Injury Prevention

Going Through the Motions

Creating an obstacle course for "workplace athletes" makes fitness fun while helping to reduce on-the-job injuries.
By: | July 5, 2016 • 4 min read

It was during a session at last year’s National Workers Compensation and Disability Conference® and Expo that Anne-Marie Amiel first heard the term “industrial athletes.”

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She was among the presenters at the session highlighting the tactics and philosophies of the 2015 Teddy Award winners. As risk manager for Columbus Consolidated Government in Georgia, Amiel was honored for substantially reducing workers’ compensation claims costs, revamping return-to-work and enhancing safety training.

But when she heard Tamara Ulufanua-Ciraulo of Stater Bros Supermarkets, another winner, talk about how the grocer supports its aging workers by treating them as industrial athletes, it stuck in her mind.

“That triggered a thought,” said Amiel.

Then, as many NWCDC attendees do, she engaged in a corridor conversation with another attendee. He mentioned obstacle courses — and the idea of a “Workplace Athlete Day” was born.

“We wanted to do something for employees and we decided to do something that apparently has not been done anywhere else in the country before,” Amiel said.

VIDEO:  The obstacle that drew the most crowd support was the duck walk, which had workers walking like ducks while holding a spoon with a softball and “waggling their tail feathers.” — Anne-Marie Amiel, risk manager, Columbus Consolidated Government, Ga.

“We wanted a day where we put our employees through an obstacle course that tests the motions they do in their jobs,” she said.

“People who take care of themselves,” said Pat Biegler, director of public works in Columbus, “take better care of the city and the citizens and their families – and that’s our goal.”

Anne-Marie Amiel, risk manager, Columbus Consolidated Government, Ga.

Anne-Marie Amiel, risk manager, Columbus Consolidated Government, Ga.

After consulting with several physical therapy companies, they put together an obstacle course “based on proper motion and safe techniques, not on speed or strength,” Amiel said.

“The physical therapists were awesome,” she said. “We talked about the different motions that are involved in different activities for different work uses. Several of them volunteered to act as judges.”

Eventually, about two dozen obstacles were created – “some hilarious and a lot of fun” – but underlying the laughter was the need “to keep employees flexible and fit throughout their careers so they have fewer injuries and are able to do their jobs until retirement age.”

That not only helps employees stay well, but it has the benefit of keeping workers’ compensation claims down, she said. “Now that we have launched this major initiative, I think we will see a significant reduction in frequency.”

The obstacles included throwing footballs and Frisbees, crawling through pipes, lifting items to several different heights, basketball, pushing wheelbarrows and stepping through a double row of tires.

But the obstacle that drew the most crowd support was the duck walk, which had workers walking like ducks while holding a spoon with a softball and “waggling their tail feathers,” Amiel said.

“It was hilarious but it was testing their ability to move when they had to squat.” And, of course, the observers felt compelled to “quack, quack, quack” at the participants the entire time.

Pat Biegler, director of public works, Columbus, Ga.

Pat Biegler, director of public works, Columbus, Ga.

The competition included about 25 teams of six employees, each of whom signed up for the day-long program, which included wellness checks, a healthy lunch, trophies and gifts, such as safety glasses, leather gloves, earplugs and sunscreen.

Next year, Amiel and Biegler plan to open the competition to more of the 450 full-time public works employees.

“Seven of the top 10 dangerous jobs in the country are public works jobs,” Amiel said.

“Workplace Athlete Day” is important, Biegler said, “because prevention is so very, very critical to keeping accidents down and we want a workforce that is healthy, that’s happy and that is not injured so this will allow us to evaluate [potential problems] and allow them to do it in a fun environment.”

“Pat is extremely serious about safety,” Amiel said. “Public works is very nearly always my guinea pig [for safety training and injury prevention]. Pat is very serious about keeping employees fit and productive and is always willing to try anything.”

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Both women will be presenting a session at the NWCDC in November on return-to-work strategies.

Working with the physical therapists on the obstacle course also resulted in a new morning routine for public works employees. Supervisors lead them through an exercise session every morning to “warm up their muscles before they start using them in earnest,” Amiel said.

Amiel hopes to expand the obstacle course program to every department in the city. “Several departments have already expressed interest,” she said.

“The morale boost was huge and employees know they are going to be challenged next year even more,” Amiel said. “They had so much fun, but they all came out of it and said they learned so much.”

Anne Freedman is managing editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

Risk Management

The Profession

Pinnacle Entertainment’s VP of enterprise risk management says he’s inspired by Disney’s approach to risk management.
By: | November 1, 2017 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

Bus boy at a fine dining restaurant.

R&I: How did you come to work in this industry?

I sent a résumé to Harrah’s Entertainment on a whim. It took over 30 hours of interviewing to get that job, but it was well worth it.

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

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The Chinese citizen (never positively identified) who stood in front of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989. That kind of courage is undeniable, and that image is unforgettable. I hope we can all be that passionate about something at least once in our lives.

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

Cyber risk, but more narrowly, cyber-extortion. I think state sponsored bad actors are getting more and more sophisticated, and the risk is that they find a way to control entire systems.

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

Training and breaking horses. When I was in high school, I worked on a lot of farms. I did everything from building fences to putting up hay. It was during this time that I found I had a knack for horses. They would tolerate me getting real close, so it was natural I started working more and more with them.

Eventually, I was putting a saddle on a few and before I knew it I was in that saddle riding a horse that had never been ridden before.

I admit I had some nervous moments, but I was never thrown off. It taught me that developing genuine trust early is very important and is needed by all involved. Nothing of any real value happens without it.

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

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Setting very aggressive goals and then meeting and exceeding those goals with a team. Sharing team victories is the ultimate reward.

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

Disney World. The sheer size of the place is awe inspiring. And everything works like a finely tuned clock.

There is a reason that hospitality companies send their people there to be trained on guest service. Disney World does it better than anyone else.

As a hospitality executive, I always learn something new whenever I am there.

James Cunningham, vice president, enterprise risk management, Pinnacle Entertainment, Inc.

The risks that Disney World faces are very similar to mine — on a much larger scale. They are complex and across the board. From liability for the millions of people they host as their guests each year, to the physical location of the park, to their vendor partnerships; their approach to risk management has been and continues to be innovative and a model that I learn from and I think there are lessons there for everybody.

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

We are doing a much better job of getting involved in a meaningful way in our daily operations and demonstrating genuine value to our organizations.

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

Educating and promoting the career with young people.

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

Being able to tell the Pinnacle story. It’s a great one and it wasn’t being told. I believe that the insurance markets now understand who we are and what we stand for.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

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John Matthews, who is now retired, formerly with Aon and Caesar’s Palace. John is an exceptional leader who demonstrated the value of putting a top-shelf team together and then letting them do their best work. I model my management style after him.

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

I read mostly biographies and autobiographies. I like to read how successful people became successful by overcoming their own obstacles. Jay Leno, Jack Welch, Bill Harrah, etc. I also enjoyed the book and movie “Money Ball.”

R&I: What is your favorite drink?

Ice water when it’s hot, coffee when it’s cold, and an adult beverage when it’s called for.

R&I: What does your family think you do?

In my family, I’m the “Safety Geek.”

R&I:  What’s your favorite restaurant?

Vegas is a world-class restaurant town. No matter what you are hungry for, you can find it here. I have a few favorites that are my “go-to’s,” depending on the mood and who I am with.

If you’re in town, you should try to have at least one meal off the strip. For that, I would suggest you get reservations (you’ll need them) at Herbs and Rye. It’s a great little restaurant that is always lively. The food is tremendous, and the service is always on point. They make hand-crafted cocktails that are amazing.

My favorite Mexican restaurant is Lindo Michoacan. There are three in town, and I prefer the one in Henderson as it has the best view of the valley. For seafood, you can never go wrong with Joe’s in Caesar’s Palace.




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