Column: Workers' Comp

A Safe Space for Workers

By: | September 12, 2017 • 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.

Creating a “safe space” for injured workers returning to the job is a concept deserving a spotlight.

The idea is loaded with an abundance of promise for implementing workers’ compensation in the best way possible. Within the concept’s core resides a desire to focus on meeting injured workers’ needs while improving employers’ claims results.

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And it’s not just a philosophical concept. There is a practical, established strategy behind it. One that can help take risk out of hiring new workers in a U.S. economy that continues to add jobs. It can help remove the fear that sometimes hinders established workers with injuries from returning to the job as early as possible.

The idea of creating a “safe space” came my way from Judie Tsanopoulos, director of workers’ comp and loss control at St. Joseph Health.

Judie is a consummate workers’ comp practitioner.  Over the years I’ve spoken with her, I’ve noticed that she consistently works to improve every corner of her workers’ comp program, applying creativity, elbow grease and direction.

Her discussion of creating a safe space is really about the physical demands analysis St. Joe’s conducts for each work role. It applies an essential functions review to determine whether returning injured workers are capable of a job’s physical demands.

By reframing it as an opportunity to give injured workers safe space for recovering while they transition back into their jobs, the conversation shifts to accentuate a caring role. It transforms the concept into one that recognizes the worker’s needs.

This is nothing new. It’s known that a job analysis based on the essential functions of work roles reduces losses.

While it’s particularly useful for eliminating injuries among the newly hired, who are most prone to experience accidents, it also helps established workers safely return post injury.

But the practice is commonly discussed in terms that represent the employers’ viewpoint and interest in reducing claims expense.

By reframing it as an opportunity to give injured workers safe space for recovering while they transition back into their jobs, the conversation shifts to accentuate a caring role. It transforms the concept into one that recognizes the worker’s needs.

It acknowledges that it is common for workers to fear returning to work and doesn’t conveniently ignore that significant fact.

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Returning workers may be overprotective of their bodies. They may fear tasks they routinely handled in the past; tasks that defined their roles. That may make them less eager to cooperate with return-to-work plans.

Providing a safe space is about helping workers learn that they’re progressing in their recovery. It helps build their confidence.

It’s a strategy that helps workers appreciate that their employer cares.

It also provides something for the workers’ comp manager.

Judie said it’s the kind of effort that has resulted in formerly injured workers hugging her when she walks through a St. Joseph hospital. She is the first to admit that hugs are not the typical greeting for a workers’ comp director. &

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

2017 Risk All Stars

Immeasurable Value

The 2017 Risk All Stars strengthened their organizations by taking ownership of improved risk management processes and not quitting until they were in place.
By: | September 12, 2017 • 3 min read

Being the only person to hold a particular opinion or point of view within an organization cannot be easy. Do the following sound like familiar stories? Can you picture yourself or one of your risk management colleagues as the hero or heroine? Or better yet, as a Risk & Insurance® Risk All Star?

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One risk manager took a job with a company that was being spun off, and the risk management program, which was built for a much larger company, was not a good fit for the spun-off company.
Rather than sink into inertia, this risk manager took the bull by the horns and began an aggressive company intranet campaign to instill better safety and other risk management practices throughout the organization.

The risk manager, 2017 Risk All Star Michelle Bennett of Cable One, also changed some long-standing brokerage relationships that weren’t a good fit for the risk management and insurance program. In her first year on the job she produced premium savings and in her second year is in the process of introducing ERM company-wide.

Or perhaps this one rings a bell. The news is trickling out that a company is poised to dramatically expand, increasing the workforce three- or four-fold. Having this knowledge with certainty would be a great benefit to a risk manager, who could begin girding safety, workers’ comp and related programs accordingly. But things sometimes don’t work that way, do they? Sometimes the risk manager is one of the last people to know.

The Risk All Star Award recognizes at its core, creativity, perseverance and passion. The 13 winners of this year’s award all displayed those traits in abundance.

In the case of 2017 Risk All Star winner Steve Richards of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company, the news of an expansion spurred him to action. He completely overhauled the company’s workers’ compensation program and streamlined its claim management system. The results, even with a much higher headcount, were reduced legal costs, better return-to-work experiences for injured workers and a host of other improvements and savings.

The Risk All Star Award recognizes at its core, creativity, perseverance and passion. The 13 winners of this year’s award all displayed those traits in abundance. Sometimes it took years for a particular risk solution, as promoted by a risk manager, to find acceptance.

In other cases a risk manager got so excited about a solution, they never even considered getting turned down. They just kept pushing until they carried the day.

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Butler University’s Zach Finn became obsessive about what he felt was a lackluster effort on the part of the insurance industry to bring in new talent. The former risk manager for the J.M. Smucker Co. settled on the creation of a student-run captive to give his risk management students the experience they would need to get hired right out of college.

The result was a better risk management program for the university’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and immediate traction in the job market for Finn’s students.

A few of our Risk All Stars told us that the results they are achieving were decades in the making. Only by year-in, year-out dedication to gaining transparency about her co-op’s risks and learning more and more about her various insurance carriers, did Growmark Inc.’s Faith Cring create a stalwart risk management and insurance program that is the envy of the agricultural sector. Now she’s been with some of her insurance carriers more than 20 years — some more than 30 years.

Having the right idea and not having a home for it can be a lonely, frustrating experience. Having the creativity, the passion and perhaps, most importantly, the perseverance to see it through and get great results makes you a Risk All Star. &

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Risk All Stars stand out from their peers by overcoming challenges through exceptional problem solving, creativity, perseverance and passion.

See the complete list of 2017 Risk All Stars.

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