2017 Teddy Award Winner

Advocacy Takes Off

For Delta Air Lines, putting employees first is the right thing to do for all company stakeholders.
By: | November 1, 2017 • 5 min read

It’s coming up on 90 years since Delta Air Lines made its first passenger flight.

Delta founder C.E. Woolman, considered a visionary by many, keenly understood how employee satisfaction has a direct bearing on company success.


“It is the initiative, the personal attitudes and the motivations of our people as they approach their daily work upon which we rely for acceptance, for growth, and for survival,” said Woolman.

No doubt he would be pleased that Delta is a winner of the 2017 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award — an honor bestowed in large part due to the company’s embrace of his founding philosophy, that Delta employees’ are the number one asset to the organization.

Headquartered in Atlanta, Delta operates a mainline fleet of more than 800 aircraft, offering service to 335 destinations in 62 countries on six continents, serving more than 180 million customers each year.

All of that rests on the shoulders of 85,000-plus employees worldwide who are exposed to a broad spectrum of workplace risks, from moving heavy cargo to serving passengers in the midst of turbulence. Caring for those workers is no small endeavor.

A 2013 shift toward an employee advocacy model for disability and leave management was a game-changer for Delta. Early success convinced the company it was the right way to go.

In 2015, the company moved to an integrated absence management program for all lines, including workers’ compensation, administered by a single TPA (Sedgwick) to further improve the employee experience.

Full Integration

Chris Collins, Delta’s vice president, global human resources services, championed the move to a single-source vendor. His goal: To reduce the frustration and duplicated processes that an employee experiences when navigating through the various programs at Delta after being injured on the job.

“We were looking for a single vendor source — a majority of the disability programs are unbundled,” explained Collins. “We couldn’t do that; it wasn’t working for us because of the way we pay the disability claims.

Chris Collins, VP Global HR Services, Delta Air Lines

“We needed it all with one vendor so that we didn’t have competing systems and competing vendors that don’t communicate well with each other.”

More than 110,000 claims were transitioned into the system, along with a staggering 5 million documents. All things considered, said Collins, the process went smoothly, allowing Delta to streamline the program and reduce duplicated redundant steps in the process.

“We reviewed and changed processes that tended to be redundant and cumbersome for the employee to manage through when a work comp injury was filed. Delta’s disability and leave benefits run concurrent when a work comp injury occurs,” said Susan Emerson, general manager, claims management, disability, leave and workers’ compensation claims.

Delta sees solid results resulting from the integrated programs. Since the move to an integrated model in 2015, Delta’s claims program has maintained an average closing ratio of 114 percent, exceeding expectations.

Of course, the most gratifying achievement is the improved employee experience with the claims process. The 2017 employee satisfaction surveys provide good comments and accolades from employees for the improved process and ease of claim handling.

“Delta Air Lines strongly embraces employee advocacy and this drives everything we do from a claims perspective,” said Lynn Williams, managing director with Sedgwick.

“We were looking for a single vendor source — a majority of the disability programs are unbundled. We needed it all with one vendor so that we didn’t have competing systems and competing vendors that don’t communicate well with each other.” — Chris Collins, vice president, global human resources services, Delta Air Lines

“Whether addressing occupational or non-occupational incidents … we all become advocates for their employees to ensure their recovery and return to a productive life.”

To Emerson, the employee advocacy model is a matter of common sense. The strategy streamlines the claim process, making it more efficient and smooth for employees.

Employee advocacy starts by adding more user-friendly language to explain benefits and the process — and removes cumbersome insurance terminology and technical terms. Being injured or ill is enough of a challenge in itself. Employees don’t need the added burden of understanding insurance and technical terminology, she said.

Susan Emerson, general manager, claims management, disability, leave and workers’ compensation claims, Delta

Additionally, Delta works with its TPA to integrate convenient offerings into the claim process. This includes direct deposit for payments to the employee (for lost wage replacement benefits, as well as reimbursement for other expenses such as mileage or out of pocket medical expenses), access to highly-rated physicians in the medical management network, a complex pharmacy review program, nurse triage, telephonic and field nurse case management services.

Emerson said she’s aware of those who perceive employee advocacy as soft and assume it may not be the best approach for some employers. “We see eyebrows raised a lot,” she said. “But Delta’s success follows that of other large employers who take a similar approach — including Disney, Safeway and industry peer Southwest Airlines. We decided ‘Stop the grinding;’ all it does is cause a lot of frustration in the process, and your employees are less apt to be favorable to your program.”

For workers’ compensation cases with a disability and leave component, the workers’ comp examiner is the single point of contact for employees and helps them navigate the disability and leave processes. This reduces phone calls and correspondence and improves payment accuracy.

Additionally, Delta created a concierge desk for its disability and leave of absence benefits. Employees can call to request assistance, ask questions or ask for direction at any time.

The integrated program focuses on assisting employees select top-tier providers or specialists immediately, ensuring that each claim is heading in the right direction from the start.


“Sedgwick has a robust network — they really pay attention to the top-tier providers and their outcomes,” said Emerson. “They do what they’re supposed to do to help employees get well and return to work. To me, that’s the best approach.”

Emerson said that while Delta’s integrated program wouldn’t be the right fit for every company, it was the right move to make for the benefit of both employees and Delta.

“You make the investment to help the process flow more smoothly for all parties involved.” &


More coverage of the 2017 Teddy Award Winners and Honorable Mentions:

Advocacy Takes Off: At Delta Air Lines, putting employees first is the right thing to do, for employees and employer alike.


Proactive Approach to Employee SafetyThe Valley Health System shifted its philosophy on workers’ compensation, putting employee and patient safety at the forefront.


Getting It Right: Better coordination of workers’ compensation risk management spelled success for the Massachusetts Port Authority.


Carrots: Not SticksAt Rochester Regional Health, the workers’ comp and safety team champion employee engagement and positive reinforcement.


Fit for Duty: Recognizing parallels between athletes and public safety officials, the city of Denver made tailored fitness training part of its safety plan.


Triage, Transparency and TeamworkWhen the City of Surprise, Ariz. got proactive about reining in its claims, it also took steps to get employees engaged in making things better for everyone.

A Lesson in Leadership: Shared responsibility, data analysis and a commitment to employees are the hallmarks of Benco Dental’s workers’ comp program.


Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Report: Marine

Crewless Ships Raise Questions

Is a remote operator legally a master? New technology confounds old terms.
By: | March 5, 2018 • 6 min read

For many developers, the accelerating development of remote-controlled and autonomous ships represents what could be the dawn of a new era. For underwriters and brokers, however, such vessels could represent the end of thousands of years of maritime law and risk management.

Rod Johnson, director of marine risk management, RSA Global Risk

While crewless vessels have yet to breach commercial service, there are active testing programs. Most brokers and underwriters expect small-scale commercial operations to be feasible in a few years, but that outlook only considers technical feasibility. How such operations will be insured remains unclear.

“I have been giving this a great deal of thought, this sits on my desk every day,” said Rod Johnson, director of marine risk management, RSA Global Risk, a major UK underwriter. Johnson sits on the loss-prevention committee of the International Union of Maritime Insurers.

“The agreed uncertainty that underpins marine insurance is falling away, but we are pretending that it isn’t. The contractual framework is being made less relevant all the time.”

Defining Autonomous Vessels

Two types of crewless vessels are being contemplated. First up is a drone with no one on board but actively controlled by a human at a remote command post on land or even on another vessel.

While some debate whether the controllers of drone aircrafts are pilots or operators, the very real question yet to be addressed is if a vessel controller is legally a “master” under maritime law.


The other type of crewless vessel would be completely autonomous, with the onboard systems making decisions about navigation, weather and operations.

Advocates tout the benefits of larger cargo capacity without crew spaces, including radically different hull designs without decks people can walk on. Doubters note a crew can fix things at sea while a ship cannot.

Rolls-Royce is one of the major proponents and designers. The company tested a remote-controlled tug in Copenhagen in June 2017.

“We think the initial early adopters will be vessels operating on fixed routes within coastal waters under the jurisdiction of flag states,” the company said.

“We expect to see the first autonomous vessel in commercial operation by the end of the decade. Further out, around 2025, we expect autonomous vessels to operate further from shore — perhaps coastal cargo ships. For ocean-going vessels to be autonomous, it will require a change in international regulations, so this will take longer.”

Once autonomous ships are a reality, “the entire current legal framework for maritime law and insurance is done,” said Johnson. “The master has not been replaced; he is just gone. Commodity ships (bulk carriers) would be most amenable to that technology. I’m not overly bothered by fully automated ships, but I am extremely bothered by heavily automated ones.”

He cited two risks specifically: hacking and fire.

“We expect to see the first autonomous vessel in commercial operation by the end of the decade. Further out, around 2025, we expect autonomous vessels to operate further from shore — perhaps coastal cargo ships. For ocean-going vessels to be autonomous, it will require a change in international regulations, so this will take longer.” — Rolls-Royce Holdings study

Andrew Kinsey, senior marine risk consultant, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, asked an even more existential question: “From an insurance standpoint, are we even still talking about a vessel as it is under law? Starting with the legal framework, the duty of a flag state is ‘manning of ships.’ What about the duty to render assistance? There cannot be insurance coverage of an illegal contract.”

Several sources noted that the technological development of crewless ships, while impressive, seems to be a solution in search of a problem. There is no known need in the market; no shippers, operators, owners or mariners advocate that crewless ships will solve their problems.

Kinsey takes umbrage at the suggestion that promotional material on crewless vessels cherry picks his company’s data, which found 75 percent to 90 percent of marine losses are caused by human error.


“Removing the humans from the vessels does not eliminate the human error. It just moves the human error from the helm to the coder. The reports on development by the companies with a vested interest [in crewless vessels] tend to read a lot like advertisements. The pressure for this is not coming from the end users.”

To be sure, Kinsey is a proponent of automation and technology when applied prudently, believing automation can make strides in areas of the supply chains. Much of the talk about automation is trying to bury the serious shortage of qualified crews. It also overshadows the very real potential for blockchain technology to overhaul the backend of marine insurance.

As a marine surveyor, Kinsey said he can go down to the wharf, inspect cranes, vessels and securements, and supervise loading and unloading — but he can’t inspect computer code or cyber security.

New Times, New Risks

In all fairness, insurance language has changed since the 17th century, especially as technology races ahead in the 21st.

“If you read any hull form, it’s practically Shakespearean,” said Stephen J. Harris, senior vice president of marine protection UK, Marsh. “The language is no longer fit for purpose. Our concern specifically to this topic is that the antiquated language talks about crew being on board. If they are not on board, do they still legally count as crew?”

Harris further questioned, “Under hull insurance, and provided that the ship owner has acted diligently, cover is extended to negligence of the master or crew. Does that still apply if the captain is not on board but sitting at a desk in an office?”

Andrew Kinsey, senior marine risk consultant, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty

Several sources noted that a few international organizations, notably the Comite Maritime International and the International Maritime Organization, “have been very active in asking the legal profession around the world about their thoughts. The interpretations vary greatly. The legal complications of crewless vessels are actually more complicated than the technology.”

For example, if the operational, insurance and regulatory entities in two countries agree on the voyage of a crewless vessel across the ocean, a mishap or storm could drive the vessel into port or on shore of a third country that does not recognize those agreements.

“What worries insurers is legal uncertainty,” said Harris.

“If an operator did everything fine but a system went down, then most likely the designer would be responsible. But even if a designer explicitly accepted responsibility, what matters would be the flag state’s law in international waters and the local state’s law in territorial waters.


“We see the way ahead for this technology as local and short-sea operations. The law has to catch up with the technology, and it is showing no signs of doing so.”

Thomas M. Boudreau, head of specialty insurance, The Hartford, suggested that remote ferry operations could be the most appropriate use: “They travel fixed routes, all within one country’s waters.”

There could also be environmental and operational benefits from using battery power rather than conventional fuels.

“In terms of underwriting, the burden would shift to the manufacturer and designer of the operating systems,” Boudreau added.

It may just be, he suggested, that crewless ships are merely replacing old risks with new ones. Crews can deal with small repairs, fires or leaks at sea, but small conditions such as those can go unchecked and endanger the whole ship and cargo.

“The cyber risk is also concerning. The vessel may be safe from physical piracy, but what about hacking?” &

Gregory DL Morris is an independent business journalist based in New York with 25 years’ experience in industry, energy, finance and transportation. He can be reached at [email protected]