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

After 20 years in the business, Navy Pier’s Director of Risk Management values her relationships in the industry more than ever.
By: | June 1, 2017 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

Working at Dominick’s Finer Foods bagging groceries. Shortly after I was hired, I was promoted to [cashier] and then to a management position. It taught me great responsibility and it helped me develop the leadership skills I still carry today.

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

While working for Hyatt Regency McCormick Place Hotel, one of my responsibilities was to oversee the administration of claims. This led to a business relationship with the director of risk management of the organization who actually owned the property. Ultimately, a position became available in her department and the rest is history.

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

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The risk management community is doing a phenomenal job in professional development and creating great opportunities for risk managers to network. The development of relationships in this industry is vitally important and by providing opportunities for risk managers to come together and speak about their experiences and challenges is what enables many of us to be able to do our jobs even more effectively.

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

Attracting, educating and retaining young talent. There is this preconceived notion that the insurance industry and risk management are boring and there could be nothing further from the truth.

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

In my 20 years in the industry, the biggest change in risk management and the insurance industry are the various types of risk we look to insure against. Many risks that exist today were not even on our radar 20 years ago.

Gina Kirchner, director of risk management, Navy Pier Inc.

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

FM Global. They have been our property carrier for a great number of years and in my opinion are the best in the business.

R&I: Are you optimistic about the US economy or pessimistic and why?

I am optimistic that policies will be put in place with the new administration that will be good for the economy and business.

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

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The commercial risks that are of most concern to me are cyber risks, business interruption, and any form of a health epidemic on a global scale. We are dealing with new exposures and new risks that we are truly not ready for.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

My mother has played a significant role in shaping my ideals and values. She truly instilled a very strong work ethic in me. However, there are many men and women in business who have mentored me and have had a significant impact on me and my career as well.

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

I am most proud of making the decision a couple of years ago to return to school and obtain my [MBA]. It took a lot of prayer, dedication and determination to accomplish this while still working a full time job, being involved in my church, studying abroad and maintaining a household.

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

“Heaven Is For Real” by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent. I loved the book and the movie.

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

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A French restaurant in Paris, France named Les Noces de Jeannette Restaurant à Paris. It was the most amazing food and brings back such great memories.

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

Israel. My husband and I just returned a few days ago and spent time in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Jericho and Jordan. It was an absolutely amazing experience. We did everything from riding camels to taking boat rides on the Sea of Galilee to attending concerts sitting on the Temple steps. The trip was absolutely life changing.

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

Many, many years ago … I went parasailing in the Caribbean. I had a great experience and didn’t think about the risk at the time because I was young, single and free. Looking back, I don’t know that I would make the same decision today.

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

I would have to say the relationships and partnerships I have developed with insurance carriers, brokers and other professionals in the industry. To have wonderful working relationships with such a vast array of talented individuals who are so knowledgeable and to have some of those relationships develop into true friendships is very rewarding.

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

My friends and family have a general idea that my position involves claims and insurance. However, I don’t think they fully understand the magnitude of my responsibilities and the direct impact it has on my organization, which experiences more than 9 million visitors a year.




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