Column: Workers' Comp

Cumulative Trauma Claims are Down: Thank Ergonomic Standards

By: | August 29, 2017 • 2 min read
Roberto Ceniceros is senior editor at Risk & Insurance® and chair of the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. He can be reached at [email protected] Read more of his columns and features.

Federal ergonomic standards that existed 16 years ago for a fleeting two months continue to benefit employers and workers even though they were never implemented.

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The government’s bark eventually proved bigger than its bite, which is a good thing, because 16 years ago the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was ready to take a big bite out of employers’ wallets.

The threat of that bite, though, helped propel improved ergonomic practices, which evolved and continue to eliminate injuries, costs and lost work days.

President Bill Clinton signed ergonomic standards into law four days before vacating the White House in January 2001. His successor, President George W. Bush, scuttled the rules two months later.

The rules championed by President Clinton required companies with two or more related injuries to evaluate for ergonomic hazards and reduce exposures by, for example, limiting worker task repetitions or modifying assembly lines.

The back and forth between Presidents Clinton and Bush followed at least a decade of organized labor pushing for ergonomic standards. Labor and Democrats argued they would benefit employers and workers by eliminating workplace injuries.

OSHA estimated the standards would cost employers $4.5 billion annually, but save them $9 billion.

Employers and Republicans fought adoption, arguing they would cost more than $100 billion.

President Bush agreed, calling the new regulations “unduly burdensome and overly broad.”

The ergonomics rules helped fuel this nationwide awareness. They helped sound a wake-up call for employers.

Most distressing, the regulations required paying injured workers nearly their full salary while they were out mending their injuries.

Heck, if that arrangement was available today I might be on the disabled list receiving workers’ comp benefits right now while complaining of a sore-wrist injury rather than standing at my desk writing this column.

You can see why the regulations threw employers into a panic until President Bush calmed their fears.

The standards that never became law still impact businesses and workers though.

They arrived in an era when the frequency of cumulative trauma claims was already a problem. Awareness of the injuries was already building among labor, workers themselves, regulators, claimants attorneys, and claims payors.

Employers learned, during this era, that they were paying for back and carpal tunnel surgeries for simple injuries that could have been prevented with good ergonomics, and treated with physical therapy.

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The ergonomics rules helped fuel this nationwide awareness. They helped sound a wake-up call for employers, recalled Sean McDonald, Workforce Strategies Ergonomics Practice Leader at Marsh Risk Consulting.

“Even though it fell apart as a rule, it became known that it was a good business practice,” he said.

At least since 2001, worker injury statistics show cumulative trauma claims have been gradually declining, similar to the long-term decline in overall workers’ comp claims frequency.

This is especially good because today’s injuries tend to be more severe than they were 16 years ago. The rise in comorbidities and an aging workforce make them more challenging today.

So that increased awareness and attention to the need for safety measures to prevent ergonomic-related injuries is even more valuable now than it was back then. &

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

In the Fast-Paced World of Retail, This Risk Manager Strives to Mitigate Risks Proactively and Keep Senior Leaders Informed

Janine Kral works to identify and mitigate risks, building strong partnerships with leaders and ensuring they see her as support rather than a blocker. 
By: | October 29, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My very first paid job was working on my uncle’s ranch in British Columbia in the summers. He had cattle, horses and grapes — an unusual combo. But my first real job out of college was as a multi-line claims adjuster at Liberty Mutual.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

Right out of college I applied for a job that turned out to be a claims adjuster at Liberty Mutual. I accepted because they were offering six weeks of training in Southern California, and at the time that sounded really fun. I spent about three years at Liberty Mutual and then I spent a short period of time at a smaller regional insurance company that hired me to start a workers’ compensation claims administration program.

I was hired at Nordstrom as the Washington Region Risk Manager, which was my first job in risk management. When I started at Nordstrom, the risk management department had about five people, and over the years it has grown to about 75. I’ve been vice president for 11 years.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

I would say that technology has probably been the biggest change. When I started many years ago, it was all paper and no RMIS.

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R&I: What risks does the retail industry face that are unique?

We deal with a lot of people — employees and customers. With physical brick and mortar settings, there are the unique exposures with people moving in and out in a public environment. And of course, with ecommerce, we have a lot of customer and employee data, which creates cyber risk — which is not necessarily a unique risk in today’s environment.

R&I: Can you describe your approach to working with senior leaders and front-line staff alike to further risk management initiatives?

It starts with keeping the pulse of what’s happening with the business. Retail moves really fast. In order to identify and mitigate risks proactively, we identify top risk areas and topics, and then we ensure that we have strong partnerships with the leaders responsible for those areas. Trust is critical, ensuring that leaders see us as a support rather than a blocker.

R&I: What role does technology play in your company’s approach to risk management?

Janine Kral, claims adjuster, Nordstrom

We have an internal risk management information system that all of our locations report events into — every type of incident is reported, whether insured or uninsured. Most of these events are managed internally by risk management, and our guidelines require that prevention be analyzed on each one. Having all event data in one system allows us to use the data for trending and also helps us better predict what may happen in the future, and who we need to work with to mitigate risks.

R&I: What advice might you give to students or other aspiring risk managers?

My son is a sophomore in college, and I tell him and his friends all the time not to rule out insurance as a career opportunity. My advice is to cast a wide net and do your homework. Research all the different types of opportunities. Read a lot — articles, industry magazines, LinkedIn. Be proactive and reach out to people you find interesting and ask them about their careers. Don’t be shy and wait for people and opportunities to come to you. Ask questions. Build networks. Be curious and keep an open mind.

R&I: What are your goals for the next five to 10 years of your career?

I have always been passionate about continuous improvement. I want to continue to find ways to add value to my company and to this industry.

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

My favorite book is Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It’s a true story about a man who was in prison in Australia after being convicted of armed robbery, and he escaped to India. While in India, he passed himself off as a doctor in a slum. It’s a really interesting story, because this is a convicted criminal who ends up helping others. I am not always successful in getting others to read the book because it’s 1,000 pages and definitely a commitment.

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

Fiorella’s in Newton, Massachusetts. Great Italian food and a great overall experience.

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R&I: What is your favorite drink?

“Sister Carol.” I have no idea what is in it, and I can only get it at a local bar in Seattle. It’s green but it’s delicious.

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

Skydiving. Not tandem and without any sort of communication from the ground. Scary standing on a wing of a plane, but very peaceful once the chute opened, slowly floating down by myself.

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

I can’t think of one individual person. For me, the real heroes are people who have a positive attitude in the face of adversity. People who are resilient no matter what life brings them.

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

It’s rewarding to help solve problems and help people. I am proud of the support that my team provides others. &




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