensation system received a failing
grade from a national agency this week.
The Work Loss Data Institute, an independent think
tank, gave Hawaii an "F" for its performance
in 2001 and 2002, noting that
it had gone from "bad to worse."
"The measures were bad across the board, but especially
on [workplace injury] prevention rates," Hawaii's
report card said.
The state reported 10,271 injury cases in 2002, the
most recent year for which information is available.
As a result, local
businesses reported a 24 percent increase in insurance
costs in 2003 compared to 2002, paying an average of
$4.87 per $100 of
"This latest study confirms that our workers' compensation
system is broken," said Nelson Befitel, director
of the state
Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.
Hawaii has company -- California, Florida, Delaware,
New York, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, West
Wyoming also flunked. But Florida and California enacted
legislation this year to remedy their workers' compensation
while Hawaii didn't.
Gov. Linda Lingle's administration introduced a nine-point
reform package during the recent legislative session,
and Democratic legislators stalled the bills. The AFL-CIO,
the umbrella organization for local unions, opposed
arguing that it was ready to remedy abuses but not
approve a blanket reform package.
Also, Lingle received little support from Hawaii's
business community, which left it to The Chamber of
Commerce of Hawaii
to carry out a lone crusade.
"People wanted hard facts and not anecdotal stories
-- here it is folks," said Christine Camp Friedman,
the chamber's new
chairwoman, in reaction to the failing grad. "I
hope it galvanizes the business community. I also hope
legislators read the report
and see how Hawaii ranks in the bottom."
The Work Loss Data Institute report used six categories
to evaluate Hawaii and 44 other states and territories
based on data
reported to the federal Occupational Safety and Health
Hawaii ranked 43rd out of 45 in two of them: incidence
rate --the number of claims that involve days away
from work -- and
the percentage of those who didn't work after reporting
In Hawaii, 53 percent of the reported cases resulted
in a loss of productivity for employers. This compares
to a national average
of 31 percent.
Hawaii ranked 27th in duration of disability and delayed
recovery rate. Duration of disability in Hawaii usually
national average of seven days away from work. Further,
more than 22.6 percent, or 2,321 people, took longer
than 30 days to
return to work. This cost employers $50,000 or more
for each person, the state says.
Hawaii's rate of back strain and carpal tunnel syndrome
injuries remained unchanged. But nationally, the two
been a common diagnosis among workers taking longer
disability leave. It's also where most of the abuses
Lower-back strain resulted in 279,688 cases in the
United States in 2002, and typically workers with the
complaint took seven
days off. Carpal tunnel syndrome has the highest impact
on workers' compensation costs due to the length of
"For many conditions such as broken bones, burns,
etc., there is little variability in treatment and
return to work because the
medical decision-making is fairly clear, and therefore
there is little abuse of the system," the report
But it added that back pain and carpal tunnel syndrome
are responsible for much of the trend for worsening
outcomes as well as
Harold Dias, president of the AFL-CIO in Hawaii, says
he hates abusers even more than businesses do.
"They cause more trouble to us," he said. "Businesses
and the state takes the easy approach and say since
we have abuses let's
punish everybody. They want blanket reform to correct
a small percentage of abuses."
Dias adds that employers also need to make Hawaii's
workplaces safer to lower the number of injuries. As
projects take off, there are more incidences of injuries
on the job, he said.
He says he is willing to work with the chamber and
other entities on reforms to curb abuses. But that's
"We feel Hawaii's workers' compensation law is fine," he
Reach Prabha Natarajan at 955-8041 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pacific Business News (Honolulu) - August 9, 2004
© 2004 American City Business Journals Inc.