By David Pendered
Atlanta taxpayers have paid more than $44 million over a 45-month period for a worker’s compensation program that is significantly more generous than those of other state and local governments, according to a city audit.
The cost per worker is 58 percent higher than the national average. The number of claims filed by city employees also exceeds the national average for local governments – by 2.5 times, the audit shows.
The situation results from a system that puts claims administration ahead of risk management, according to the audit. For example, Atlanta does not address safety practices with new employees, though it does inform them of how to submit claims and what benefits to expect.
The city’s regulations appear to have been ignored in some cases:
- “About 21 percent of the instances of disability leave appeared not to meet the criteria established in city code. In most of these cases the department reported the injury more than 48 hours after the injury occurred. In six instances, we found no record that the employee had filed a related compensable workers’ compensation claim.”
Carl Warren & Co. has a $2.52 million, three-year contract to administer the city’s worker’s comp program. The contract was competitively bid and took effect in 2012, city records show.
Atlanta City Auditor Leslie Ward released the audit in September. It spurred little discussion.
Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration concurred with the findings. Members of the Atlanta City Council were busy with issues including reelection campaigns and the community benefits deal involving the new Falcons stadium.
The audit showed Atlanta paid more than $44 million to cover 4,376 work-related injuries during the period studied, between July 2009 and March 2013. The sum covered medical costs, wage replacement, city disability leave, legal expenses, and payments to Carl Warren & Co.
The departments with the highest number of claims were the police department, watershed management, fire department, and public works, according to the audit. Workers in their first year of city employment filed the highest number of claims, “indicating the need for additional training and supervision for employees, particularly within those four departments.”
The average annual cost translates to about $1,681 for each full-time equivalent employee. That compares to an average of $1,061 per full-time equivalent employee as reported by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, according to the audit.
Most injured employees returned to work within a day of the reported injury.
Still, the number of injured workers was so high that 81,000 days of lost productivity were recorded during the review of the 45 months in the sample. That’s equal to about 83 persons a year, the audit showed.
Training programs could reduce the cost of Atlanta’s worker’s compensation program and help employees avoid injury by following safety precautions, the audit shows:
The audit determined that the number of repeat claimants was “high.”
A total of 927 employees filed multiple claims, accounting for 33 percent of all claimants, the audit showed. The highest number of repeat claims was 11. The average number of repeat claims by one person was 2.7.
The Department of Public Works had the highest number of repeat claims. According to the audit:
- “About 22 percent of the repeat claims were for strains to the lower back or shoulder, bruised knees or multiple body parts, sprained ankles, and foreign bodies in the eye. The most frequent injuries to new employees were ankle sprains, shoulder and back strains, knee sprains, bruises, and foreign bodies in the eye.”
Carl Warren & Co. was formed in 1944 and has headquarters in Placentia, Ca., according to its webpage. In 2011, the company purchased NovaPro Risk Solutions, which formerly managed Atlanta’s worker’s comp program, according to the audit.