IDM Programs

Managing Disability Challenges

Integrated disability management programs promise many benefits, but one size does not fit all.
By: | February 22, 2016 • 5 min read

Employer interest in integrated disability management programs is on the rise. But despite the interest, many professionals are unsure where to start.


Making it more complicated is the fact that such programs can take many different forms, depending on a company’s needs and pain points.

“If you think of a big software or internet provider, what’s driving lost time there is very different from what’s driving costs for a manufacturing company,” said Phil Bruen, vice president and practice leader, disability and absence growth strategies for MetLife.

“The exposures are different, the workforce is different; there are different skills in different environments.”

Phil Bruen, vice president, MetLife

Phil Bruen, vice president, MetLife

Age factors in as well. In a tech company, there may be a higher proportion of millennials, for example. That could mean less frequent or severe injury claims, but more requests for maternity or paternity leave.

With an aging workforce, on the other hand, employers can expect more chronic conditions and musculoskeletal injuries. Duration of leave may be longer, and effective return-to-work planning will be more critical.

“The skills those folks have are so hard to replace, the employer is going to focus on how to get those people back to work quickly, on a temporary basis if necessary, or through other accommodations,” Bruen said.

Raytheon and Textron, two distinctly different companies, recently detailed their respective integrated disability programs during a webinar. While there were some key similarities in execution, the company programs had different structures.

Raytheon’s Model

Raytheon, a technology company specializing in defense, civil government and cyber security, with 61,000 employees worldwide, focuses on unifying and streamlining the disability management process across four distinct business units, which recently was consolidated down from seven.

Previously, each unit had a different management model in place — some were nurse-run, others were driven by human resources, still others a mix of the two.

With the consolidation, the company shifted to a nurse-run model, said Tina Romain, Raytheon’s human resource absence manager.


Romain worked with MetLife to build claims teams assigned to each unit to handle short-term and long-term disability benefits.

Under Romain’s direction, Raytheon also assembled a “Lost Time Intervention Team,” composed of the company’s absence management team, representatives from either MetLife (their disability insurer) or Liberty Mutual (their workers’ compensation insurer), and the company’s health care vendor.

The team regularly studies all open cases and identifies possible return-to-work paths for each employee, as well as available services that the employee can utilize, such as wellness programs.

“The skills those folks have are so hard to replace, the employer is going to focus on how to get those people back to work quickly.” — Phil Bruen, vice president, MetLife

The increased emphasis on safe return-to-work planning resulted in 26 percent of all employees who returned to work in 2014 doing so with some type of modification or accommodation.

Compliance with Family and Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act — with their web of regulations that seems to grow more complex each year as amendments are discussed and court cases set precedent — was a critical focus of the program overhaul.

The implementation of a centralized data tracking and reporting system made it easy to track and categorize all claims correctly, ensuring each received the attention it required, and keeping data easily available for audits.

That system also generates monthly reports on wellness program participation, health clinic utilization, total accommodations made for short-term disability and workers’ comp claim trends.

Plus, a single HR dashboard provides an easy interface for employees to request leave or an accommodation, submit an appeal, or check on the progress of their claim.

“Open communication helped by one centralized system ensured that no one falls between the cracks,” Romain said.

The “focused and aligned partnerships with vendors saved 1,227 days [and] $323,000 in 2015 through June, over the same period in 2014,” according to Raytheon.

Textron’s Take

Textron launched its integrated program slightly differently. The $13.9 billion multi-industry company consists of aircraft, defense intelligence, industrial and finance businesses. Textron Aviation is the only segment to tackle an integrated disability program thus far, although the company hopes to expand the program to other units.


MetLife’s Bruen said that a “pilot program” approach is a good way to develop best practices before attempting to integrate disability management across an entire company.

The occupational risk profile for its 11,000 employees worldwide differs from Raytheon’s non-manufacturing business. In addition, half of its workforce is over 45 years of age, a population that constituted 67 percent of the company’s disability claims.

“On the workers’ comp, occupational side, we’re very good,” said Penny Gilbert, manager of health services for Textron Aviation. “We’ve increased our focus on the non-occupational side in 2009, and we’re getting better and better.”

Similar to Raytheon, Textron Aviation created an integrated reporting dashboard that tracks and generates reports on frequency, severity and cost for both occupational and non-occupational claims. Those metrics are benchmarked against Textron’s other business units and against wider industry trends.

“Open communication helped by one centralized system ensured that no one falls between the cracks.” — Tina Romain, human resource absence manager, Raytheon

Open and regular communication on open claims and return-to-work opportunities is also key, among the integrated disability management team, corporate representatives, vendors and a corporate medical consultant.

A decision to formalize the return-to-work process led to the utilization of functional capacity evaluations, which offer “a clearer understanding of the physical demands and limitations,” Gilbert said.

Since 2009, the integrated program has achieved a 60 percent reduction in lost time days, reduced average length of short-term disability claims by four days, and average costs per claim that are 56 percent lower than the national average.

Targeting Unique Needs

According to Bruen of MetLife, building an integrated disability strategy depends on a company’s specific drivers of lost time, and the unique “constellation of resources available are different for every company.”


As with any major organizational change, leadership buy-in is critical. Any goals of an integrated disability program — whether it is reduced cost per claim, fewer claims overall or faster return to work — must align with executives’ broader goals and priorities for the organization.

“Organizational silos are also a barrier,” Bruen said. “Sometimes structure can get in the way.”

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

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Report: Marine

Crewless Ships Raise Questions

Is a remote operator legally a master? New technology confounds old terms.
By: | March 5, 2018 • 6 min read

For many developers, the accelerating development of remote-controlled and autonomous ships represents what could be the dawn of a new era. For underwriters and brokers, however, such vessels could represent the end of thousands of years of maritime law and risk management.

Rod Johnson, director of marine risk management, RSA Global Risk

While crewless vessels have yet to breach commercial service, there are active testing programs. Most brokers and underwriters expect small-scale commercial operations to be feasible in a few years, but that outlook only considers technical feasibility. How such operations will be insured remains unclear.

“I have been giving this a great deal of thought, this sits on my desk every day,” said Rod Johnson, director of marine risk management, RSA Global Risk, a major UK underwriter. Johnson sits on the loss-prevention committee of the International Union of Maritime Insurers.

“The agreed uncertainty that underpins marine insurance is falling away, but we are pretending that it isn’t. The contractual framework is being made less relevant all the time.”

Defining Autonomous Vessels

Two types of crewless vessels are being contemplated. First up is a drone with no one on board but actively controlled by a human at a remote command post on land or even on another vessel.

While some debate whether the controllers of drone aircrafts are pilots or operators, the very real question yet to be addressed is if a vessel controller is legally a “master” under maritime law.


The other type of crewless vessel would be completely autonomous, with the onboard systems making decisions about navigation, weather and operations.

Advocates tout the benefits of larger cargo capacity without crew spaces, including radically different hull designs without decks people can walk on. Doubters note a crew can fix things at sea while a ship cannot.

Rolls-Royce is one of the major proponents and designers. The company tested a remote-controlled tug in Copenhagen in June 2017.

“We think the initial early adopters will be vessels operating on fixed routes within coastal waters under the jurisdiction of flag states,” the company said.

“We expect to see the first autonomous vessel in commercial operation by the end of the decade. Further out, around 2025, we expect autonomous vessels to operate further from shore — perhaps coastal cargo ships. For ocean-going vessels to be autonomous, it will require a change in international regulations, so this will take longer.”

Once autonomous ships are a reality, “the entire current legal framework for maritime law and insurance is done,” said Johnson. “The master has not been replaced; he is just gone. Commodity ships (bulk carriers) would be most amenable to that technology. I’m not overly bothered by fully automated ships, but I am extremely bothered by heavily automated ones.”

He cited two risks specifically: hacking and fire.

“We expect to see the first autonomous vessel in commercial operation by the end of the decade. Further out, around 2025, we expect autonomous vessels to operate further from shore — perhaps coastal cargo ships. For ocean-going vessels to be autonomous, it will require a change in international regulations, so this will take longer.” — Rolls-Royce Holdings study

Andrew Kinsey, senior marine risk consultant, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, asked an even more existential question: “From an insurance standpoint, are we even still talking about a vessel as it is under law? Starting with the legal framework, the duty of a flag state is ‘manning of ships.’ What about the duty to render assistance? There cannot be insurance coverage of an illegal contract.”

Several sources noted that the technological development of crewless ships, while impressive, seems to be a solution in search of a problem. There is no known need in the market; no shippers, operators, owners or mariners advocate that crewless ships will solve their problems.

Kinsey takes umbrage at the suggestion that promotional material on crewless vessels cherry picks his company’s data, which found 75 percent to 90 percent of marine losses are caused by human error.


“Removing the humans from the vessels does not eliminate the human error. It just moves the human error from the helm to the coder. The reports on development by the companies with a vested interest [in crewless vessels] tend to read a lot like advertisements. The pressure for this is not coming from the end users.”

To be sure, Kinsey is a proponent of automation and technology when applied prudently, believing automation can make strides in areas of the supply chains. Much of the talk about automation is trying to bury the serious shortage of qualified crews. It also overshadows the very real potential for blockchain technology to overhaul the backend of marine insurance.

As a marine surveyor, Kinsey said he can go down to the wharf, inspect cranes, vessels and securements, and supervise loading and unloading — but he can’t inspect computer code or cyber security.

New Times, New Risks

In all fairness, insurance language has changed since the 17th century, especially as technology races ahead in the 21st.

“If you read any hull form, it’s practically Shakespearean,” said Stephen J. Harris, senior vice president of marine protection UK, Marsh. “The language is no longer fit for purpose. Our concern specifically to this topic is that the antiquated language talks about crew being on board. If they are not on board, do they still legally count as crew?”

Harris further questioned, “Under hull insurance, and provided that the ship owner has acted diligently, cover is extended to negligence of the master or crew. Does that still apply if the captain is not on board but sitting at a desk in an office?”

Andrew Kinsey, senior marine risk consultant, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty

Several sources noted that a few international organizations, notably the Comite Maritime International and the International Maritime Organization, “have been very active in asking the legal profession around the world about their thoughts. The interpretations vary greatly. The legal complications of crewless vessels are actually more complicated than the technology.”

For example, if the operational, insurance and regulatory entities in two countries agree on the voyage of a crewless vessel across the ocean, a mishap or storm could drive the vessel into port or on shore of a third country that does not recognize those agreements.

“What worries insurers is legal uncertainty,” said Harris.

“If an operator did everything fine but a system went down, then most likely the designer would be responsible. But even if a designer explicitly accepted responsibility, what matters would be the flag state’s law in international waters and the local state’s law in territorial waters.


“We see the way ahead for this technology as local and short-sea operations. The law has to catch up with the technology, and it is showing no signs of doing so.”

Thomas M. Boudreau, head of specialty insurance, The Hartford, suggested that remote ferry operations could be the most appropriate use: “They travel fixed routes, all within one country’s waters.”

There could also be environmental and operational benefits from using battery power rather than conventional fuels.

“In terms of underwriting, the burden would shift to the manufacturer and designer of the operating systems,” Boudreau added.

It may just be, he suggested, that crewless ships are merely replacing old risks with new ones. Crews can deal with small repairs, fires or leaks at sea, but small conditions such as those can go unchecked and endanger the whole ship and cargo.

“The cyber risk is also concerning. The vessel may be safe from physical piracy, but what about hacking?” &

Gregory DL Morris is an independent business journalist based in New York with 25 years’ experience in industry, energy, finance and transportation. He can be reached at [email protected]