Column: Workers' Comp

The Life Lesson of Tom Petty

By: | March 5, 2018 • 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.

The concoction of prescription pills that contributed to rock musician Tom Petty’s overdose death mirrors the list of pharmaceuticals prescribed too often to injured workers.

The parallels reach beyond the combination of opioids, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety pills and other prescription drugs that have killed workers’ compensation claimants.


As one wise risk manager told me, “When you are dealing with injured workers, you are dealing with human beings, and there is nothing more fragile than humans.”

I suspect that is one reason workers’ comp increasingly embraces the idea that addressing psychosocial factors, and not just treating an injury’s physical manifestations, produces better outcomes for addressing pain and returning injured workers to the job.

Even the super successful, like the guy whose work topped music charts and gave us “I Won’t Back Down”  — a song that helped our nation stand strong after 9/11 — had human frailties.

He was the quintessential American success story, overcoming adversity and meager beginnings, first by earning money as a teenager performing with hometown rock bands, then by sticking to a plan, working it and taking risks to become wildly successful.

It ended with the accidental overdose of drugs his family said he consumed for hip-fracture pain and other ailments he suffered while on a 53-date concert tour.

Petty’s successes ran beyond the talent required to create numerous hits. He excelled at the problematic task of holding together a band over decades of long nights in the studio and long days on the road.

As one wise risk manager told me, “When you are dealing with injured workers, you are dealing with human beings, and there is nothing more fragile than humans.”

He made the right calls on decisions concerning band personnel and replacing record producers. He was a shrewd businessman who fought the powerful music industry, winning contract litigation to gain control over his creative direction and music rights.

His talent and drive garnered the admiration of greats like Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and George Harrison who, with him, created the successful Traveling Wilburys project.

Unfortunately, like other humans, including injured workers, he carried emotional and mental health challenges.


Beatings from a father who didn’t like his rebellious streak, depression and heroin addiction are part of Petty’s history. I admired him not only for his work ethic but for his willingness to discuss those parts of his history.

Plenty of injured employees carry equally challenging emotional and mental health histories. They carry them into treatment and they mix dangerously with opioid pain medications — especially when combined with other prescriptions.

Even though much work remains, the workers’ comp industry has outpaced much of the nation in finding solutions for such challenges.

That’s good because emotional and mental health challenges will always accompany many injured workers, even those who are driven and succeed at their work. &

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Black Swans

Black Swans: Yes, It Can Happen Here

In this year's Black Swan coverage, we focus on two events: An Atlantic mega-tsunami which would wipe out the East Coast and a killer global pandemic.
By: | July 30, 2018 • 2 min read

One of the most difficult phrases to digest without becoming frustrated or judgmental is the oft-repeated, “I never thought that could happen here.”


Most painfully, we hear it time and time again in the aftermath of the mass school shootings that terrorize this country. Shocked parents and neighbors, viewing the carnage, voice that they can’t believe this happened in their neighborhood.

Not to be mean, but why couldn’t it happen in your neighborhood?

So it is with Black Swans, a phrase describing unforeseen events, made famous by the former trader and acerbic critic of academia Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

We at Risk & Insurance® define these events in insurance terms by saying that they are highly infrequent, yet could cause massive damages. This year, for our annual Black Swan issue, we present two very different scenarios, both of which would leave mass devastation in their wake.

A Mega-Tsunami Is Coming; Can the East Coast Even Prepare?, written by staff writer Autumn Heisler, profiles an Atlantic mega-tsunami, which would wipe out lives and commerce along the East Coast.

On the topic of whether the volcanic island of La Palma, the most northwestern of the Canary Islands, could erupt, split and trigger an Atlantic mega-tsunami, scientists are divided.

Researchers Steven Ward, a geophysicist at UC Santa Cruz, and Simon Day of University College London, say such a thing could happen. Other scientists say Day and Ward are dead wrong; it’s an impossibility.

One of the counter-arguments is backed up by the statement that there has never been an Atlantic mega-tsunami. It’s never happened before and thus, could never happen here. See exhibit “A” above, re: mass school shootings.

Viral Fear: How a Global Pandemic Kills an Economy, written by associate editor Katie Dwyer, depicts a killer global pandemic the likes of which hasn’t been seen in a century.

Tens of millions of people died during the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918.

Why it could happen again includes the fact that it’s happened before. The science on influenzas, which are constantly mutating, also supports just how dangerous a threat they pose to millions of people beyond the reach of antibiotics.

Should a mutating avian flu, for example, spread widely, we could see a 10 percent drop in GDP, mostly from non-physical business interruption.

As always here, the purpose is to do exactly what insurance modelers and underwriters do; no matter how massive the event, we create scenarios, quantify possible losses and discuss risk mitigation strategies. &

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