Occupational Injury: Do Family Members Pay a Price?


niosh1When an occupational injury occurs, the effects can extend far beyond the worker and the workplace. Just ask family members who may have to take care of their injured relative or do additional household chores and errands.

Hypothetically, this could mean a spouse or child helping to support a much larger, injured relative to move to the dinner table or a child lugging heavy laundry and groceries or moving furniture.

But almost all occupational injury studies, including economic studies, focus on injured workers or their employers and the costs of healthcare and lost productivity either through or outside workers’ compensation, not on the possible repercussions for the injured worker’s family.

A pioneering study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and Northern Kentucky University found that family members of severely injured workers filed more healthcare claims than family members of non-severely injured workers for fractures, sprains, joint dislocations, and other muscle and bone or “musculoskeletal” disorders.

The researchers linked 17,238 workers’ compensation claims with family members’ outpatient healthcare claims for musculoskeletal disorders. They classified workers as severely injured, and therefore more likely to need physically demanding help from family members, if they received wage replacement or indemnity payments from workers’ compensation and were absent from work for at least 7 days.

Using 2005–2006 claims data from 37 large employers, the researchers found that, in the 3 months after the occupational injury, claims relating to musculoskeletal disorders among family members of severely injured workers exceeded those for family members of non-severely injured workers by 34%. The increase persisted even after the researchers accounted for other factors, such as pre-existing musculoskeletal disorders.

Nationwide, the researchers estimated that these excess outpatient costs for family members of severely injured workers amounted to $29 million to $33 million per year during the study period.

Because their estimate did not include hospitalization claims or those submitted more than 3 months after injury, the actual excess costs for family members of severely injured workers could be even higher.

To understand further the full toll of occupational injury on workers’ families, the researchers plan to assess additional family consequences of occupational injury.