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State pays back $1B in workers' comp to public, private employers

By MARC KOVAC Capital Bureau Chief Published: May 1, 2017 10:55 AM

COLUMBUS -- The Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation has finalized another $1 billion payback to private and public employers, plus plans for additional support for workplace safety and wellness initiatives, including a new program aimed at small businesses.

The rebate was announced last month by Gov. John Kasich, but the BWC board gave its formal approval April 28.

Upward of 200,000 employers will receive checks later this year equal to 66 percent of the premiums they paid into the system in 2015 and/or '16. It's the third round of BWC paybacks since Kasich took office, thanks, in part, to higher-than-expected investment returns.

Private businesses stand to receive a combined $967 million, while school districts and other public employers will get $133 million. The largest single rebate will be about $15 million, the smallest will be about $79, and the average check will be about $6,000, according to the BWC.

During a press conference at a suburban Columbus retirement community Friday, BWC Administrator/CEO Sarah Morrison and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor also announced a new $44 million worker safety initiative, with $12 million over the next two years directed to smoking cessation, chronic disease management and other wellness efforts for businesses with 50 or fewer employees.

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The programming will be directed at workers involved in construction, manufacturing, first responders, agricultural industries and others.

" Nearly 60 percent of individuals in the U.S. suffer from some sort of chronic condition, such as obesity, diabetes or asthma," Morrison said. "Those chronic conditions can complicate a workers' safety and their recovery if they're injured Wellness programs can address these issues."

BWC also plans to continue to provide $15 million annually for safety grants, with $4 million set aside for specific high-risk occupations-- $2 million for fire departments to purchase protective equipment and $2 million for workers who serve disabled residents.

"Individuals who serve these populations are at a very high risk for injury and have very specific safety needs," Morrison said of the latter. "To put it in perspective, their injury rates exceed those of construction workers and workers in most manufacturing occupations."

Another $2 million will go toward a statewide education effort aimed at reducing "slips, trips, falls, overexertion and motor vehicle accidents," which account for more than 60 percent of workplace injuries, according to BWC.

Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at mkovac@recordpub.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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