2017 Risk All Star: Steve Richards

Seeing Opportunity in Expansion

In 2014, Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated announced it would be expanding its territory over the following two years, but didn’t specify by how much.

Steve Richards, Director Claims & Litigation, Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated

“The information trickled out slowly, and I got the sense that we were going to grow much more than I originally anticipated,” said Steve Richards, director of claims and litigation for the company.

His premonition was correct. He expected Coca-Cola to grow its workforce by about 50 percent, which would bring the payroll up to roughly 10,000 employees. Instead, it almost tripled in size, increasing the number of workers to upwards of 14,000.

Since the initial announcement, the company also acquired 25 new locations across six states. With a massive influx of new workers — both union and non-union — and varying state laws to contend with, the workers’ compensation program faced some growing pains.

In an effort to head off the expected spike in workers’ comp claims, Richards conducted a comprehensive review of the program, allowing him to identify the primary drivers of claim costs, the suitability of network penetration, and inefficiencies in claims management.

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“We had an unbundled program that wasn’t scalable,” Richards said. “Some of our partners in the unbundled model couldn’t handle the flood of new employees. We needed partners with more providers so there were more in-network options for our workers, which also leads to greater cost savings. Bundling the program expanded our access to these providers.”

Implementing stricter loss control measures was also a key feature of the program overhaul. But overcoming cultural differences among the new workers and locations took persistence and consistency of message.

“We lead with safety,” Richards said. “Some of the new territories were not accustomed to strict loss control and were more skeptical of leadership. They were used to different claims-filing procedures, different payment methods … a totally different work injury experience. We want to make that experience as easy as possible, and it took time to convince them that the changes were in their best interest.”

“We needed partners with more providers so there were more in-network options for our workers, which also leads to greater cost-savings. Bundling the program expanded our access to these providers.” — Steve Richards, Director Claims & Litigation, Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated

Prior to the expansion, 6 to 7 percent of the employee population would be injured at any given time. Since acquiring the new locations, that figure initially jumped to 10 to 15 percent, but has since dropped down to 8 to 9 percent.

“The longer workers stay on with us, the more I expect to see that number drop as they grow more used to our safety program,” Richards said.

He also streamlined the approach to claims management in an effort to improve cost control and speed up claim closure.

“Steve’s engagement and expertise, not to mention his great communication skills, provided the foundation from which we were able to meet CCBCC’s needs during the transition process,” said Sharon LaCour, account principal, Gallagher Bassett. “Partnering with Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated — and especially working with Steve Richards — demonstrated the value of true strategic collaboration.” &

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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.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

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