Injury prevention programs and measures to help injured workers return to light-duty work during recovery are contributing to the proposed decrease.
Washington employers and workers could see a 5 percent drop in workers’ compensation insurance premiums next year, the result of lower on-the-job injury rates and improvements in programs that help workers recover from injuries, state labor officials announced Wednesday.
It would mark the second straight year of decreases in the rate for an insurance system that provides medical care, disability and wage benefits for people hurt at work and for the families of those killed, and which has long been a punching bag of businesses for its costs and complexity.
The rate decrease, which would be the largest since 2007, is a far cry from what state officials were predicting half a decade ago, when lingering effects of the Great Recession threatened to cause average rates to rise into the 2020s, even after a major legislative reform package passed in 2011.
The rate changes have been much more modest, increasing slightly more than 1 percent a year, on average, from 2012 to 2018, when the rate decreased 2.5 percent. Those increases have helped refill the workers’ compensation system’s contingency reserves, which stood at about 25 percent of liabilities as of June 30.
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The Washington Department of Labor and Industries will take public comments this fall on the proposed rate decrease, which it says would be the largest year-over-year drop since 2007 and save employers and employees, who pay about a quarter of premiums, a combined $136 million next year.
The rate for any individual employer is set based on claims history for the employer and its industry. Some 2.9 million workers at almost 180,000 employers are covered by the system.
“We’ve seen a big drop in injuries at work in our state since 2012,” said Joel Sacks, who heads the state agency, in a statement. “And that’s great news because preventing injuries and making workplaces safe is our number one goal.”
One measure of workplace injuries – compensable claims, or injury claims deemed eligible for compensation from the state fund due to time lost – decreased 14 percent between the 2012 and 2017 fiscal years, even amid rapid growth in the Washington work force.
Sacks said programs implemented as part of the 2011 reform are also reducing the system’s long-term costs, including one that provides employers subsidies to help injured workers return to work faster with light duties during their recovery. Other efforts include providing vocational training support sooner after a worker is injured and tightening guidelines on prescription painkillers to reduce long-term opioid use.
Hearings on the proposed 2019 rate decrease are planned for late October in Tumwater, Tukwila and Spokane Valley. More details are available at www.lni.wa.gov/rates.