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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Genetics and Workers' Compensation Claims

Genetic predisposition to occupational illness and disease presents a complex issue in workers’ compensation claims and health technology assessment. New methods now permit the identification of individuals who have risk factors establishing a greater propensity for disabling medical conditions.

The challenge of how to use this evidence in the workplace, to create both a safer work environment, while maintaining the privacy of the existence of the workers’ genetic propensity is an on going challenge. Additionally, genetic evidence becomes increasingly important to establish pre-existing and co-existing medical conditions that might reduce or bar recovery in claims for benefits under workers’ compensation acts.

Testimony offered at trial has effective defeated claims.  Evidence has been effective presented to defeat occupational claims, A defense expert testified,"....that studies show almost conclusively that no occupation causes a degenerative disc. It's familial. It's genetic. It has to do with how the DNA forms the disc in embryonic development.’” Allgood v. Parsons Trucking Co., 148 N. C.App. 405 (N.C.App. (2002).

A delicate balance exists between, the ethical, moral and legal use of this evidence. The appropriate use of this information by an employers in assessing risks and benefits in the workplace is challenging. Many tasks at work now include risk factors of a  carcinogenic, mutagenic, and/or genotoxic nature.

NIOSH ‘s recently published report,  Genetics in the Workplace: Implications for Occupational Safety and Health, addresses balancing some of aspects of these issues while focussing on the paramount issue of safety in the workplace. The use of genetic information in occupational safety and health research requires careful attention because of the real or perceived opportunities for the misuse of genetic information. Society in general and workers in particular have concerns that discrimination and lack of opportunity will result from the inappropriate use of genetic information [MacDonald and Williams-Jones 2002; Maltby 2000]. While only sparse or anecdotal information supports this contention, a wide range of workers, legislators, scientists, and public health researchers have concern that such discrimination could occur. Thus, GINA and other regulations were passed to prevent the potential misuse and abuse of genetic information in the workplace. Examples of safeguards include rules and practices for maintaining privacy and confidentiality, prohibition of discrimination, and support of a worker’s right of self- determination (autonomy) with regard to genetic information.”

Click here to read more about occupational illness and genetics.