(c) 2016 Jon L Gelman, All Rights Reserved.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Risk That Is Just Too Big for Workers' Compensation: Global Warming

Unforseen to the crafters of the workers' compensation system more than a century ago was the factor of global warming and its dire consequences. A risk too big to cover. While workers' compensation was intended to provide coverage for industrially related accidents and injuries, no one envisioned the effects of global warming, ironically industrially precipitated, upon the workplace environment.

Workers compensation was supposed to insure injured workers from all risks in the workplace, both human or "Acts of God," ie. climate related. Weather-related events now top the news. This year weather induced: flooding, drought, Polar Vortex(s) and the next El Nino are capturing the headlines and causing havoc and illnesses and injuries in the workplace.

Today the UN Intercontinental Panel on Climate Change (UN IPCC) has issued a dire pronouncement. The NY Times reports, "It cited the risk of death or injury on a widespread scale, probable damage to public health, displacement of people and potential mass migrations."

The key risks that follow, all of which are identified with high confidence, span sectors and regions. 

i. Risk of death, injury, ill-health, or disrupted livelihoods in low-lying coastal zones and small island developing states and other small islands, due to storm surges, coastal flooding, and sea-level rise.

ii. Risk of severe ill-health and disrupted livelihoods for large urban populations due to inland flooding in some regions.

iii. Systemic risks due to extreme weather events leading to breakdown of infrastructure networks and critical services such as electricity, water supply, and health and emergency services.

iv. Risk of mortality and morbidity during periods of extreme heat, particularly for vulnerable urban populations and those working outdoors in urban or rural areas.

v. Risk of food insecurity and the breakdown of food systems linked to warming, drought, flooding, and precipitation variability and extremes, particularly for poorer populations in urban and rural settings.

vi. Risk of loss of rural livelihoods and income due to insufficient access to drinking and irrigation water and reduced agricultural productivity, particularly for farmers and pastoralists with minimal capital in semi-arid regions.

vii. Risk of loss of marine and coastal ecosystems, biodiversity, and the ecosystem goods, functions, and services they provide for coastal livelihoods, especially for fishing communities in the tropics and the Arctic.

viii. Risk of loss of terrestrial and inland water ecosystems, biodiversity, and the ecosystem goods, functions, and services they provide for livelihoods.

A few weather related injuries were not a problem in the past for the beleaguered occupationally related insurance program to handle.However the UN IPCC's prediction of risk and consequences is at an unimaginable magnitude.   The consequences of climate appear to be a risk that is just too big for workers' compensation to handle.
Jon L. Gelman of Wayne NJ is the author NJ Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thompson) and co-author of the national treatise, Modern Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thompson). For over 4 decades the Law Offices of Jon L Gelman  1.973.696.7900  have been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.