2015 Teddy Award Winner

Checking Out Solutions

From celebrating safety success to aggressively rooting out fraud and abuse, Stater Bros. Markets is making workers’ comp risk management gains on multiple fronts.
By: | November 2, 2015 • 7 min read

Tamara Ulufanua-Ciraulo likes to think of the workers at her grocery store chain as “industrial athletes” — and all of the company’s safety, loss prevention, workers’ compensation and return-to-work programs are geared toward having them perform at their competitive best.

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“The grocery industry is a physically demanding job, and you have to be fit, like an athlete — they are lifting, running, pushing, stretching, straining every day,” said Ulufanua-Ciraulo, director of insurance at Stater Bros. Supermarkets in San Bernardino, Calif.

The grocer supports its industrial athletes not only with measures to expedite their recovery after injuries, but also with a myriad of incentive programs to avoid injuries altogether, Ulufanua-Ciraulo said — “We’re pushing safety in all avenues of the store.”

Indeed, the team has developed a wide swath of innovative programs, from safety awareness training using dedicated onsite loss prevention consultants, to incentivizing employees for loss prevention, to expanding modified duty to accelerate workers’ return-to-work, to clamping down on workers’ comp fraud, prescription abuse and drug selling.

Tamara Ulufanua-Ciraulo, director of insurance, Stater Bros. Markets

Tamara Ulufanua-Ciraulo, director of insurance, Stater Bros. Markets

The results have been impressive, with a reduction in injuries and a drop in workers’ comp costs.

Unlike most grocers, Stater Bros. has four dedicated loss control professionals from The Hartford, its workers’ comp insurance provider. The consultants work onsite to aid the grocer’s team in controlling exposure, reducing losses, improving operations and resolving compliance issues. The Hartford group reports directly to Steve Toscano, Stater Bros.’ supervisor of support services.

“We all look at the claims we have, which gives us the ability to identify and systematically eliminate risks that come on our plate as soon as they are trending,” Toscano said. “That approach is what gives us the edge.”

For example, after analyzing knife cuts within the meat department, The Hartford group suggested that meat cutters wear wire mesh gloves, resulting in an immediate reduction in lacerations.

“We are the only grocer in California to have all of our meat cutters state-certified,” Ulufanua-Ciraulo said.

“We care about our brothers and sisters. We care about our team. Our great leader Jack H. Brown always tells us, ‘Do the right thing for the right reasons.’ And we do.” — Tamara Ulufanua-Ciraulo, director of insurance, Stater Bros. Markets

The grocer is particularly focused on teaching workers how to be more aware of safety, said Mark Ramer, safety supervisor for Stater Bros.’ distribution center. For example, the company developed a concise directive on how to best handle hazardous materials: “Double bag it. Label it. Tag it.”

Playing on the “industrial athlete” theme, Stater Bros. offers the ICE PACK Program. ICE PACK is a lengthy but fitting acronym for “Industrial athlete Care and Evaluation working towards Prevention, Aid, Consultation and Knowledge.” The grocer offers free first aid, advice, taping, wrapping, and icing for aches, pains and injuries to distribution and transportation employees four days a week, in excess of two hours per day, provided by physical therapists. It’s “like an athletic training room with preventive care,” Ulufanua-Ciraulo said.

Because of this program, along with other safety initiatives, injuries at the distribution center fell from 118 in 2012, to 68 in 2014. The ICE PACK program was added to the transportation department this April, and since that time, there have been zero recordable driver injuries.

Celebrating Safety

Incentive programs for safe practices are a big deal at Stater Bros. Its “Safety Recognition Program” offers an increasing number of incentives for every year a store has had zero recordable industrial injuries, with rewards such as catered employee appreciation parties, Stater Bros. gift cards, in-store drawings, and Stater Bros. apparel gift certificates. In 2015, 25 stores exceeded the two-year mark of zero recordable industrial injuries, and the number of stores that logged one year without any reportable workers’ compensation claims rose from 33 in 2014, to 53 in 2015.

Stater Bros.’ employees share their appreciation for the store’s safety leadership during a party celebrating two accident-free years at Store #139 in Murrieta, Calif.

Stater Bros.’ “Jump Start Program” targets stores that have difficulty controlling workers’ comp injuries. The company recognizes store employees with incremental rewards on a fast-paced scale to keep employees engaged and thinking about safety, and as a result, the number of injuries have declined.

There is also an incentive program for safe practices for distribution center workers. Employees who work without a reportable injury during each quarter are eligible for a drawing of Stater Bros. gift cards, and 10 percent of all eligible employees receive a gift card. In addition, every employee who completes one year without a workers’ comp injury receives a gift card.

The grocer has also expanded its comprehensive modified work program for the transportation and distribution centers, from five days to seven days, to better accommodate injured employees’ current work week schedules.

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Employees are temporarily accommodated at retail locations based on their restrictions, and receive various types of scheduled training for the modified duty period, including training videos with testing and discussions that focus on body parts susceptable to injuries. In addition, third-party occupational therapists train and monitor the recovery progress of workers.

The expanded program complies with Stater Bros.’ collective bargaining agreement with the Teamsters Union, as workers have been able to maintain their regular rate of pay without moving to long-term status, Ulufanua-Ciraulo said.

“I’m sure our workers recognize how much the company is concerned about them personally and that we’re trying to ensure a smooth transition in their return-to-work, by allowing them to have a modified schedule for a period of time,” she said.

Tackling Abuse

The grocer is also particularly aggressive in its prescription monitoring, going above and beyond checking the state’s database system to make sure physicians are not over-prescribing medications to its workers. The company also conducts drug tests to determine whether workers are actually taking their drugs and not selling them, Ulufanua-Ciraulo said.

For example, if the grocer spends $4,000 a month in prescriptions for an individual worker who then tests “zero” because they are not taking their medications, Stater Bros. asks the treating physician to review the scripts.

The grocer has been able to overturn a “complex regional pain syndrome” claim because the doctor stated the employee could not do without the medications based on the diagnosis — even though the worker was actually not taking them.

Stater Bros. has implemented reviews for complex pharmacy claims to identify employees who may need an prescription drug intervention. It also uses “narcotics contracts” with employees to set expections for use of prescription medications.

Under the program, the grocer saw a reduction in prescription medication for “high utilizers” over a four-month period, resulting in savings of $100,000.

The company also closely monitors for workers’ comp fraud. The grocer learned about several Facebook and YouTube posts showing Shawna Palmer, a Stater Bros. employee who was off duty on a workers’ comp claim for an fractured toe, subsequently competing in local beauty pageants in high heels without any apparent discomfort.

Stater Bros. Markets’ Workers’ Compensation, General Liability & Safety Team

The grocer worked with its third-party administrator, Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc., and the California Department of Insurance to collect more evidence of Palmer’s fraud, leading to her arrest last year.

In September, Palmer pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of workers’ comp fraud and was sentenced to 36 months’ probation, 50 hours of community service and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and more than $5,000 restitution. The unusual story was picked up by news outlets nationally.

Because of its multi-faceted efforts, Stater Bros. has experienced a decline in workers’ comp claims frequency, Ulufanua-Ciraulo said. Workers’ comp claims decreased 12.5 percent from 2013 to 2014, on top of falling 7 percent from 2012 to 2013.

The grocer also has an extensive wellness program that includes an annual health and education fair to promote healthy and safe lifestyles, with onsite biometric screenings and ergonomic assessments of work stations. Stater Bros. was recognized as a 2015 Platinum Level recipient of the American Heart Association’s Fit-Friendly Worksite Award, for its commitment to providing physical activity and wellness opportunities to employees.

Toscano said that the grocer is successful because everyone works very closely to collaborate on risk management, safety and workers’ comp issues.

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“I also credit the success of our programs to the leadership of our company and those individuals who have set such high standards in my current role,” he said.

“These individuals have encouraged our team to continue to improve programs to meet the needs of our employees.”

Ulufanua-Ciraulo said her team’s approach fits with the company’s culture, summed up nicely in a Stater Bros. TV commercial jingle used years ago:

“Up in the morning, stay late at night. … Hard work and value, that is the key.”

“That is who we are,” she said. “We care about our brothers and sisters. We care about our team. Our great leader Jack H. Brown always tells us, ‘Do the right thing for the right reasons.’ And we do.”

_______________________________________________________

Read more about all of the 2015 Teddy Award winners:

AA LAX TuesdayRevamped Program Takes Flight: The American Airlines and U.S. Airways merger meant integrating workers’ compensation programs for a massive workforce. The results are stellar.

 

112015_03_stater 150X150Checking Out Solutions: From celebrating safety success to aggressively rooting out fraud and abuse, Stater Bros. Markets is making workers’ comp risk management gains on multiple fronts.

 

112015_04_columbus 150X150Revitalizing the Program: In three years, the Columbus Consolidated Government was able to substantially reduce workers’ compensation claims costs, revamp return-to-work and enhance safety training.

 

112015_05_barnabas 150X150Spreading Success: Barnabas Health wins a Teddy Award for pushing one hospital’s success in workers’ comp systemwide.

 

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in California. She has more than two decades of journalism experience and expertise in financial writing. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Management

The Profession

Pinnacle Entertainment’s VP of enterprise risk management says he’s inspired by Disney’s approach to risk management.
By: | November 1, 2017 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

Bus boy at a fine dining restaurant.

R&I: How did you come to work in this industry?

I sent a résumé to Harrah’s Entertainment on a whim. It took over 30 hours of interviewing to get that job, but it was well worth it.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

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The Chinese citizen (never positively identified) who stood in front of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989. That kind of courage is undeniable, and that image is unforgettable. I hope we can all be that passionate about something at least once in our lives.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

Cyber risk, but more narrowly, cyber-extortion. I think state sponsored bad actors are getting more and more sophisticated, and the risk is that they find a way to control entire systems.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

Training and breaking horses. When I was in high school, I worked on a lot of farms. I did everything from building fences to putting up hay. It was during this time that I found I had a knack for horses. They would tolerate me getting real close, so it was natural I started working more and more with them.

Eventually, I was putting a saddle on a few and before I knew it I was in that saddle riding a horse that had never been ridden before.

I admit I had some nervous moments, but I was never thrown off. It taught me that developing genuine trust early is very important and is needed by all involved. Nothing of any real value happens without it.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

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Setting very aggressive goals and then meeting and exceeding those goals with a team. Sharing team victories is the ultimate reward.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

Disney World. The sheer size of the place is awe inspiring. And everything works like a finely tuned clock.

There is a reason that hospitality companies send their people there to be trained on guest service. Disney World does it better than anyone else.

As a hospitality executive, I always learn something new whenever I am there.

James Cunningham, vice president, enterprise risk management, Pinnacle Entertainment, Inc.

The risks that Disney World faces are very similar to mine — on a much larger scale. They are complex and across the board. From liability for the millions of people they host as their guests each year, to the physical location of the park, to their vendor partnerships; their approach to risk management has been and continues to be innovative and a model that I learn from and I think there are lessons there for everybody.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?

We are doing a much better job of getting involved in a meaningful way in our daily operations and demonstrating genuine value to our organizations.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

Educating and promoting the career with young people.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

Being able to tell the Pinnacle story. It’s a great one and it wasn’t being told. I believe that the insurance markets now understand who we are and what we stand for.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

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John Matthews, who is now retired, formerly with Aon and Caesar’s Palace. John is an exceptional leader who demonstrated the value of putting a top-shelf team together and then letting them do their best work. I model my management style after him.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

I read mostly biographies and autobiographies. I like to read how successful people became successful by overcoming their own obstacles. Jay Leno, Jack Welch, Bill Harrah, etc. I also enjoyed the book and movie “Money Ball.”

R&I: What is your favorite drink?

Ice water when it’s hot, coffee when it’s cold, and an adult beverage when it’s called for.

R&I: What does your family think you do?

In my family, I’m the “Safety Geek.”

R&I:  What’s your favorite restaurant?

Vegas is a world-class restaurant town. No matter what you are hungry for, you can find it here. I have a few favorites that are my “go-to’s,” depending on the mood and who I am with.

If you’re in town, you should try to have at least one meal off the strip. For that, I would suggest you get reservations (you’ll need them) at Herbs and Rye. It’s a great little restaurant that is always lively. The food is tremendous, and the service is always on point. They make hand-crafted cocktails that are amazing.

My favorite Mexican restaurant is Lindo Michoacan. There are three in town, and I prefer the one in Henderson as it has the best view of the valley. For seafood, you can never go wrong with Joe’s in Caesar’s Palace.




Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]