2016 Teddy Awards: Honorable Mention

Keeping the Results Flowing

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago succeeds with a commonsense approach.
By: | November 2, 2016 • 3 min read

The mission of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) is to protect the health and safety of citizens and of area waterways throughout Cook County, Illinois. In order to do that, the agency must first protect the health and safety of its nearly 2,000 employees.

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The MWRD serves the City of Chicago and 125 suburban communities. It operates one of the largest wastewater treatment facilities in the world, in addition to six other plants and 23 pumping stations that provide treatment for residential and industrial wastewater.

The MWRD is also responsible for stormwater management. In fact, the MWRD’s Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP) is one of the country’s largest public works projects for pollution and flood control. TARP’s four tunnel systems total 109 miles of tunnels, 9 to 33 feet in diameter and 150 to 300 feet underground. Two reservoirs are in operation, and construction is in progress on the third and final reservoir.

With the absolute goal of sending all workers home safely at the end of the workday, the MWRD has invested a great amount of time assessing the risks its workers face and how to best address them. Most of the facilities are heavy industrial environments, and many of the jobs require substantial physical labor.

Job duties vary significantly, from trade specific roles to those of general laborers, whose tasks are often driven by the immediate needs of the day. Adding to the dynamic is that employees tend to stay with the MWRD for a long time; the average age of the workforce is over 50.

The MWRD’s robust eLearning program incorporates 200 trades-based and industry-based courses, in addition to offering general business and computer training.

The MWRD has implemented a variety of loss control strategies to reduce both the number and the severity of injuries on the job. For instance, the MWRD now provides dipolar (bifocal) safety glasses with 2x and 3x magnification for tradespeople who are doing close up work in order to accommodate changes in eyesight.

Additional chain falls were added so pipefitters would not have to bend over to lift lengths of pipe. Mechanized turntables for garbage dumpsters have been added to minimize manual raking and poor ergonomics. A strong emphasis is placed on using two-person lifts, and extra carts were provided for moving tools from place to place. These initiatives reduce the likelihood and impact of strains and back injuries.

Given the importance of back safety, the MWRD engages outside experts bi-annually to deliver dozens of back safety and body mechanics classes. In-house safety staff conduct training as well. In 2015 alone, MWRD safety staff conducted 498 training sessions for 7,122 employees on 53 different topics, prioritizing key activities and key areas of injury.

eLearning Central

The MWRD also strengthened its return-to-work program to ensure injured workers remain engaged throughout their recovery process and return to employment as soon as they can do so safely. Many jobs at the MWRD are highly physical, so light duty options are not always available or appropriate.

A transitional duty option – eLearning – was incorporated to accommodate medical releases to sedentary duty. The MWRD’s robust eLearning program incorporates 200 trades-based and industry-based courses, in addition to offering general business and computer training. eLearning is now a central component in the MWRD’s return-to-work strategy.

The MWRD’s approach to medical management is holistic. A number of steps have been taken to mitigate the cost and impact of injuries. Local clinics are designated for each plant and are briefed on MWRD jobs and protocols as well as the return-to-work program.

At the largest plant, the MWRD contracts with a physical therapy provider who treats injured workers on-site so employees do not need to leave the premises. The medical case management system uses outside nurse case managers to work with the injured worker, our third party claims administrator, and doctors to assure that the injured worker is receiving appropriate treatment on a timely basis.

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With a 360-degree focus encompassing injury prevention, return-to-work, and medical case management, the MWRD has experienced dramatic reductions in costs per claim, medical costs, and the number of lost time claims. As of October, the MWRD recorded 67 claims for 2016, a remarkable drop from the 150 recorded just five years ago for full year 2011.

“This has truly been a collaborative effort and has resulted in a cultural change around workers’ compensation within our organization,” said Ruth Joplin, MWRD Risk Manager. “Throughout the process, management support and supervisor engagement has been key. We are amazed and gratified to see what has been accomplished in such a short time.”

Risk & Insurance® is pleased to recognize the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago with a Teddy Award Honorable Mention. &

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Read more about the 2016 Teddy Award winners:

target-150x150Bringing Focus to Broad Challenges: Target brings home a 2016 Teddy Award for serving as an advocate for its workers, pre- and post-injury, across each of its many operations.

 

hrt-150x150The Road to Success: Accountability and collaboration turned Hampton Roads Transit’s legacy workers’ compensation program into a triumph.

 

excela-150x150Improve the Well-Being of Every Life: Excela Health changed the way it treated injuries and took a proactive approach to safety, drastically reducing workers’ comp claims and costs.

 

harder-150x150The Family That’s Safe Together: An unwavering commitment to zero lost time is just one way that Harder Mechanical Contractors protects the lives and livelihoods of its workers.

 

More coverage of the 2016 Teddy Awards:

Recognizing Excellence: The judges of the 2016 Teddy Awards reflect on what they learned, and on the value of awards programs in the workers’ comp space.

Fit for Duty: 2013 Teddy Winner Miami-Dade County Public Schools is managing comorbid risk factors by getting employees excited about healthy living.

Saving Time and Money: Applying Lean Six Sigma to its workers’ comp processes earned Atlantic Health a Teddy Award Honorable Mention.

Caring for the Caregivers: Adventist Health Central Valley Network is achieving stellar results by targeting its toughest challenges.

Advocating for Injured Workers: By helping employees navigate through the workers’ comp system, Cottage Health decreased lost work days by 80 percent.

A Matter of Trust: St. Luke’s workers’ comp program is built upon relationships and a commitment to care for those who care for patients.

Keeping the Results Flowing: R&I recognizes the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago for a commonsense approach that’s netting continuous improvement.

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

R&I Profile

Achieving Balance

XL Catlin’s Denise Balan stays calm and focused when faced with crisis.
By: | January 10, 2018 • 6 min read

In the high-stress scenario of kidnap or ransom, the first image that comes to mind isn’t necessarily a yoga mat — at least, not for most.

But Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin, who practices yoga every day, would swear by it.

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“I looked at these opposing aspects of my life,” she said. “Yoga is about focus, balance, clarity of intent. In a moment of stress, how do you respond? The more clarity and calmness you maintain, the better positioned you are to provide assistance in moments of crisis.

“Nobody wants to be speaking to a frenetic person when either dealing with a dangerous situation or planning for prevention of a situation,” she added.

“There’s a poem by [Rudyard] Kipling on that,” added Balan’s colleague Ben Tucker. “What it boils down to is: If you can remain calm, you can manage through a crisis a lot better.”

Tucker, who works side by side with Balan as head of U.S. terrorism and political violence, XL Catlin, has seen how yoga influences his colleague.

“The way Denise interacts with stakeholders in this process — she is very professional and calm in the approach she takes.”

Yin and Yang

Sometimes seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary and interconnected. In Balan’s life, yoga and K&R have become her yin and yang.

She entered the insurance world after earning a juris doctor degree and practicing law for a few years. The switch came, she said, when Balan realized she wasn’t enjoying her time as a commercial litigator.

Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin

In her new role, she was able to use her legal background to manage litigation at AIG, where her transition from law to insurance took place. She started her insurance career in the environmental sector.

In a chance meeting in 2007, Balan met with crisis management underwriters who told her about kidnap and ransom products.

She was hooked.

Because of her background in yoga, Balan liked the crisis management side of the job. Being able to bring the calmness and clearness of intent she practiced during yoga into assisting clients in planning for crisis management piqued her interest.

She then joined XL Catlin in July 2013, where she built the K&R team.

As she became more immersed in her field, Balan began to notice something: The principles she learned in yoga were the same principles ex-military and ex-law enforcement practiced when called to a K&R-related crisis.

She said, “They have a warrior mentality — focus, purpose, strength and logic — and I would say yoga is quite similar in discipline.”

“K&R responders have a warrior mentality — focus, purpose, strength and logic — and I would say yoga is quite similar in discipline.” — Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin

Many understand yoga to be, in itself, one type of meditation, but yoga actually encompasses a group of physical, mental and spiritual practices. Each is a discipline. Some forms of yoga focus on movement and breathing, others focus on posture and technique. Some yoga is meant to relax the mind and create a sense of calmness; other yoga types make participants sweat.

After having her second child and working full-time, Balan wanted to find something physical and relaxing for herself; a friend suggested yoga. During her first lesson, Balan said she was enamored with it.

“I felt like I’d done it all my life.”

She dove into the philosophy of yoga, adopting the practice into her daily routine. Every morning, whether Balan is in her Long Island home or on a business trip, she pulls out her yoga mat to practice.

“I always travel with my mat,” she said. “Daily practice is the simplest form of connection to routine to maintain my balance — physically and mentally.”

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She said the strangest place she has ever practiced was in Lisbon. She was on a very narrow balcony with a bird feeder swarming with sparrows overhead.

After years of studying and practicing, Balan is considered a yogi — someone who is highly proficient in yoga. She attends annual retreats with her yoga group, where she is able to rejuvenate, ready to tackle any K&R event when she returns.

In 2016, Balan visited Tuscany, Italy, where she learned the practice of yoga nidra, a very deep form of meditation. It’s described as the “going-to-sleep stage” — a type of yoga that brings participants to a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping.

“It awakens a different part of your brain,” Balan commented. “Orally describing it doesn’t quite do it justice. One has to practice Nidra to fully understand the effect it has on your being.”

Keeping a level head during a crisis is key in their line of business, Tucker said. He can attest to the benefit of having a yogi on board.

“I’ve seen her run table-top exercises where there is this group of people in a room and they run an exercise, a simulation of a kidnap incident. Denise is very committed to what we’re doing,” said Tucker.

“She brings that energy. She doesn’t get flustered by much.”

Building a K&R Program

When Balan joined XL Catlin, she was tasked with creating the K&R team.

Balan during a retreat in Sicily, Italy, 2017

She spent time researching and analyzing what clients would want in their K&R coverage. What stuck out most to Balan was the fact that, in these situations, the decision to purchase kidnap and ransom cover is rarely made because of desire for reimbursement of money.

“I asked why people buy this type of coverage. The answer was for the security responders,” she said.

“These are the people who sit with the family. They’re similar to psychologists or priests,” Balan further explained. “Corporations can afford to pay ransom. They buy [K&R] because it gives them access to these trained and dedicated professionals who not only provide negotiation advice, but actually sit with a victim’s family, engaging deep levels of emotional investment.”

“I’ve learned to appreciate all moments in life — one at a time. The ability to think clearly and calmly guides my work, my practice and my personal life.” — Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin

Balan described these responders as people having total clarity of purpose, setting their intentions to resolve a crisis — a practice at the very heart of yoga. She knew XL Catlin’s new kidnap program would put stock in their responders.

“I’ve worked closely with the responders to better understand what they can do for our clientele. These are the people who run into danger — warrior hearts married to dedication to our clients’ best interests.”

But K&R is more than fast-paced crisis and quick thinking; Balan also spent a good deal of time writing the K&R form and getting the company’s resources in order. This was a huge task to tackle when creating the program from the ground up.

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“A lot of my day-to-day is speaking with brokers and finding ways to enhance our product,” she said.

After a few months, she was able to hire the company’s first K&R underwriter. From there, the program has grown. It’s left her feeling professionally rewarded.

“People don’t often get that opportunity to build something up from scratch,” she said. “It’s been an amazing experience — rewarding and fun.”

“She brings groups of people together,” said Tucker. “She’s created a positive environment.”

Balan’s yogi nature extends beyond the office walls, too. Her pride and joy, she said, are her kids. And while it may seem like two large parts of her life are opposite in nature, Balan’s achieved balance through her passions.

“[Yoga] has given me the ability to see beyond only one aspect of any situation” she said. “I’ve learned to appreciate all moments in life — one at a time. The ability to think clearly and calmly guides my work, my practice and my personal life.” &

Autumn Heisler is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]