You just never know what the next big risk category is going to be in workers' compensation.
I had been persuaded by an argument offered by Charlie Kingdollar, Vice President emerging issues unit for General Re Corp., that nanomaterials would be the next asbestos.
OSHA has been particularly concerned with silica in the past couple of years.
The more recent concern trends have been obesity (in particular now that the American Medical Association suggests that it is a disease), opioids, and a little bit earlier it seems the claims trends were carpal tunnel syndrome and fibromyalgia.
Hearing loss seems to crop up from time to time, though not as an ongoing trend since that process is easily remedied through safe practices.
But it's more often than not something much less spectacular that really drives frequency and severity in simultaneous fashion, and a 2012 study published in the Annals of Occupational Hygiene may have identified "the next big thing:"
Prostate cancer in truck drivers.
There seem to be two competing theories: 1) long-term exposure to the kind of “whole-body vibration” experienced by truck drivers and other heavy equipment operators prompts the body to produce more testosterone, which is a known risk factor for prostate cancer; 2) the vibration can lead to prostatitis, or inflammation of the prostate gland, which may also be linked to prostate cancer.
The researchers found that those who drove a truck more than doing anything else were nearly four times more likely than educators to be diagnosed with a prostate cancer considered highly aggressive. (Educators were used as the baseline group because they were deemed to have very little to no exposure to whole-body vibration.)
Obviously truck driving isn't the only occupation that can induce "whole-body vibration" but it had the strongest link according to the study.
So does this mean that we can expect to start seeing profuse amounts of claims for prostate cancer coming in to workers' compensation? Perhaps.
The science of the study will be challenged. The application of the science to the individual claimant still needs the support of a reporting physician who has reviewed such studies and has some oncological expertise. And many states don't recognize occupational disease theories.
Still, sometimes the most innocuous sounding research leads to some significant shifts in the distribution medical care and indemnity.
Pennsylvania is already dealing with an epidemic of prostate cancer among its firefighters.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has adopted a final rule that adds prostate cancer to the list of more than 50 cancers that are compensable under the James Zadroga 911 Health and Compensation Act of 2010.
Carnac The Magnificent I am not, but I would not be surprised to see more prostate cancer cases going through the work comp system in the next five years or so, first from truckers, then other occupations that can prove up WBV.
Whether this turns into a trend remains to be seen. Cancer is one of our most prolific diseases and the cost of treatment and attendant social costs are enormous, so it would make sense that there is going to be some shift in ultimate financial responsibility.