Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Council Again Recommends Funding Source for Safety, Fraud Programs

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Council Again Recommends Funding Source for Safety, Fraud Programs

Article excerpt

For the fourth year in a row, the Worker Safety Policy Council is recommending that the Legislature establish a permanent funding source for job safety and workers compensation fraud programs.

This year, the stable-funding recommendation tops the panel's list.

Currently, the State Department of Labor's OSHA consultation program, attorney general's Workers Compensation Fraud Unit and the Department of Career-Technology's safety education program are funded by a portion of workers compensation awards. Five percent goes to the labor agency's safety program and 2.5 percent each to the fraud unit and safety education program.

Funding for the programs has dropped in recent years due to fewer claims being filed with the Workers Compensation Court.

Council officials said the declining revenue threatens the ability of these agencies to continue efforts that have helped reduce injuries and on-the-job fatalities, expose fraud and lower workers compensation costs. They also said that the current funding method punishes injured workers by reducing their awards.

The labor department's consultation provides employers with a nonpunitive approach to identifying workplace hazards and eliminating job-related injuries.

Since the Legislature started funding the programs, the labor department has increased its full-time consultants by 18 and generated a 200 percent increase in consultations.

"Since its inception, the council has closely followed its legislative mandate by submitting recommendations," said labor Commissioner Brenda Reneau Wynn. "But few of those recommendations have been introduced in either house and none have been enacted into law."

Last year, the council proposed a surcharge, to be deducted from workers comp payments to attorneys and medical providers, to provide permanent funding. At the time, officials said that a 2 percent to 3 percent surcharge would generate slightly more income than the existing funding mechanism. …

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