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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.

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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. &

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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

More from Risk & Insurance

2018 Risk All Stars

Stop Mitigating Risk. Start Conquering It Like These 2018 Risk All Stars

The concept of risk mastery and ownership, as displayed by the 2018 Risk All Stars, includes not simply seeking to control outcomes but taking full responsibility for them.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 3 min read

People talk a lot about how risk managers can get a seat at the table. The discussion implies that the risk manager is an outsider, striving to get the ear or the attention of an insider, the CEO or CFO.

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But there are risk managers who go about things in a different way. And the 2018 Risk All Stars are prime examples of that.

These risk managers put in gear their passion, creativity and perseverance to become masters of a situation, pushing aside any notion that they are anything other than key players.

Goodyear’s Craig Melnick had only been with the global tire maker a few months when Hurricane Harvey dumped a record amount of rainfall on Houston.

Brilliant communication between Melnick and his new teammates gave him timely and valuable updates on the condition of manufacturing locations. Melnick remained in Akron, mastering the situation by moving inventory out of the storm’s path and making sure remediation crews were lined up ahead of time to give Goodyear its best leg up once the storm passed and the flood waters receded.

Goodyear’s resiliency in the face of the storm gave it credibility when it went to the insurance markets later that year for renewals. And here is where we hear a key phrase, produced by Kevin Garvey, one of Goodyear’s brokers at Aon.

“The markets always appreciate a risk manager who demonstrates ownership,” Garvey said, in what may be something of an understatement.

These risk managers put in gear their passion, creativity and perseverance to become masters of a situation, pushing aside any notion that they are anything other than key players.

Dianne Howard, a 2018 Risk All Star and the director of benefits and risk management for the Palm Beach County School District, achieved ownership of $50 million in property storm exposures for the district.

With FEMA saying it wouldn’t pay again for district storm losses it had already paid for, Howard went to the London markets and was successful in getting coverage. She also hammered out a deal in London that would partially reimburse the district if it suffered a mass shooting and needed to demolish a building, like what happened at Sandy Hook in Connecticut.

2018 Risk All Star Jim Cunningham was well-versed enough to know what traditional risk management theories would say when hospitality workers were suffering too many kitchen cuts. “Put a cut-prevention plan in place,” is the traditional wisdom.

But Cunningham, the vice president of risk management for the gaming company Pinnacle Entertainment, wasn’t satisfied with what looked to him like a Band-Aid approach.

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Instead, he used predictive analytics, depending on his own team to assemble company-specific data, to determine which safety measures should be used company wide. The result? Claims frequency at the company dropped 60 percent in the first year of his program.

Alumine Bellone, a 2018 Risk All Star and the vice president of risk management for Ardent Health Services, faced an overwhelming task: Create a uniform risk management program when her hospital group grew from 14 hospitals in three states to 31 hospitals in seven.

Bellone owned the situation by visiting each facility right before the acquisition and again right after, to make sure each caregiving population was ready to integrate into a standardized risk management system.

After consolidating insurance policies, Bellone achieved $893,000 in synergies.

In each of these cases, and in more on the following pages, we see examples of risk managers who weren’t just knocking on the door; they were owning the room. &

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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.

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]