Teddy Awards: Progress Report

Fit for Duty

2013 Teddy Award winner Miami-Dade County Public Schools is managing comorbid risk factors by getting employees excited about healthy living.
By: | November 2, 2016 • 5 min read

When evaluating Teddy Award applicants, one of the qualities judges look for is a program that’s built to last, with a commitment to continuous improvement.

So it’s no surprise that Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS), a 2013 Teddy Award winner, is still aggressively pursuing strategies to reduce its injury frequency, claims costs, medical costs and lost time.

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Case in point: Through regular reviews of claims data, M-DCPS identified a significant volume of claims where comorbidities were compromising the recovery of injured workers, and negatively impacting the severity of claims.

A wellness-focused injury recovery program called Rebuilding Me had been in place since 2007, but it was not having the desired impact on recovery outcomes. Rather than scrap the program, though, M-DCPS wanted to revive it.

The Rebuilding Me program focused on the Transportation department, which had the highest concentration of employees with comorbid conditions such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension.

“We finally thought — we need to take this to a different level,” said Rosa Royo, supervisor, workers’ compensation for M-DCPS. “This isn’t really doing what we want it to, and we need to put some money into it.”

Together with partners Gallagher Bassett and Coventry, M-DCPS rebranded and re-energized Rebuilding Me, what Royo calls a “targeted loss prevention program.” The pilot for the relaunch focused on the Transportation department, which had the highest concentration of employees with comorbid conditions such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension.

“They have range of motion issues, they have strength issues, weight is a real problem,” said Royo, noting that 87 percent of the department is overweight or obese.

An angioscreening of 650 employees revealed that only 98 had blood pressure within the normal range, while 250 tested abnormal and the other 302 registered as morbidly high. The comorbid conditions were taking a toll on claims cost and duration.

Even for something as minor as an employee whacking a knee against a steering wheel, said Royo, “You’re taking someone who’s very heavy and you’re immobilizing the joint. So maybe now you have a pulmonary embolism. You go from what would have been a $500 claim and now it’s a half a million dollar claim.”

Clamoring for More

Rebuilding Me includes the use of dedicated nurses to conduct one-on-one sessions with injured workers who are at increased risk for lost time based upon their health and wellness conditions.

It also features fitness classes, nutritional education and ergonomic awareness activities. The core Rebuilding Me team — comprised of Royo, Naomi Kuker of Gallagher Bassett, and Caroline Sauve of Coventry — is present at all events.

Strength and range of motion are key targets for the program. Royo related a story about an employee who showed up for a class and did an entire workout while clinging to a pillar. A short while later, she approached Royo and said, “Look I can raise my leg now.”

“That’s exactly what the program is for,” said Royo. “If you happen to lose weight, great. But it’s that range of motion and strengthening and those kinds of issues that we were really trying to address.”

“We’re spending $100,000 a year on this. But that wouldn’t even pay for one shoulder repair.” — Rosa Royo, supervisor, workers’ compensation, Miami-Dade County Public Schools

The response has been gratifying, said Royo. The initial pilot was conducted one day a week at the North East transportation depot. But soon, she said, “I had people chasing me in the parking lot saying, ‘You need to come more!’ ” It now runs three days a week with two trainers, and they have maxed out their available space and are seeking space for expansion.

M-DCPS has a solid program running now in five of its eight bus yards, with a sixth launching in January. At another location where lack of space has been a challenge so far, the workers’ labor union is clamoring for the program to be put in place.

The unions, in fact, wholeheartedly support Rebuilding Me, especially now that new U.S. Department of Transportation rules on medical fitness for duty could disqualify workers with significant health risks.

“Some of their members were at peril for losing their jobs,” said Royo. “This is a way for us as an employer to say, ‘We don’t want to throw you away. We don’t want to fire you. Here’s an opportunity for us to help you with this.’ ”

Well Worth the Cost

Because Rebuilding Me is a voluntary program, Royo and her team look for creative incentives to get people through the door initially, including lots of small branded swag items like sunglasses and lip balms.

But once an employee has committed to the program, the incentives ramp up. Employees get a towel after completing their first workout, and a T-shirt after the fifth. By the time they reach their 75th workout, they’re rewarded with a hybrid bicycle worth more than $400.

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“Our offices look really funny right now, because we’ve got stacks of scales and Fitbits and bicycles.”

That may make it sound like an expensive program to pull off, but Royo is quick to put the cost in perspective.

“We’re spending $100,000 a year on this,” she said. “But that wouldn’t even pay for one shoulder repair.”

The team is highly invested in the program’s success. They work to ramp up excitement within the Transportation centers, and created an online social media presence as well, through Instagram (@rebuildingmemdcps). The Instagram feed includes photos of events and classes, nutrition and fitness tips, recipes and motivational messages.

Royo hopes to build on the program’s success and popularity and keep it growing in order to maximize the impact.

“The hypertension issues, the weight issues, the musculoskeletal issues … I know this program can’t address all of these things as much as we’d like, but the better the penetration, the better the outcomes we’re going to have,” she said.

“We always try to do something that is innovative in our program, and I really think that this is special.” &

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Read more about the 2016 Teddy Award winners:

target-150x150Bringing Focus to Broad Challenges: Target brings home a 2016 Teddy Award for serving as an advocate for its workers, pre- and post-injury, across each of its many operations.

 

hrt-150x150The Road to Success: Accountability and collaboration turned Hampton Roads Transit’s legacy workers’ compensation program into a triumph.

 

excela-150x150Improve the Well-Being of Every Life: Excela Health changed the way it treated injuries and took a proactive approach to safety, drastically reducing workers’ comp claims and costs.

 

harder-150x150The Family That’s Safe Together: An unwavering commitment to zero lost time is just one way that Harder Mechanical Contractors protects the lives and livelihoods of its workers.

 

More coverage of the 2016 Teddy Awards:

Recognizing Excellence: The judges of the 2016 Teddy Awards reflect on what they learned, and on the value of awards programs in the workers’ comp space.

Fit for Duty: 2013 Teddy Award winner Miami-Dade County Public Schools is managing comorbid risk factors by getting employees excited about healthy living.

Saving Time and Money: Applying Lean Six Sigma to its workers’ comp processes earned Atlantic Health a Teddy Award Honorable Mention.

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Caring for the Caregivers: Adventist Health Central Valley Network is achieving stellar results by targeting its toughest challenges.

Advocating for Injured Workers: By helping employees navigate through the workers’ comp system, Cottage Health decreased lost work days by 80 percent.

A Matter of Trust: St. Luke’s workers’ comp program is built upon relationships and a commitment to care for those who care for patients.

Keeping the Results Flowing: R&I recognizes the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago for a commonsense approach that’s netting continuous improvement.

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

Robotics Risk

Rise of the Cobots

Collaborative robots, known as cobots, are rapidly expanding in the workforce due to their versatility. But they bring with them liability concerns.
By: | May 2, 2017 • 5 min read

When the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto hired mobile collaborative robots to bolster security patrols, the goal was to improve costs and safety.

Once the autonomous robotic guards took up their beats — bedecked with alarms, motion sensors, live video streaming and forensics capabilities — no one imagined what would happen next.

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For some reason,  a cobots’ sensors didn’t pick up the movement of a toddler on the sidewalk who was trying to play with the 5-foot-tall, egg-shaped figure.

The 300-pound robot was programmed to stop for shoppers, but it knocked down the child and then ran over his feet while his parents helplessly watched.

Engaged to help, this cobot instead did harm, yet the use of cobots is growing rapidly.

Cobots are the fastest growing segment of the robotics industry, which is projected to hit $135.4 billion in 2019, according to tech research firm IDC.

“Robots are embedding themselves more and more into our lives every day,” said Morgan Kyte, a senior vice president at Marsh.

“Collaborative robots have taken the robotics industry by storm over the past several years,” said Bob Doyle, director of communications at the Robotic Industries Association (RIA).

When traditional robots joined the U.S. workforce in the 1960s, they were often assigned one specific task and put to work safely away from humans in a fenced area.

Today, they are rapidly being deployed in the automotive, plastics, electronics assembly, machine tooling and health care industries due to their ability to function in tandem with human co-workers.

More than 24,000 robots valued at $1.3 billion were ordered from North American companies last year, according to the RIA.

Cobots Rapidly Gain Popularity

Cobots are cheaper, more versatile and lighter, and often have a faster return on investment compared to traditional robots. Some cobots even employ artificial intelligence (AI) so they can adapt to their environment, learn new tasks and improve on their skills.

Bob Doyle, director of communications, Robotic Industry Association

Their software is simple to program, so companies don’t need a computer programmer, called a robotic integrator, to come on site to tweak duties. Most employees can learn how to program them.

While the introduction of cobots into the workplace can bring great productivity gains, it also introduces risk mitigation challenges.

“Where does the problem lie when accidents happen and which insurance covers it?” asked attorney Garry Mathiason, co-chair of the robotics, AI and automation industry group at the law firm Littler Mendelson PC in San Francisco.

“Cobots are still machines and things can go awry in many ways,” Marsh’s Kyte said.

“The robot can fail. A subcomponent can fail. It can draw the wrong conclusions.”

If something goes amiss, exposure may fall to many different parties:  the manufacturer of the cobot, the software developer and/or the purchaser of the cobot, to name a few.

Is it a product defect? Was it an issue in the base code or in the design? Was something done in the cobot’s training? Was it user error?

“Cobots are still machines and things can go awry in many ways.” — Morgan Kyte, senior vice president, Marsh

Is it a workers’ compensation case or a liability issue?

“If you get injured in the workplace, there’s no debate as to liability,” Mathiason said.

But if the employee attributes the injury to a poorly designed or programmed machine and sues the manufacturer of the equipment, that’s not limited by workers’ comp, he added.

Garry Mathiason, co-chair, robotics, AI and automation industry group, Littler Mendelson PC

In the case of a worker killed by a cobot in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2015, the worker’s spouse filed suit against five of the companies responsible for manufacturing the machine.

“It’s going to be unique each time,” Kyte said.

“The issue that keeps me awake at night is that people are so impressed with what a cobot can do, and so they ask it to do a task that it wasn’t meant to perform,” Mathiason said.

Privacy is another consideration.

If the cobot records what is happening around it, takes pictures of its environment and the people in it, an employee or customer might claim a privacy violation.

A public sign disclosing the cobot’s ability to record video or take pictures may be a simple solution. And yet, it is often overlooked, Mathiason said.

Growing Pains in the Industry

There are going to be growing pains as the industry blossoms in advance of any legal and regulatory systems, Mathiason said.

He suggests companies take several mitigation steps before introducing cobots to the workplace.

First, conduct a safety audit that specifically covers robotics. Make sure to properly investigate the use of the technology and consider all options. Run a pilot program to test it out.

Most importantly, he said, assign someone in the organization to get up to speed on the technology and then continuously follow it for updates and new uses.

The Robotics Industry Association has been working with the government to set up safety standards. One employee can join a cobot member association to receive the latest information on regulations.

“I think there’s a lot of confusion about this technology and people see so many things that could go wrong,” Mathiason said.

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“But if you handle it properly with the safety audit, the robotics audit, and pay attention to what the standards are, it’s going to be the opposite; there will be fewer problems.

“And you might even see in your experience rating that you are going to [get] a better price to the policy,” he added.

Without forethought, coverage may slip through the cracks. General liability, E&O, business interruption, personal injury, cyber and privacy claims can all be involved.

AIG’s Lexington Insurance introduced an insurance product in 2015 to address the gray areas cobots and robots create. The coverage brings together general and products liability, robotics errors and omissions, and risk management services, all three of which are tailored for the robotics industry. Minimum premium is $25,000.

Insurers are using lessons learned from the creation of cyber liability policies and are applying it to robotics coverage, Kyte said.

“The robotics industry has been very safe for the last 30 years,” RIA’s Doyle said. “It really does have a good track record and we want that to continue.” &

Juliann Walsh is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]