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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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]