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State sets aside $44 million for workplace safety

The state fund for injured workers is setting aside $44 million over the next two years to improve worker safety and wellness, including a new $6 million-a-year program meant to help small employers in certain kinds of high-risk industries.

The money is part of a plan that the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation announced in March to rebate $1.1 billion in premiums to Ohio’s private and public employers. It was approved Friday by the bureau’s board and is expected to begin in January.

“We at BWC have a strong history of promoting safety in the workplace, as evidenced by record-low claims,” said Sarah Morrison, the bureau’s administrator and CEO, in a statement. “This program is about expanding that effort directly to workers and creating a culture of safety among all Ohioans.”

The new program is for employers with 50 or fewer employees in specific high-risk industries and for injured workers with certain types of injuries. The industries include construction, manufacturing, police and fire, and agriculture.

Smoking-cessation programs, health coaching and chronic-disease management will be among the services that will be offered.

The award is good news for small employers, said Jill Hofmans, managing director for the Conway Center for Family Business, which includes many small businesses.

“For small businesses in central Ohio, it’s great opportunity for access to resources that they otherwise have been unable to afford in the past,” she said.

The payoff can be lower insurance costs, and healthier and more-productive workers, she said.

In addition to this program, the bureau will extend for another two years a $15 million-a-year program that provides safety grants for employers.

As part of that extension, the bureau is targeting two high-risk occupations: firefighting and employers that serve disabled children and adults.

The bureau will set aside $2 million a year over the two years for fire departments to purchase equipment, including personal protective equipment, to minimize exposure to dangerous environmental elements. Another $2 million a year will be spent on training and equipment aimed at preventing injuries among social- and health-care workers serving disabled children and adults.

The final $2 million will be used for a statewide safety-awareness and education campaign for slips, trips, falls, overexertion and motor-vehicle accidents. These are responsible for more than 60 percent of workplace injuries.

The new effort on worker health and safety comes at a time when workplace injuries are at record lows with 88,170 approved claims filed in fiscal year 2016. That’s down from 104,000 in 2010.

Of the $1.1 billion rebate program, $967 million will go to private employers and $133 million to local governments and public school districts.

Employers will begin receiving rebate checks in July.

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