Obesity diminishes almost every aspect of health and increases the risk of serious health complications, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, joint and bone inflammation, musculoskeletal disorders, and respiratory decline.
It is no surprise, then, that obesity similarly exacerbates adverse health outcomes when it is co-morbid with a work-related injury. Research has shown that injured workers who suffer from obesity are at a higher risk of experiencing a delayed return to work and developing permanent disability. As a result, the loss of earnings — and, in turn, the workers’ compensation claims costs — arising from a work-related injury will likely be elevated where a diagnosis of obesity is also present.
With this medical context in mind, some workers’ compensation practitioners have increasingly employed the strategy of characterizing obesity as a pre-existing condition for the purposes of claiming cost relief from the Second Injury and Enhancement Fund (“SIEF”). However, recent decisions of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal (“WSIAT”) demonstrate that this argument will not be easily won. To the contrary, these decisions suggest that obesity will be grounds for SIEF cost relief only where treating physicians have expressly linked a worker’s obesity to the worker’s work-related injury or its treatment.