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Using Workers’ Compensation Records for Safety and Health Research

Posted on by David F. Utterback, Ph.D.; Alysha R. Meyers, Ph.D., AEP; Steve Wurzelbacher, PhD, CPE, ARM

Workers’ compensation insurance has been established in all states to provide income protection, medical treatment, and rehabilita­tion for employees who are injured or become ill as a result of work.  Workers’ compensation claims and medical treatment records along with other information resources have been used to conduct occupational safety and health research and surveillance and to identify intervention needs. The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention (SHARP) program, among many other public health agencies, have produced numerous publications based on workers’ compensation data analysis.

Earlier this week, NIOSH released a document, Workers’ Compensation Insurance: A Primer for Public Health to help public health researchers and practitioners, particu­larly those in occupational safety and health, broaden their understanding of workers’ compensation insurance, relevant aspects of the insurance industry records, and the potential uses of that information for public health pur­poses.  The primer contains background and a brief history of the workers’ compensation programs in the U.S.  It also describes: (1) benefits and premiums; (2) the relationship between premiums and safety incentives; (3) roles of insurers, state agencies and third party administrators; (4) types of policies; (5) claims and other workers’ compensation insurance information on medical treatments, costs and disability status; (6) limitations of current industry data standards; (7) loss prevention programs; and (8) public health research, surveillance and regulations. A glossary of workers’ compensation terms and a guide for prospective research and surveillance projects are also included.

Did You Know?

  • In 2010, workers’ compensation insurance covered over 124 million US workers at a total cost of $71 billion to employers, $28.1 billion in payments to medical providers, and $29.5 billion in benefits to workers (Sengupta et al. 2012).
  • Not only can workers’ compensation records be used to determine the frequency of injuries and illnesses, but also disability status, medical treatments, their costs, hospitalizations, days away from work, and rehabilitation.
  • Insurers also collect data on covered employers, including the types of hazards present in the workplace, safety/ health programs and controls in place to prevent injury/ illness and return-to-work programs to reduce injury/ illness severity.

The primer follows two workshops (September 2009 and June 2012) sponsored by several government agencies, including NIOSH, and private organizations on the use of workers’ compensation data for occupational safety and health purposes.  Workshop participants noted that while much progress is being made in understand­ing the merits of workers’ compensation data resources, significant limitations exist. For example, these data appear to constitute an incomplete record of occupational injuries and illnesses at the state level. While standards for col­lecting and compiling the data exist, they are not uni­versally used. Some fields on the record forms are often blank or incomplete and essential information for public health purposes, such as occupation, race, ethnicity, and duration of employment, may not be recorded. Multiple parties add data to the records at various stages as claims work their ways through the employees, employers, medical facilities, third-party administrators and state agencies.

Yet, important public health research and surveillance can be conducted with available data as long as the limitations and their effects on generalizability are considered.  For example, workers’ compensation records contain information on medical treatments and their costs, hospitalizations, degree and length of disability, and use of rehabilitation services. In some states, such as California and Washington, the workers’ compensation claims information is used to identify more hazardous industries or leading events for claims across all industries.  Other research organizations, state-based surveillance programs, and workers’ compensation agencies and associations have used claims data for research and surveillance purposes (specific citations are listed in the primer). Collaborations have been mostly within states due to problems with combining data from multiple jurisdictions. NIOSH is promoting additional collaborations which would create further opportunities to use workers’ compensation records and related information to prevent occupational injuries, illnesses and fatalities.

Development of the primer and creation of the NIOSH Center for Workers’ Compensation Studies (CWCS) are first steps in better utilizing workers’ compensation data for workplace injury and illness prevention.   We welcome your suggestions on how to utilize workers’ compensation data more effectively or how to develop effective partnerships between data custodians and public health agencies, and we would appreciate hearing from you in the comment section below.

David F. Utterback, Ph.D.; Alysha R. Meyers, Ph.D., AEP; Steve Wurzelbacher, PhD, CPE, ARM

Dr. Utterback is a Senior Helath Scientist and the NORA Services Sector Coordinator.

Dr. Meyers is an Epidemiologist in the NIOSH Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations and Field Studies.

Dr. Wurzelbacher is the Director of the NIOSH Center for Workers’ Compensation Studies (CWCS).


Posted on by David F. Utterback, Ph.D.; Alysha R. Meyers, Ph.D., AEP; Steve Wurzelbacher, PhD, CPE, ARM

59 comments on “Using Workers’ Compensation Records for Safety and Health Research”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    Thank God contractors don’t need workers compensations, and we provide our own. I didn’t know the CDC was into this subject.

    Glad to learn from this initiative that Ohio’s Bureau of Workers Compensation expanded the Safety Intervention Grant$ Program. The program is available to any Ohio state-fund or public employer who wishes to purchase equipment to substantially reduce or eliminate injuries and illnesses associated with a particular task or operation; a 3-to-1 matching grant to buy equipment to reduce/eliminate #workplace injuries illnesses #safety

    Great article ! It’s nessicery that Workers’ compensation insurance been established in all states to provide income protection.


    My Name it’s Amy Witkinson. Nice article. thanks for sharing with us. i like this topic [ Using Workers’ Compensation Records for Safety and Health Research ]

    Warm Regad’s
    Amy Witkinkson –

    Health and safety research is essential and it’s great that it is catered towards the workers in such a way.

    The health of workers always is at risk and it is expected that the Government will protect its workforce through fair and timely compensation plans. The work of NIOSH it is important to disseminate these compensation plans and its success will depend on a realistic, up-to-date, and timely database.

    I believe this “Workers’ Compensation Insurance” has benefited many! We can say this is a great insurance policy from the government.
    Richard Johans

    Too many people you that work something to get free money from the Government, this people want to run this country down.

    The article is really wonderful. The life of workers are always in danger. It’s necessary that workers’ compensation insurance been established in all states to provide income protection. Good job.

    Insurance for income protection is so often overlooked.
    Good post. I think having long-term disability insurance is the best protection a worker can have. It is inexpensive because it is basically just emergency insurance. Insurance quotes sites are flooding the internet because of the perceived need for all types of coverage.

    Let us not deceive ourselves: Occupational toxic chemical exposures and resultant diseases – the major cause of worker morbidity and mortality – will not show up in workers compensation records, due to the long latency period between period of exposure and manifestation of the disease.
    Patrice Woeppel, Ed.D.

    Excellent point Patrice; on timeline between exposure and manifestation of negative results. This has been proven over and over in the last 100 years; never more so than the 9/11 disaster. How many responders doing recovery, cleanup, etc. have become sick even years later as the manifestation of so many different types of medical problems have, and are, still occurring; cancers, heart problems, and even mental health issues which can be directly attributed to this one single event. Speaking of mental health; how many family members; wives, parents, and children have been indirectly affected? My point simply is “look at the bigger picture” when dealing with statistics; not just the responders!
    Thank you.
    Ron Shipley

    Interesting that workers’ compensation insurance is being used for this kind of research. If it really covers over 124 million workers, then it is a great way to access a large amount of data on workplace injuries. However, I wonder if just accessing data from workers’ compensation insurance paints the whole picture. Is this research being supplemented with any other method?

    No single source of information is sufficient to characterize risks for occupational exposures, injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. Workers’ compensation is but one often overlooked data source that can serve as a useful supplement to other sources. An overview of NIOSH’s surveillance approach can be found at

    We are all aware of the danger that our workers are facing every single day and this workers’ compensation insurance is a great way to show how important the workers are to our society.

    thank you for your great article , I hope you will continue your research, for the sake of humanity.
    Although I do not really understand things like this.
    But, thanks again for the article and the research.
    Keep the spirits NIOSH

    Thanks for sharing the post! The lives of workers are always in danger and threst . Keep the good work up! keep doing researches.


    Glad to learn from this awesome post that Ohio’s Bureau of Workers Compensation expanded the Safety Intervention Grant$ Program.

    Workers comp always seems to be a big thing these days where it has basically almost eliminated common sense in the workplace just so insurances won’t have yo pay out claims and in any case from all injuries during duties I have seen that have gone to court, insurance usually finds a way to worm their way out of their dues. Good post though and thanks for bringing to us

    Thanks for sharing the post! it’s really nice for It’s necessary that workers’ compensation insurance been established in all states to provide income protection.

    Very nice blog post. Thanks for sharing the useful information with us. Compensation insurance policies is very beneficial for workers.

    Thanks for this wonderful blog post. Compensation insurance policy is very beneficial for workers. It really helps a lot.

    Thanks, interesting post. Workers’ compensation data systems, although limited in many ways, contain information such as medical treatments, their costs and outcomes, and disability causes that are unavailable from national occupational surveillance sources.

    This is a very useful professional article. I’ll make sure to bookmark it and come back to learn extra of your useful info.
    M F Husain
    Thanks for the post

    befitting article. Third world country needs to think about it and imply its the workplace. Thanks for sharing. I wish all the best for next one. I going to bookmark this page.

    So who needs workers’ comp insurance? That may be the first important question that a business needs to address, because not every business is required to purchase workers’ compensation insurance.


    Although state laws require that the vast majority of employers carry workers’ compensation insurance or self-insure, several states exclude sole proprietorships/partnerships and certain industries (such as farms) from required coverage. It is suggested that you contact your state’s workers’ compensation agency for current requirements- see for a convenient listing.

    Thanks for this wonderful blog post. Compensation insurance policy is very beneficial for workers. It really helps a lot.

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