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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

The Profession

Curt Gross

This director of risk management sees cyber, IP and reputation risks as evolving threats, but more formal education may make emerging risk professionals better prepared.
By: | June 1, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My first non-professional job was working at Burger King in high school. I learned some valuable life lessons there.

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

After taking some accounting classes in high school, I originally thought I wanted to be an accountant. After working on a few Widgets Inc. projects in college, I figured out that wasn’t what I really wanted to do. Risk management found me. The rest is history. Looking back, I am pleased with how things worked out.

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

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I think we do a nice job on post graduate education. I think the ARM and CPCU designations give credibility to the profession. Plus, formal college risk management degrees are becoming more popular these days. I know The University of Akron just launched a new risk management bachelor’s program in the fall of 2017 within the business school.

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

I think we could do a better job with streamlining certificates of insurance or, better yet, evaluating if they are even necessary. It just seems to me that there is a significant amount of time and expense around generating certificates. There has to be a more efficient way.

R&I: What was the best location and year for the RIMS conference and why?

Selfishly, I prefer a destination with a direct flight when possible. RIMS does a nice job of selecting various locations throughout the country. It is a big job to successfully pull off a conference of that size.

Curt Gross, Director of Risk Management, Parker Hannifin Corp.

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

Definitely the change in nontraditional property & casualty exposures such as intellectual property and reputational risk. Those exposures existed way back when but in different ways. As computer networks become more and more connected and news travels at a more rapid pace, it just amplifies these types of exposures. Sometimes we have to think like the perpetrator, which can be difficult to do.

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

I hate to sound cliché — it’s quite the buzz these days — but I would have to say cyber. It’s such a complex risk involving nontraditional players and motives. Definitely a challenging exposure to get your arms around. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll really know the true exposure until there is more claim development.

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

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Our captive insurance company. I’ve been fortunate to work for several companies with a captive, each one with a different operating objective. I view a captive as an essential tool for a successful risk management program.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

I can’t point to just one. I have and continue to be lucky to work for really good managers throughout my career. Each one has taken the time and interest to develop me as a professional. I certainly haven’t arrived yet and welcome feedback to continue to try to be the best I can be every day.

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

I would like to think I have and continue to bring meaningful value to my company. However, I would have to say my family is my proudest accomplishment.

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

Favorite movie is definitely “Good Will Hunting.”

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

Tough question to narrow down. If my wife ran a restaurant, it would be hers. We try to have dinner as a family as much as possible. If I had to pick one restaurant though, I would say Fire Food & Drink in Cleveland, Ohio. Chef Katz is a culinary genius.

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

The Grand Canyon. It is just so vast. A close second is Stonehenge.

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

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A few, actually. Up until a few years ago, I owned a sport bike (motorcycle). Of course, I wore the proper gear, took a safety course and read a motorcycle safety book. Also, I have taken a few laps in a NASCAR [race car] around Daytona International Speedway at 180 mph. Most recently, trying to ride my daughter’s skateboard.

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

The Dalai Lama. A world full of compassion, tolerance and patience and free of discrimination, racism and violence, while perhaps idealistic, sounds like a wonderful place to me.

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

I really enjoy the company I work for and my role, because I get the opportunity to work with various functions. For example, while mostly finance, I get to interact with legal, human resources, employee health and safety, to name a few.

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

I asked my son. He said, “Risk management and insurance.” (He’s had the benefit of bring-your-kid-to-work day.)

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