2018 Risk All Star: Kevin Farthing

How Farm Life Shaped One Risk Manager’s Tenacity for Worker Safety

Kevin Farthing, a 2018 Risk All Star, solved his staff's high rate of musculoskeletal injuries, saving more than $500K in annual workers' comp costs. 
By: | September 14, 2018 • 2 min read

Growing up on a 385-acre tobacco farm shaped Kevin Farthing’s unflinching work ethic. The central Kentucky sun was relentless. The 20-hour days maddening. The physical labor intense.

Kevin Farthing. environmental health and safety manager, Sparton Electronics

“It’s hot, miserable, tough work, but it taught me about work ethic, problem solving, how to handle urgency and how to prioritize,” he said. “That training was more valuable than my college education.”

Now Farthing is bringing that same drive to Sparton Electronics in De Leon Springs, Fla., where he serves as environmental health and safety manager. The 600-employee company manufactures sonobuoys for the navies of the world — but faced a high number of musculoskeletal injuries and annual workers’ comp claim costs exceeding $500,000. Despite multiple modifications to the production processes and attempts to control ergonomic risk factors, nothing seemed to work.

Farthing knew where the answer was, so he dug through filing cabinets for injury data, built spreadsheets and searched for trends. Were older workers more susceptible to injury? Were certain job tasks more dangerous? Then a eureka moment — he found that 40 percent of the musculoskeletal injuries were occurring during the first three years of employment. Sparton was hiring candidates who were previously injured or not capable of performing the physical tasks required.

“[Farm work] is hot, miserable, tough work, but it taught me about work ethic, problem solving, how to handle urgency and how to prioritize. That training was more valuable than my college education.” — Kevin Farthing. environmental health and safety manager, Sparton Electronics

That led him to partner with BTE Workforce Solutions to design specific post-offer, pre-employment tests to make sure candidates were up to the physical challenges. They tested for all the tasks that required high force, awkward posture and high grip strength. Initially, the failure rate was 50 percent.


Rather than lowering the demands of the tests, he identified which tests individuals were failing most and modified the actual work tasks they corresponded to. For example, they no longer require employees to manually move certain types of heavy loads.

“We took that test completely out of the equation, and my plant is safer because of it,” said Farthing. In another instance, he tested a banding cutter personally and realized the incredible grip force required to do the job.

“I took them to a maintenance shop, took them apart and threw them in the garbage,” he said. “Two days later, we had an electric banding cutter in there.”

Buy-in from senior management took serious tenacity, but that didn’t stop a risk manager as determined as Farthing.

“He didn’t let a ‘no’ stop him,” said Connie Miller, the BTE vice president of Business Development. After two years of implementation, the program has seen excellent results. A two-year investment of $174,000 has yielded an expected savings of more than $950,000. &


Risk All Stars stand out from their peers by overcoming challenges through exceptional problem solving, creativity, clarity of vision and passion.

See the complete list of 2018 Risk All Stars.

Jared Shelly is a journalist based in Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

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The Profession

For This Pharmaceutical Risk Director, Managing Risk Means Being Part of the Mission to Save Lives

Meet Eric Dobkin, director, insurance and risk management, for Merck & Co. Inc.
By: | September 28, 2018 • 5 min read

R&I: What was your first job?
My first job out of undergrad was as an actuarial trainee at Chubb.I was a math major in school, and I think the options for a math major coming out are either a teacher or an actuary, right? Anyway, I was really happy when the opportunity at Chubb presented itself. Fantastic company. I learned a lot there.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?
After I went back to get my MBA, I decided I wanted to work in corporate finance. When I was interviewing, one of the opportunities was with Merck. I really liked their mission, and things worked out. Given my background, they thought a good starting job would be in Merck’s risk management group. I started there, rotated through other areas within Merck finance but ultimately came back to the Insurance & Risk Management group. I guess I’m just one of those people who enjoy this type of work.


R&I: What is risk management doing right?
I think the community is doing a good job of promoting education, sharing ideas and advancing knowledge. Opportunities like this help make us all better business partners. We can take these ideas and translate them into actionable solutions to help our companies.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?
I think we have made good advancements in articulating the value proposition of investing in risk management, but much more can be done. Sometimes there is such a focus on delivering immediate value, such as cost savings, that risk management does not get appropriate attention (until something happens). We need to develop better tools that can reinforce that risk management is value-creating and good for operational efficiency, customers and shareholders.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?
I’d actually say there hasn’t been as much change as I would have hoped. I think the industry speaks about innovation more often than it does it. To be fair, at Merck we do have key partners that are innovators, but some in the industry are less enthusiastic to consider new approaches. I think there is a real need to find new and relevant solutions for large, complex risks.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?
Cyber risk. While it’s not emerging anymore, it’s evolving, dynamic and deserves the attention it gets. Merck was an early adopter of risk transfer solutions for cyber risk, and we continue to see insurance as an important component of the overall cyber risk management framework. From my perspective, this risk, more than any other, demands continuous forward-thinking to ensure we evolve solutions.

R&I: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
Sticking with the cyber theme, I’d say navigating through a cyber incident is right up there. In June 2017, Merck experienced a network cyber attack that led to a disruption of its worldwide operations, including manufacturing, research and sales. It was a very challenging environment. And managing the insurance claim that resulted has been extremely complex. But at the same time, I have learned a tremendous amount in terms of how to think about the risk, enterprise resiliency and how to manage through a cyber incident.

R&I: What advice might you give to students or other aspiring risk managers?
Have strong intellectual curiosity. Always be willing to listen and learn. Ask “why?” We deal with a lot of ambiguity in our business, and the more you seek to understand, the better you will be able to apply those learnings toward developing solutions that meet the evolving risk landscape and needs of the business.


R&I: What role does technology play in your company’s approach to risk management?
We’re continuing to look for ways to apply technology. For example, being able to extract and leverage data that resides in our systems to evaluate risk, drive efficiencies and make things like property-value reporting easier. We’re also looking to utilize data visualization tools to help gain insights into our risks.

R&I: What are your goals for the next five to 10 years of your career?
I think, at this time, I would like to continue to learn and grow in the type of work I do and broaden my scope of responsibilities. There are many opportunities to deliver value. I want to continue to focus on becoming a stronger business partner and help enable growth.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?
I’d say right now Star Wars is top on my list. It has been magical re-watching and re-living the series I watched as a kid through the eyes of my children.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in? When I was about 15, I went to a New York Rangers versus Philadelphia Flyers game at the Philadelphia Spectrum. I wore my Rangers jersey. I would not do that again.

Eric Dobkin, director, insurance & risk management, Merck & Co. Inc

R&I: What is it about this work you find most fulfilling or rewarding?
I am passionate about Merck’s mission of saving and improving lives. “Inventing for Life” is Merck’s tagline. It’s funny, but most people don’t associate “inventing” with medicine. But Merck has been inventing medicines and vaccines for many of the world’s most challenging diseases for a long time. It’s amazing to think the products we make can help people fight terrible diseases like cancer. Whatever little bit I can do to help advance that mission is very fulfilling and rewarding.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?
Ha! My kids think I make medicine. I guess they think that because I work for Merck. I suppose if even in a small way I can contribute to Merck’s mission of saving and improving lives, I am good with that. &

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