Column: Workers' Comp

Got Milk?

By: | November 1, 2017 • 2 min read
Roberto Ceniceros is senior editor at Risk & Insurance® and chair of the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. He can be reached at [email protected] Read more of his columns and features.

On one side stand anti-immigrant activists, some calling illegal immigrant workers rapists and murderers needing instant deportation.

On the other side stands an industry facing a tightening labor market concerned about retaining immigrant laborers, many lacking legal work documentation yet skilled in performing dirty, dangerous jobs.

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That’s the situation facing the dairy industry, a labor-intensive milking and feeding business that helps sustain the nation. It is a story that illustrates employee safety and workers’ compensation themes as the industry increases efforts to keep its scarce workers on the job.

The Idaho Dairymen’s Assn., for example, recently launched a safety program that includes teaching workers how to think like the animals they work with, said Bob Naerebout, the association’s executive director.

“Anytime you have an employee — and we consider all employees to be key employees — absent from work, that means you have to replace them with somebody who is not as well trained,” Naerebout said.

“There is an indirect cost in all of that.”

Naerebout’s words should sound familiar to employers across all industries whose safety and disability management programs have increasingly become key to keeping scarce, skilled workers on the job.

“Anytime you have an employee — and we consider all employees to be key employees — absent from work, that means you have to replace them with somebody who is not as well trained.” — Bob Naerebout, executive director, Idaho Dairymen’s Association

Savvy risk managers also know the indirect costs resulting from worker accidents and the increased injury risks accompanying new, replacement workers unfamiliar with the workplace.

“The labor market is tight, so you increase your efficiency by keeping your trained labor there — not by having to bring in substitute labor or temporary labor,” Naerebout said.

Productivity concerns are just one reason dairy organizations increasingly emphasize safety. They face intensified scrutiny following serious accidents.

Skid loaders, used to move feed and manure, can crush dairy workers. Other employees drown in manure pits. Did I mention these are dirty, dangerous jobs?

Workers get kicked by cows and squeezed by their 1,500-pound mass. To protect themselves, dairy farms, like other employers, purchase workers’ comp insurance.

Meanwhile, agricultural operations view heightened anti-immigrant rhetoric as a threat while dairy associations lobby Washington for immigration reform.

“Those who lack proper documentation — we feel obligated to them, to try and get comprehensive immigration reform that will provide them legal status,” Naerebout said.

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There are also public education efforts.

The National Milk Producers Federation, for example, reports that half of all dairy farm workers are immigrants and losing them would double retail milk prices, costing the U.S. economy tens of billions of dollars.

Opposing their efforts are the anti-immigrant activists, like a radio host who dismisses dairy industry concerns over a tight labor market. Kick welfare recipients off the public dole and they will work dairy jobs, the radio host argues.

“We are one of the few organizations that is standing up to [the anti-immigrant rhetoric], advocating for immigration reform,” Naerebout said. But quelling those voices might prove even tougher than mitigating workers’ comp losses.

“I am not sure there is anything that would satisfy them,” Naerebout said. &

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

2017 Teddy Awards

The Era of Engagement

The very best workers’ compensation programs are the ones where workers aren’t just the subject of the program, they’re a part of it.
By: | November 1, 2017 • 5 min read

Employee engagement, employee advocacy, employee participation — these are common threads running through the programs we honor this year in the 2017 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Awards, sponsored by PMA Companies.

A panel of judges — including workers’ comp executives who actively engage their own employees — selected this year’s winners on the basis of performance, sustainability, innovation and teamwork. The winners hail from different industries and regions, but all make people part of the solution to unique challenges.

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Valley Health System is all-too keenly aware of the risk of violence in health care settings, running the gamut from disruptive patients to grieving, overwrought family members to mentally unstable active shooters.

Valley Health employs a proactive and comprehensive plan to respond to violent scenarios, involving its Code Atlas Team — 50 members of the clinical staff and security departments who undergo specialized training. Valley Health drills regularly, including intense annual active shooter drills that involve participation from local law enforcement.

The drills are unnerving for many, but the program is making a difference — the health system cut its workplace violence injuries in half in the course of just one year.

“We’re looking at patient safety and employee safety like never before,” said Barbara Schultz, director of employee health and wellness.

At Rochester Regional Health’s five hospitals and six long-term care facilities, a key loss driver was slips and falls. The system’s mandatory safety shoe program saw only moderate take-up, but the reason wasn’t clear.

Rather than force managers to write up non-compliant employees, senior manager of workers’ compensation and employee safety Monica Manske got proactive, using a survey as well as one-on-one communication to suss out the obstacles. After making changes based on the feedback, shoe compliance shot up from 35 percent to 85 percent, contributing to a 42 percent reduction in lost-time claims and a 46 percent reduction in injuries.

For the shoe program, as well as every RRH safety initiative, Manske’s team takes the same approach: engaging employees to teach and encourage safe behaviors rather than punishing them for lapses.

For some of this year’s Teddy winners, success was born of the company’s willingness to make dramatic program changes.

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Delta Air Lines made two ambitious program changes since 2013. First it adopted an employee advocacy model for its disability and leave of absence programs. After tasting success, the company transitioned all lines including workers’ compensation to an integrated absence management program bundled under a single TPA.

While skeptics assume “employee advocacy” means more claims and higher costs, Delta answers with a reality that’s quite the opposite. A year after the transition, Delta reduced open claims from 3,479 to 1,367, with its total incurred amount decreased by $50.1 million — head and shoulders above its projected goals.

For the Massachusetts Port Authority, change meant ending the era of having a self-administered program and partnering with a TPA. It also meant switching from a guaranteed cost program to a self-insured program for a significant segment of its workforce.

Massport’s results make a great argument for embracing change: The organization saved $21 million over the past six years. Freeing up resources allowed Massport to increase focus on safety as well as medical management and chopped its medical costs per claim in half — even while allowing employees to choose their own health care providers.

Risk & Insurance® congratulates the 2017 Teddy Award winners and holds them in high esteem for their tireless commitment to a safe workforce that’s fully engaged in its own care. &

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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.

 

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