2015 Risk All Star: Tracey Gasper

Service Centered

TBC is a tire wholesale and automotive service-center retail operator that has grown quickly through acquisition, licensing and franchising.

Tracey Gasper, Risk Manager, TBC Corp.

Tracey Gasper, Risk Manager, TBC Corp.

One of the consequences of the growth was the lack of a return-to-work (RTW) policy; decisions were left to individual store managers. With years of experience in the corporation’s risk management department, Tracey Gasper was in an ideal position to craft, implement and support a RTW program, but there was a snag at the last minute.

“In the autumn of 2013, we started discussions with a vendor that handled RTW issues for highly skilled workers,” said Gasper.

“They would place employees into nonprofit groups as a way of getting them back to full work as much as possible. In the middle of that we had a change in the company executive, and the new CEO said that he wanted our employees back in our own locations. ‘No reason they can’t greet customers or answer phones,’ he said. So that was a dramatic change in direction.”

Yet Gasper was not fazed.

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“I worked with senior management in our human resources and legal department to develop a policy, then with IT for functionality to create the systems for recordkeeping and payroll.”

The program was limited to the 800 or so stores owned by the company. Franchisees of about 2,500 other locations set their own policies.

Once the policy was authorized and the operational support systems in place, Gasper next had to take it to the streets.

“We had folks back in the workplace, not sitting home getting a check. That is good for them and for us.” — Tracey Gasper, Risk Manager, TBC Corp.

“Feedback varied from our store managers,” she recalled. Most were happy to have a policy in place, and be freed of the burden of managing RTW. But some were reluctant to surrender that authority.

“We were very proactive,” said Gasper.

“We sent out the policy, we had conference calls, and we dealt directly with individual situations one-on-one. I hired a very strong person to be the program coordinator.”

Having that dedicated person helped both in getting recalcitrant managers on board, but also in the implementation.

As soon as the program was up and running, in May 2014, three things happened very quickly, Gasper reported. First, a significant number of employees out on workers’ compensation or disability got cleared by their doctors to resume regular duties. Also, there were more than a few “clean terminations,” for people found to be working elsewhere while still on benefits.

“Word got around fast that we were serious,” said Gasper.

“We have about 10,000 associates; in our last fiscal year we were able to get more than 700 people back to work and saved $1.6 million,” Gasper said.

“So far this year we have handled 313 cases and saved $306,000.”

Whenever possible, workers were assigned back to their home locations, as soon as cleared for light duty. The gains in esprit de corps have been as great as those in dollars.

“We had folks back in the workplace, not sitting home getting a check. That is good for them and for us,” Gasper said.

“The focus can be on the fraud, but that was just a small number. The majority of people wanted to come back. I have had many of our associates thank me for helping them get back to being productive.”

Responsibility Leader

Tracey is also being recognized as a 2015 Responsibility Leader®.

Risk Management School

The company that Tracey Gasper works for is growing fast, organically and through acquisitions. That’s the good news.

The challenge, one of many faced by the risk manager, is that her team is quite young. The most veteran member of the team has been in risk management for about a year.

Gasper recalls the days when she knew little about the property/casualty insurance industry, risk management or the specialty in risk management we know as workers’ compensation.

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That’s why she’s turned her department into a mini risk management university, teaching the finer points of concepts like loss reserves and the nuances of regulatory oversight in weekly meetings.

“I’m trying to broaden their horizons so that they are aware of the bigger picture because it plays such a role in the finances of the company,” Gasper said.

Gasper’s Risk All Star nominators at Sedgwick laud her for her work in creating a return-to-work program that has made a huge impact, not only on the bottom line of TBC Corp., but in the lives of injured workers.

“She has been able to keep people working in their respective communities, decrease turnover and inspire other loyal employees,” Sedgwick executives said.

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R9-15-15p26_Intro_Allstar4-2.inddRisk All Stars stand out from their peers by overcoming challenges through exceptional problem solving, creativity, perseverance and/or passion.

See the complete list of 2015 Risk All Stars.

 

Responsibility Leader 2015Responsibility Leaders overcome obstacles by doing the right thing over the easy thing to find  practical solutions that benefit their co-workers and community.

Read more about the 2015 Responsibility Leaders.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Robotics Risk

Rise of the Cobots

Collaborative robots, known as cobots, are rapidly expanding in the workforce due to their versatility. But they bring with them liability concerns.
By: | May 2, 2017 • 5 min read

When the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto hired mobile collaborative robots to bolster security patrols, the goal was to improve costs and safety.

Once the autonomous robotic guards took up their beats — bedecked with alarms, motion sensors, live video streaming and forensics capabilities — no one imagined what would happen next.

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For some reason,  a cobots’ sensors didn’t pick up the movement of a toddler on the sidewalk who was trying to play with the 5-foot-tall, egg-shaped figure.

The 300-pound robot was programmed to stop for shoppers, but it knocked down the child and then ran over his feet while his parents helplessly watched.

Engaged to help, this cobot instead did harm, yet the use of cobots is growing rapidly.

Cobots are the fastest growing segment of the robotics industry, which is projected to hit $135.4 billion in 2019, according to tech research firm IDC.

“Robots are embedding themselves more and more into our lives every day,” said Morgan Kyte, a senior vice president at Marsh.

“Collaborative robots have taken the robotics industry by storm over the past several years,” said Bob Doyle, director of communications at the Robotic Industries Association (RIA).

When traditional robots joined the U.S. workforce in the 1960s, they were often assigned one specific task and put to work safely away from humans in a fenced area.

Today, they are rapidly being deployed in the automotive, plastics, electronics assembly, machine tooling and health care industries due to their ability to function in tandem with human co-workers.

More than 24,000 robots valued at $1.3 billion were ordered from North American companies last year, according to the RIA.

Cobots Rapidly Gain Popularity

Cobots are cheaper, more versatile and lighter, and often have a faster return on investment compared to traditional robots. Some cobots even employ artificial intelligence (AI) so they can adapt to their environment, learn new tasks and improve on their skills.

Bob Doyle, director of communications, Robotic Industry Association

Their software is simple to program, so companies don’t need a computer programmer, called a robotic integrator, to come on site to tweak duties. Most employees can learn how to program them.

While the introduction of cobots into the workplace can bring great productivity gains, it also introduces risk mitigation challenges.

“Where does the problem lie when accidents happen and which insurance covers it?” asked attorney Garry Mathiason, co-chair of the robotics, AI and automation industry group at the law firm Littler Mendelson PC in San Francisco.

“Cobots are still machines and things can go awry in many ways,” Marsh’s Kyte said.

“The robot can fail. A subcomponent can fail. It can draw the wrong conclusions.”

If something goes amiss, exposure may fall to many different parties:  the manufacturer of the cobot, the software developer and/or the purchaser of the cobot, to name a few.

Is it a product defect? Was it an issue in the base code or in the design? Was something done in the cobot’s training? Was it user error?

“Cobots are still machines and things can go awry in many ways.” — Morgan Kyte, senior vice president, Marsh

Is it a workers’ compensation case or a liability issue?

“If you get injured in the workplace, there’s no debate as to liability,” Mathiason said.

But if the employee attributes the injury to a poorly designed or programmed machine and sues the manufacturer of the equipment, that’s not limited by workers’ comp, he added.

Garry Mathiason, co-chair, robotics, AI and automation industry group, Littler Mendelson PC

In the case of a worker killed by a cobot in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2015, the worker’s spouse filed suit against five of the companies responsible for manufacturing the machine.

“It’s going to be unique each time,” Kyte said.

“The issue that keeps me awake at night is that people are so impressed with what a cobot can do, and so they ask it to do a task that it wasn’t meant to perform,” Mathiason said.

Privacy is another consideration.

If the cobot records what is happening around it, takes pictures of its environment and the people in it, an employee or customer might claim a privacy violation.

A public sign disclosing the cobot’s ability to record video or take pictures may be a simple solution. And yet, it is often overlooked, Mathiason said.

Growing Pains in the Industry

There are going to be growing pains as the industry blossoms in advance of any legal and regulatory systems, Mathiason said.

He suggests companies take several mitigation steps before introducing cobots to the workplace.

First, conduct a safety audit that specifically covers robotics. Make sure to properly investigate the use of the technology and consider all options. Run a pilot program to test it out.

Most importantly, he said, assign someone in the organization to get up to speed on the technology and then continuously follow it for updates and new uses.

The Robotics Industry Association has been working with the government to set up safety standards. One employee can join a cobot member association to receive the latest information on regulations.

“I think there’s a lot of confusion about this technology and people see so many things that could go wrong,” Mathiason said.

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“But if you handle it properly with the safety audit, the robotics audit, and pay attention to what the standards are, it’s going to be the opposite; there will be fewer problems.

“And you might even see in your experience rating that you are going to [get] a better price to the policy,” he added.

Without forethought, coverage may slip through the cracks. General liability, E&O, business interruption, personal injury, cyber and privacy claims can all be involved.

AIG’s Lexington Insurance introduced an insurance product in 2015 to address the gray areas cobots and robots create. The coverage brings together general and products liability, robotics errors and omissions, and risk management services, all three of which are tailored for the robotics industry. Minimum premium is $25,000.

Insurers are using lessons learned from the creation of cyber liability policies and are applying it to robotics coverage, Kyte said.

“The robotics industry has been very safe for the last 30 years,” RIA’s Doyle said. “It really does have a good track record and we want that to continue.” &

Juliann Walsh is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]