In 2021 the California Commission on Health Safety and Workers’ Compensation (CHSWC) has begun to be more skeptical about studies it commissions and the quality of such studies.
Two recent studies have run into rough sledding.
A February 25, 2001 report studying AB 1400 (i.e. cancer exposure of mechanics who repair and clean firefighting vehicles) had been prepared by ToxStrategies, Inc of Mission Viejo:
The report was heavily critiqued by CHSWC members at the September 30, 2021 CHSWC meeting, and was not adopted.
So there will be a do-over.
As a result, at the December 9, 2021 CHSWC meeting a proposal was presented for a new RFP for the fire mechanics health study required under AB 1400 (2019). The slides on elements of that draft RFP was presented by Mike Wilson of Cal/OSHA Research and Standards. An explanation of the proposal for a new RFP can be found here:
Wilson’s slides on a new RFP for the fire mechanics cancer study can be found here:
CHSWC commissioners discussed opening the RFP process up, lengthening it and notifying a wider swath of possible research entities who might prepare a quality report.
Also up for discussion at the CHSWC December 9, 2021 meeting was the CHSWC-commissioned RAND report on First Responder Mental Health. The RAND report is officially titled “Posttraumatic Stress in California’s Workers’ Compensation System: A Study of Mental Health Presumptions for Firefighters and Peace Officers Under Senate Bill 542:
Enacted in 2019, SB 542 provides a rebuttable presumption that PTSD among firefighters and peace officers is work-related. CHSWC had requested that RAND address 12 research questions initially posed by Assembly Insurance Committee Chair Tom Daly about firefighters and peace officer PTSD/PTSD claims .
A research brief summary of the RAND findings can be found here:
At the December 9 meeting, CHSWC Commissioners Kessler, Bouma, Steiger, Bloch and Roxborough expressed a range of concerns about the the methodology and conclusions of the PTSD study. While the PTSD report is being sent to Assemblyman Daly and is posted on the CHSWC website, it was decided that a letter would be drafted explaining some of the commissioner concerns. A professional firefighter spoke at the meeting, criticizing the methodology of the study. RAND interviewed only 13 firefighters and police officers in doing the study.
The concerns expressed at the CHSWC meeting basically track written concerns from Commissioners Kessler, Bouma and Roxborough that are posted on the CHSWC website and can be seen here:
As you might expect, RAND fired back, defending its methodology and conclusions, though identifying other steps that could be taken to delve into the matter further:
RAND defends its mixed-method approach which relied heavily on quantitative data mining from the WCIS (Workers’ Compensation Information System) as well as qualitative fact gathering, meeting with individuals from stakeholder groups (so-called TAG group, i.e.Technical Advisory Group). I have served on RAND TAG groups before, and know some of the authors of the PTSD report.
So in two recent instances we have a significant number of CHSWC commissioners questioning the research process and conclusions of commissioned reports. It appears that there is a lack of patience with reports where the researchers speak to only a very small number of affected individuals.
Why should readers care?
Workers comp studies have consequences. Many of the key legislative and regulatory changes in California workers’ comp have been preceded by studies.
Actually, there are 3 big purveyors of studies in the California system: CHSWC, WCIRB (the California Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau), and CWCI (the California Workers’ Compensation Institute). The latter two have data research scientists. But CHSWC relies on reports prepared by consultants, academics and think tanks.
Looking back over the past 20 years, the vast majority of CHSWC-commissioned reports have been performed by Santa Monica’s RAND. Other purveyors to CHSWC were the Berkeley Research Group, Bickmore, and a few by Frank Neuhauser of UC Berkeley.
It is undoubtedly time for CHWSC to look more carefully at RFPs and what is being requested of researchers. It may be that more resources will be needed for better reports. And it’s time for CHSWC to seek out a broader range of study providers.
Stay tuned. At year’s end I’ll be doing a post on the 2021 Top 10 Developments in California Workers’ Comp.