The Business Journal - Portland, September 28, 1998

Health Care

Workers' comp costs go down with fewer injuries

Kathy Brock

Professional bungee jumpers notwithstanding, work isn't as dangerous as it used to be.
At least that's the findings of the report on worker injuries and illnesses compiled by the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services.
A trend of decreasing work site injuries and illnesses in Oregon is pushing down workers' compensation costs for the ninth consecutive year for 1999.
The average rate employers pay for workers' comp will drop by 4.8 percent next year, according to state regulators. The 4.8 percent reduction refers to what's called a "pure premium," reflecting the actual cost of illness and injury claims before insurer administrative expenses and profit are added to the rates.
Officials attribute the steady decline to workers' comp reforms and efforts to improve workplace safety that began in 1987 and culminated in 1990, spearheaded by a joint labor and management committee.
Although rates may differ for specific business and industry, the overall reduction for Oregon employers is an estimated $31 million savings. Cumulative savings from cuts since 1990 have been about $3.8 billion.
The 1999 savings are projected to be the biggest for companies involved in manufacturing, which is expected to have a 10.3 percent average drop.
Office and clerical workers' comp costs are expected to decrease an average 9.8 percent; goods and services workers will drop 9.3 percent; and construction workers are projected to remain flat.
Oregon's national ranking in workers' comp costs have moved from the sixth most expensive in the United States in 1986 to 37th by this year, according to state regulators.
Maximum benefits awarded to permanently disabled workers also has increased. They are four times higher than what they were in 1987, albeit still below the national median compensation level.
The rate of on-the-job injuries and illness per 100 workers has dropped significantly from 10.9 incidents per 100 workers in 1987 to a projected 9.7 in 1997. Injury and illnesses that caused lost workdays changed from 4.8 per 100 workers in 1987 to a projected 2.3 in 1997.
Average time loss has decreased 42.6 percent since 1990. Both the number and rate of fatality claims has decreased. In 1987, there were 78 claims, or a rate of 7.1 per 100,000 workers. In 1997, there were 43 claims, or a rate of 2.8 per 100,000 workers.
"The most important underlying fact here is that workplace injury and illness rates in Oregon have declined by about 30 percent over the past decade," said Michael Greenfield, director of the Department of Consumer and Business Services.
The amount businesses must pay to administer the state's workers' comp system and run workplace safety programs will remain the same for 1999; 7.3 percent of their total premium will go as an assessment to the state.

© 1998, The Business Journal