State Touts Continued Work Comp Improvement

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — The Montana Department of Labor reports that the incidence of workers’ compensation injuries continues to decline, a trend that backers of reform to the system hope will continue.

The agency’s recent annual workers’ compensation report said the number of claims decreased about 4 percent from the past year.

Before a slate of 2011 reforms, Montana was the most expensive state in the nation to buy such insurance. In rankings released late last year, Montana moved up seven slots.

“As a state we are making great strides in preventing workplace accidents and I firmly believe the number of claims will continue to go down,” DOL commissioner Pam Bucy wrote in the report.

Bucy said the state is seeing the positive effects of the reform legislation passed. She said the agency will also be reconvening the Labor Management Advisory Council to further study the impact. Membership includes workers, business managers and others affected by the issue.

State Rep. Scott Reichner, who helped push the workers’ compensation reforms through the Legislature, said he is “absolutely pleased” with the results.

“It proves that the citizen legislature can work together to accomplish great change,” Reichner said. “Major reform along with safety training throughout the state is the reason for the major drop in rates.”

Reichner said he expects that safety training and new medical guidelines going into place will further decrease rates.

The Labor Department also said it continues to invest in training for safer workplaces and campaigns designed to get workers back to work more quickly.

Diana Ferriter, administrator for the Employment Relations Division, said that the cost of the insurance dropped another 5 percent in Montana this summer. Last year there was no change following a steep decline of 22 percent in the summer of 2011 after the legislation was signed into law.

“These trends we are seeing in reduced number of claims and controlling medical costs will just help our economy in the state while also keeping workers safe and healthy during their work life. And hopefully it is a sign that things will improve,” she said.

Ferriter said a big issue remains Montana’s relatively high rate of workplace injuries. She said the state still injures workers at much higher rates than elsewhere. And the injuries aren’t restricted to jobs most people consider high risk, like construction or mining.

In the past year, health care and social assistance workers had the highest rate of workers’ compensation injuries. The other most injury-prone fields were public administration, retail, education, food services, followed by construction and manufacturing.

The most common injury was a strain, followed by falling or tripping, and then being struck by an object.

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