Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Monetizing occupational cancer in Canada

Earlier this year, a study examining the economic cost of occupational cancer in Canada was released. “Costs of productivity loss due to occupational cancer in Canada: estimation using claims data from Workers’ Compensation Boards” found that the average annual cost of occupational cancer to the workers’ compensation system between 1996 and 2013 was $68 million (excluding costs paid by the medical system).

This is a useful study because it monetizes the cost of occupational cancer, which is the leading work-related cause of death. Like all studies, it has some weaknesses. As noted above, it does not consider costs borne by the publicly funded medical system or by cancer victims and their families. The author’s note there have been some attempts to monetize these costs:
Hopkins et al. [18] use data from the Canadian Community Health Survey, as well as published numbers from the literature to estimate the national-level cost of occupational cancer in terms of wage loss in 2009. They estimate that workers (patients) and their families have lost $ 3.18 billion [18]. Orenstein et al. [19] estimate that the indirect costs (loss of economic resources and reduced productivity) in Alberta alone are approximately $64 million per year, and that the province incurs approximately $16 million per year in medical system costs (Wranik, Muir and Hu, 2017).
There are also some methodological and data-related limitations that likely skew this study’s estimate downward. That is not a criticism of the study, just an acknowledgement that how you count and what you count affects the end result.

Perhaps the most salient things that the study highlights is that (1) there remains significant under-reporting of occupational cancer and, more broadly, (2) there is significant under-reporting of occupational fatalities.

The most commonly cited data is from the Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada, which “rolls up” provincial and territorial WCB stats. But unclaimed (or unaccepted) fatalities (of which disease claims form a significant portion) are missing from these stats.

Steve Tomb’s 1999 study of British occupational fatality statistics revealed the real rate of fatalities to be five times the officially reported rate. Given that fatalities are considered to be one of the firmer (or “harder”) measures of occupational injury in Canada, it would be interesting to see similar estimates of true the true level of fatality.

-- Bob Barnetson

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