COLUMBIA — Aiken County residents who were injured at work may find that one of the people involved in their fate is someone they know.
Former North Augusta city councilman Thomas Scott Beck, 55, was confirmed this month as chairman of the seven-person South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission. He also represented North Augusta as a Republican in the House of Representatives in the 1990s. The seat, District 83, is now held by Republican Rep. Bill Hixon.
Beck was a SWAT training instructor at the Savannah River Site from 1983 to 1991 before rising to Security Operations Manager at the federal site, according to materials submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee. An SRS official said that Beck worked for security contractor WSI-SRS, a company of G4S Government Solutions Security, and at one point, for the Special Response Team.
During Beck’s testimony before a Senate panel this month, Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, wanted to know who benefitted from the commission’s decisions under his leadership. Beck has been serving as the commission’s interim chairman with a salary of about $119,000 and was initially appointed in 2008. Decades earlier, Kimpson’s father chaired the Workers’ Compensation Commission.
“During his tenure, there was a willingness or a record of erring on the side of giving the worker more disability benefits,” said the Charleston Democrat.
“Do you feel that there has been an effort by the commission to reduce disability benefits since the time you’ve been on the commission?”
Beck said there was not. “Our duty is to apply facts to law and come up with a just result, whatever that result may be,” he said.
Beck acknowledged the amount paid out for medical and other needs has decreased.
“That number has come down a little bit,” said Beck. “We’ve gone through a downturn in the economy. A lot of people weren’t working that used to be working.”
He also said the process of docketing and hearing a case has gotten shorter.
“You’re cutting the amount of time from 181 days to 78 days,” added Beck. “Probably a large percentage of these people are on a running award. Getting that case to a hearing and deciding matters, I think, in and of itself, saves a large sum of money.”
Employees may seek a hearing before a commissioner if their employer didn’t report the accident, if they feel they deserve more benefits, or if they can’t reach an agreement with their employer.
Another case is if the employer denies that a worker was hurt in the course of doing official work.
In the most recent fiscal year, premiums paid into the workers’ compensation system totaled nearly $928 million. Prior to that, the figures were $857 million and $843 million.
Beck’s office did not respond to a voicemail and e-mail last week and could not be reached Friday by phone.
Kimpson wasn’t the only lawmaker curious about Beck’s approach to injured workers.
“Do you have pressure?” asked Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Horry.
“Do you feel as a chairman that you have a role regarding the cost of doing business in South Carolina, as it relates to injured workers?”
Amid questions of whether some in the business community touted commissioners as pro-business allies who sought to limit costs to employers, Beck said commissioners have an obligation to treat all litigants fairly.
“No one side should have the scale tipped in their favor,” he said.