Universal Problems

I have often wondered what the universal problems are that are encountered in countries with workers’ compensation systems similar to ours. To establish what the position is, I have done a bit of research. The following are problems often mentioned in documentation of other countries that might interest you. I am not for one moment claiming that the research was an in depth and scientific one; the space and time are too limited for that but I have discovered a few remarkable facts that can be utilised to solve our own problems. I will quote few examples that may sound familiar to you to show that we are not unique in this regard.

Froma California publication the following extract” “The Congressional Committee on Government Reform and Oversight is exploring ways to reform public employee compensation using techniques from the private sector to recruit more skilled workers.”1 Does it sound familiar?  Judging from the backlogs and doubtful decisions that are lately being experienced in the RSA, it is evident that the loss of experienced staff for various reasons is causing enormous problems.  “…(B)ecause of inferior health benefits and salaries that are up to 27% below private salaries” the state insurance cannot compete with the private sector. This is an age old problem in South Africa which nobody could solve up to now. I must however from experience say that the private sector does much more to train their staff in comparison with the State controlled workers’ compensation office.

“The California Workers’ Compensation Reform Act of 1989 tried to address the economic problems of the system. It increased the maximum wage-loss benefit to injured employees while establishing a Rate Study Commission to deal with insurance affordability for employers. Higher evidentiary standards for stress claims were also introduced. Rising health care costs are an important political issue and some think the federal government should administer both health care and workers’ compensation as one system. Meanwhile, the success of the California reform is yet to be determined.”2  (My underlining)

This is not from a South African publication but from a website in California but the problems highlighted are the same? How many employers have not experienced allegations of employees suffering from post traumatic stress?  The rise in health care costs in our country is one of our major problem areas.

In Australia the statement on a website is in line with the latter problem:  “rising healthcare costs are recognized as a key problem in the workers’ compensation industry. In the last three years, workers’ compensation costs have risen 50 percent, driven in large part by healthcare cost increases. In certain states, medical costs increased by as much as 125 percent per claim between 1997…”  Again we sit with the same problem as that which these countries are experiencing.

“Claimant fraud is the most talked about kind of fraud. It is also the type that employers are in the best position to help uncover. Claimant fraud happens when employees knowingly lie to collect benefits. They may claim an injury was work-related when it wasn’t, exaggerate an injury, or secretly continue working while collecting benefits. Collecting benefits for a work-related injury is not fraud. Many employers feel that the longer an employee stays off work and collects benefits, the more likely the claim is fraudulent. Under state law, injured employees don’t have to get back on the job until the doctor releases them to work. 3

According to a recent media statement by the CC the problem with fraud is on the increase; however he blamed employers for this.  I could not follow the line of reasoning but it had something to do with employers who in search of a lower assessment rate supply them with an incorrect nature of business operations associated with a lower risk.

Hearing Loss

I have often wondered whether laws are really passed to protect the citizen or whether it is to create jobs for the people administering it.  Let me explain by way of an example.  NOISE-INDUCED HEARING LOSS regulations were published under GN R307 GG 24967 on 7 March 2003.  Regulation 3 of the OHSA reads as follows:

“Exposure to Noise

Subject to regulations 9 and 10 no employer or self-employed shall require or permit any person to enter any workplace under his or her control where such person will be exposed to noise at or above the 85 dBA noise-rating limit”

When very recently reading a daily newspaper, I came across a report about research in the RSA which confirmed that exposure at a 127 dBA noise-rating for more than 15 minutes can cause irreversible damage and thus hearing loss. Guess what generates a 127 dBA noise level. The in/famous vuvuzelas are the culprits. Whether you like it or not, proper research to confirm this has been done. So why is our Dept of Labour so quiet? I have not seen a word from them about the problem. What will happen to an employer exposing workers to the same noise levels in a factory? Should you by any chance wonder what this has to do with the spectators, I must remind you that there are people working at the stadiums for long hours and they are the ones exposed to the maximum noise levels. Enjoy your soccer, hope in 4 years time you will be able to listen to the commentary.

1 Publisher: Commerce Clearing House, Inc. Publication Name: Labor Law Journal 

2 Kilgour, John G., Publisher: Commerce Clearing House, Inc., Publication Name: Labor Law Journal

3 About.com New York, 2009

Till next time.