Proposed Legislation to Require Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Benefits to Include Coverage for PTSD

CT General Assembly logoFollowing the Newtown school tragedy, a number of emergency response workers and teachers were unable to return to work because of the emotional repercussions of what they witnessed at the scene. In response, the Connecticut Labor & Public Employees Committee introduced Senate Bill No. 823, “An Act Concerning Severe Mental or Emotional Impairment and Workers’ Compensation Coverage”.  The legislation would amend the Connecticut workers’ compensation laws to allow for claims based on emotional trauma. The current law limits workers’ compensation claims to workers who suffer physical injury. If the physical injury also results in emotional pain and suffering, the claimant may also collect for these injuries. The amendment, if passed, will most likely restrict claims based on emotional trauma to employees who are exposed to death or maiming while at work.

The Connecticut Office of Legislative Research provides the following summary of the pending legislation:

“This bill makes an employee eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if:

1. the employee’s employment caused the employee to witness the death or maiming, or immediate aftermath of the death or maiming, of at least one person;

2. the death or maiming was caused by an intentional act of another person, and not a natural cause; and

3. a licensed and board certified mental health professional diagnoses the employee with a mental or emotional impairment and determines that the impairment originated from the employee witnessing the death or maiming, or its immediate aftermath.

Except for special circumstances related to police officers and firefighters, current law does not provide workers’ compensation benefits for mental or emotional impairments unless they stem from a work-related physical injury or occupational disease.

The bill also extends all workers’ compensation benefits to (1) police officers who suffer a mental or emotional impairment caused by using, or being subjected to, deadly force in the line of the duty and (2) firefighters diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder caused by witnessing the death of another firefighter in the line of duty. Current law limits the benefits in these instances to treatment by a psychologist or psychiatrist approved by the Workers’ Compensation Commission.”

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities is opposed to the bill largely because of the likely impact on municipal budgets. There is also concern that the changes would result in abuse of the workers’ compensation system by workers who witness trauma at work and file fraudulent emotional distress claims. The Insurance Association of Connecticut (IAC) is also opposing the legislation.

To read the full text of the bill see File No. 53 at the Connecticut General Assembly website.


Silicosis: Delay in Adopting Rules to Limit Exposure to Silica

construction workerSilicosis is an incurable lung disease caused by breathing in particles of silica dust. Silica is also linked to other diseases like lung cancer and chronic renal disease. The types of employment where silica dust exposure is most prevalent include mining, construction and manufacturing. According to health professionals, thousands of patients are diagnosed with silicosis each year and hundreds die from the disease.

Almost a year ago the Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed new regulations intended to combat this work place hazard. However, worker safety advocates maintain that industry stakeholders are interfering with the passage of the regulations. The existing rules limiting worker exposure to silica were adopted in the 1960s and occupational health experts insist that the safe limit is half of what is permitted by the current standard. Members of a coalition representing several industries claim that the current levels are adequate to protect workers and the changes proposed by the new regulations would cost billions of dollars. Jackson Morrill, the head of the coalition, asserts that the real problem is a failure on the part of employers to comply with the current rules.

Union groups and safety advocates are frustrated with the delay in passing the proposed regulations and are pushing for the Department of Labor to initiate a public debate and put an end to behind the scenes negotiations. According to a statement issued by The National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health “the current standard is many decades old and is insufficient to protect workers from this serious occupational health hazard… The silica rule delay is extraordinary and without explanation…”

Click here to read a letter written to President Obama, signed by 300 public health scientists, doctors, and occupational safety experts, asking him to direct the White House Office of Management and Budget to complete its review of the proposed regulations.

Sources: New Silica Rules Languish In Regulatory Black Hole, by Nell Greenfield Boyce, NPR Morning Edition, February 2, 2012., January 26, 2012.