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2017 Teddy Awards: Honorable Mention

Fit for Duty

Recognizing parallels between athletes and public safety officials, the city of Denver made tailored fitness training part of its safety plan.
By: | November 1, 2017 • 4 min read

“Public safety folks are going to get injured.”

It’s a sobering but accurate assumption about the work of firefighters, police officials and sheriffs, as expressed by Ray Sibley, the director of Risk Management at The City and County of Denver.

It’s also been a great motivator … fueling a change of culture in the Public Safety Department at the council that led to a 48 percent in workers’ comp claims in only one year.

Ray Sibley, director of risk management, City and County of Denver

It has also earned the department an honorable mention in the 2017 Teddy Awards.

The reward acknowledges the introduction of a program that strives to prepare firefighters, sheriffs and police officials to face the physical demands of their jobs in a way that’s reminiscent of the conditioning undergone by professional football and basketball players.

Public safety staff, like athletes, face significant risk of injury. Prevention can go only so far in keeping the number of injuries down. Sibley said that risk management policies adopted over more than a decade by the Council have done a good job in reducing the number of injuries. In 2000, right after he took over the department, almost 1,900 injury-related workers’ comp claims were filed each year. In 2016, that figure was cut nearly in half.

But claims costs continued to rise nonetheless. Claims costs more than doubled from 2013 to 2015, going from $3.7 million to $7.9 million.

“We realized that the number of injuries dropped as low as it could go,” Sibley said. “So we decided to focus on reducing the severity of the injuries and the treatment required to bring folks back to work.”

The decision has paid dividends already. In 2016, the number of injuries once again remained fairly stable, but costs plunged to $4.1 million.

Tailored Training

One effective measure was the implementation of a physical therapy program which aims to help firefighters, police officials and sheriffs condition their bodies to the specific demands of their jobs.

Therapists are available at the respective academies to work with current staff and to guide new recruits from the beginning of their careers on how to stay fit to perform their demanding jobs.

“The goal is to help them maintain their physical abilities to reduce the impact of minor injuries,” Sibley pointed out. He draws a comparison with professional athletes, who work their bodies out according to the sports they play, and therefore are better prepared to deal with any injuries they may suffer during a game.

“When they have an injury, it doesn’t take them six months to recover,” he said. “It takes them a week or two.”

Public safety staff are subject to levels of physical demand similar to athletes when, for instance, they are called to an emergency. Take the case of firefighters, who need to carry a 60-pound SCBA apparatus upon their shoulders when there is a fire. If they do not strengthen their shoulders to do that, it’s easy to get injured while simply getting ready to answer to the call of duty.

Experts identified the critical functional movements for each group and tailored exercise routines to improve the physical ability of each department. “In the rush, when the fire bell goes off, they will throw the pack over their shoulders and not get hurt by doing it, because their bodies are used to doing that movement,” Sibley said.

Public safety workers who do get hurt are now getting back to work quicker than in previous years, reducing the need for the council to pay extra time for the professionals called to fill vacant spots.

“In the rush, when the fire bell goes off, they will throw the pack over their shoulders and not get hurt by doing it, because their bodies are used to doing that movement,” — Ray Sibley, director of risk management, The City and County of Denver

The conditioning program was piloted with firefighters four years ago and has since expanded to the police and sheriff’s departments.

Sibley said that it took a while for staff members to really buy into the new ideas, but they began to embrace the program once the benefits for their personal lifestyles become evident.

The physical therapy program complements other initiatives that focus on proactive ways to help employees to take responsibility for their well-being while performing their daily activities, both at work and at home.

They include training in subjects such as defensive driving and ergonomics and the implementation of a Functional Movement Screening system that produces personalized exercise regimes for employees, according to their daily routines.

The Department has also adopted policies to increase the efficiency of the handling of workers’ comp claims, such as the replacement of a paper-based system by a telephone-based one, and the hiring of two nurses to serve as a first point of contact for injured workers.

The next step, said Sibley, is to focus on mental health. Firefighters, police officials and sheriffs need appropriate support while performing jobs that necessarily involve high levels of stress.

“We want them to enjoy a good life once they retire, after providing us services for decades,” he said. &

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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.

 

Rodrigo Amaral is a freelance writer specializing in Latin American and European risk management and insurance markets. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

High Net Worth

Your High Net Worth Client Wants to Live in the Danger Zone? Here’s What Your Resiliency Plan Should Look Like.

Having a resiliency plan and practicing it can make all the difference in a disaster.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 7 min read

Packed with state-of-the-art electronics, priceless collections and high-end furnishings, and situated in scenic, often remote locations, the dwellings of high net worth individuals and families pose particular challenges when it comes to disaster resiliency. But help is on the way.

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Armed with loss data, innovative new programs, technological advances, and a growing army of niche service-providers aimed at addressing an astonishingly diverse set of risks, insurers are increasingly determined to not just insure against their high net worth clients’ losses, but to prevent them.

Insurers have long been proactive in risk mitigation, but increasingly, after the recent surge in wildfire and storm losses, insureds are now, too.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy,” said Laura Sherman, founding partner at Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners.

And especially in the high net worth space, preventing that loss is vastly preferable to a payout, for insurers and insureds alike.

“If insurers can preserve even one house that’s 10 or 20 or 40 million dollars … whatever they have spent in a year is money well spent. Plus they’ve saved this important asset for the client,” said Bruce Gendelman, chairman and founder Bruce Gendelman Insurance Services.

High Net Worth Vulnerabilities

Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

As the number and size of luxury homes built in vulnerable areas has increased, so has the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events, including hurricanes, harsh cold and winter storms, and wildfires.

“There is a growing desire to inhabit this riskier terrain,” said Jason Metzger, SVP Risk Management, PURE group of insurance companies. “In the western states alone, a little over a million homes are highly vulnerable to wildfires because of their proximity to forests that are fuller of fuel than they have been in years past.”

Such homes are often filled with expensive artwork and collections, from fine wine to rare books to couture to automobiles, each presenting unique challenges. The homes themselves present other vulnerabilities.

“Larger, more sophisticated homes are bristling with more technology than ever,” said Stephen Poux, SVP and head of Risk Management Services and Loss Prevention for AIG’s Private Client Group.

“A lightning strike can trash every electronic in the home.”

Niche Service Providers

A variety of niche service providers are stepping forward to help.

Secure facilities provide hurricane-proof, wildfire-proof off-site storage for artwork, antiques, and all manner of collectibles for seasonal or rotating storage, as well as ahead of impending disasters.

Other companies help manage such collections — a substantial challenge anytime, but especially during a crisis.

“Knowing where it is, is a huge part of mitigating the risk,” said Eric Kahan, founder of Collector Systems, a cloud-based collection management company that allows collectors to monitor their collections during loans to museums, transit between homes, or evacuation to secure storage.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy.” — Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

Insurers also employ specialists in-house. AIG employs four art curators who advise clients on how to protect and preserve their art collections.

Perhaps the best known and most striking example of this kind of direct insurer involvement are the fire teams insurers retain or employ to monitor fires and even spray retardant or water on threatened properties.

High-Level Service for High Net Worth

All high net worth carriers have programs that leverage expertise, loss data, and relationships with vendors to help clients avoid and recover from losses, employing the highest levels of customer service to accomplish this as unobtrusively as possible.

“What allows you to do your job best is when you develop that relationship with a client, where it’s the same people that are interacting with them on every front for their risk management,” said Steve Bitterman, chief risk services officer for Vault Insurance.

Site visits are an essential first step, allowing insurers to assess risks, make recommendations to reduce them, and establish plans in the event of a disaster.

“When you’re in a catastrophic situation, it’s high stress, time is of the essence, and people forget things,” said Sherman. “Having a written plan in place is paramount to success.”

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Another important component is knowing who will execute that plan in homes that are often unoccupied.

Domestic staff may lack the knowledge or authority to protect the homeowner’s assets, and during a disaster may be distracted dealing with threats to their own homes and families. Adequate planning includes ensuring that whoever is responsible has the training and authority to execute the plan.

Evaluating New Technology

Insurers use technologies like GPS and satellite imagery to determine which homes are directly threatened by storms or wildfires. They also assess and vet technologies that can be implemented by homeowners, from impact glass to alarm and monitoring systems, to more obscure but potentially more important options.

AIG’s Poux recommends two types of vents that mitigate important, and unexpected risks.

“There’s a fantastic technology called Smart Vent, which allows water to flow in and out of the foundation,” Poux said. “… The weight of water outside a foundation can push a foundation wall in. If you equalize that water inside and out at the same level, you negate that.”

Another wildfire risk — embers getting sucked into the attic — is, according to Poux, “typically the greatest cause of the destruction of homes.” But, he said, “Special ember-resisting venting, like Brandguard Vents, can remove that exposure altogether.”

Building Smart

Many disaster resiliency technologies can be applied at any time, but often the cost is fractional if implemented during initial construction. AIG’s Smart Build is a free program for new or remodeled homes that evolved out of AIG’s construction insurance programs.

Previously available only to homes valued at $5 million and up, Smart Build recently expanded to include homes of $1 million and up. Roughly 100 homes are enrolled, with an average value of $13 million.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work.” — Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“We know what goes wrong in high net worth homes,” said Poux, citing AIG’s decades of loss data.

“We’re incenting our client and by proxy their builder, their architects and their broker, to give us a seat at the design table. … That enables us to help tweak the architectural plans in ways that are very easy to do with a pencil, as opposed to after a home is built.”

Poux cites a remote ranch property in Texas.

Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“The client was rebuilding a home but also installing new roads and grading and driveways. … The property was very far from the fire department and there wasn’t any available water on the property.”

Poux’s team was able to recommend underground water storage tanks, something that would have been prohibitively expensive after construction.

“But if the ground is open and you’ve got heavy equipment, it’s a relatively minor additional expense.”

Homes that graduate from the Smart Build program may be eligible for preferred pricing due to their added resilience, Poux said.

Recovery from Loss

A major component of disaster resiliency is still recovery from loss, and preparation is key to the prompt service expected by homeowners paying six- or seven-figure premiums.

Before Irma, PURE sent contact information for pre-assigned claim adjusters to insureds in the storm’s direct path.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work,” said Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting for Ironshore’s Private Client Group.

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“If you’ve got custom construction or imported materials in your house, you’re not going to go down the street and just find somebody that can do that kind of work, or has those materials in stock.”

In the wake of disaster, even basic services can be scarce.

“Our claims and risk management departments have to work together in advance of the storm,” said Bitterman, “to have contractors and restoration companies and tarp and board services that are going to respond to our company’s clients, that will commit resources to us.”

And while local agents’ connections can be invaluable, Goetsch sees insurers taking more of that responsibility from the agent, to at least get the claim started.

“When there is a disaster, the agency’s staff may have to deal with personal losses,” Goetsch said. &

Jon McGoran is a novelist and magazine editor based outside of Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]