2222222222

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. &

_______________________________________________________

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

Risk Management

The Profession

The risk manager for Boyd Gaming Corp. says curiosity keeps him engaged, and continual education will be the key to managing emerging risks.
By: | May 1, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

I was trained as an accountant, worked in public accounting and became a CPA. Being comfortable with numbers is helpful in my current role, and obviously, the language of business is financial statements, so it helps.

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

Working in finance in the corporate environment included the review of budgets and the analysis of business expenses. I quickly found the area of benefits and insurance — and how “accepting risk” impacted those expenses — to be fascinating. I asked a lot of questions. Be careful what you ask for — I soon found myself responsible for those insurance areas and haven’t looked back!

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

Advertisement




I have found the risk management community to be a close-knit group, whether that’s industry professionals, risk managers with other companies or support organizations like RIMS and other regional groups. The expertise of the carriers and specialty vendors to develop new products and programs, along with the appropriate education, will continue to be of key importance to companies going forward.

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

As I’m sure many in the insurance field would agree, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 changed our world and our industry. It was a particularly intense time and certainly a baptism by fire for people like me who were relatively new to the industry. This event clearly accelerated the switch to the acceptance of more risk, which impacted mitigation strategies and programs.

Bob Berglund, vice president, benefits and insurance, Boyd Gaming Corp.

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

The fast-paced threat that cyber security represents today. Our company, like so many companies, is reliant upon computers, software and IT expertise in our everyday existence. This new risk has forged an even stronger relationship between risk management and our IT department as we work together to address this growing threat.

Additionally, the shooting event in Las Vegas in 2017 will have an enduring impact on firms that host large gatherings and arena-style events all over the world, and our company is no exception.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?

Advertisement




With the various types of insurance programs we employ, I have been fortunate to work with most of the large national and international carriers — all of whom employ talented people with a vast array of resources.

R&I:  How much business do you do direct versus going through a broker?

We use brokers for many of our professional coverages, such as property, casualty, D&O and cyber. We are self-insured under our health plans, with close to 25,000 members. We tend to manage those programs internally and utilize direct relationships with carriers and specialty vendors to tailor a plan that works best for team members.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

I have been fortunate to have worked alongside some smart and insightful people during my career. A key piece of advice, said in many different ways, has served me well. Simply stated: “Seek to understand before being understood.”

What this has meant to me is try everything you can to learn about something, new or old. After you have gained this knowledge, you can begin to access and maybe suggest changes or adjustments. Being curious has always been a personal enjoyment for me in business, and I have found people are more than willing to lend a hand, offer information and advice — you just need to ask. Building those alliances and foundations of knowledge on a subject matter makes tackling the future more exciting and fruitful.

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

Our benefit health plan is much more than handing out an insurance card at the beginning of the year. We encourage our team members and their families to learn about their personal health, get engaged in a variety of health and wellness programs and try to live life in the healthiest possible way. The result of that is literally hundreds of testimonials from our members every year on how they have lost weight, changed their lifestyle and gotten off medications. It is extremely rewarding and is a testament to [our] close-knit corporate culture.

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

Advertisement




Some will remember the volcano eruption in Iceland in spring of 2010. I was just finishing a week of meetings in London with Lloyd’s syndicates related to our property insurance placement when the airspace in England and most of northern Europe was shut down — no airplanes in or out! Flights were ultimately canceled for the following five days. Therefore, with a few other stranded visitors like myself, we experimented and tried out new restaurants every day until we could leave. It was a very interesting time!

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

I am originally from Canada, and I played ice hockey from the time I was four years old up until quite recently. Too many surgeries sadly forced my recent retirement.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

That’s a funny one … I am a CPA working in the casino industry, doing insurance and risk management, so neighbors and acquaintances think I either do tax returns or they think I’m a blackjack dealer at the casino!




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