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Workplace Stress

Stress Linked to Workers’ Comp Claims

A study concludes that stress at work increases the likelihood of worker injury.
By: | November 4, 2016 • 4 min read

Reducing employee stress levels could help organizations reduce workers’ compensation claims, according to a new study from the Center for Health, Work & Environment at the Colorado School of Public Health.

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The study, which analyzed claims occurrence and cost from nearly 17,000 employees at 314 organizations of various sizes across multiple industries, found that stress at work increased the likelihood of workers getting injured, while the source of stress was found to influence claims cost.

“Stress at work is predictive of workplace accidents — if you want to prevent workers’ comp claims, you need to look at causes of stress in the work environment,” said Dr. Natalie Schwatka, lead author of the report, entitled “Health Risk Factors as Predictors of Workers’ Compensation Claim Occurrence and Cost.”

Dr. Natalie Schwatka, instructor and researcher, Colorado School of Public Health

Dr. Natalie Schwatka, instructor and researcher, Colorado School of Public Health

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data suggests the frequency of occupational injuries and illnesses is gradually declining in line with improving health and safety measures, but the cost per workers’ compensation claim is rising. Overall, workers’ compensation claims cost employers around $250 billion annually.

In 2013, more than three million non-fatal workplace injuries and more than 4,000 fatal injuries occurred. Of the non-fatal injuries, around one-third resulted in lost work time, with an average absence of eight days.

“With the exception of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) among first responders, stress is not covered under a workers’ comp policy, but stress can manifest itself as a physical claim that would fall under workers’ comp,” said Karen Curran, director of worksite wellness for Colorado WC insurer Pinnacol Assurance.

“There are a number of health risk factors that are predictive of frequency and severity of industrial injuries, but when that data is modified to take into account demographics and work environments, stress keeps rising to the top,” she said.

“Businesses these days have robust safety programs but the next step is to introduce worksite wellness programs to tie safety and wellness together.”

According to Schwatka, the majority of claims analyzed in the study concerned injuries such as strains, sprains, lacerations and contusions. While several health risk factors — such as obesity and smoking — were commonly found among claimants, stress was the only factor to display a consistent relationship with claims occurrence and cost when researchers factored in demographics and workplace variables such as employment type, occupation, income and company size.

“The first thing you have to do as an employer is take the taboo out of the workplace. Depression is a clinical diagnosis, not a character flaw.” — Karen Curran, Karen Curran, director of worksite wellness, Pinnacol Assurance

One notable finding was that claims made by workers experiencing stress at home were typically more expensive, while those made by workers perceiving stress over their finances were less costly.

Schwatka said it appears workers who don’t get enough support at home struggle more with recovery than workers who worry about financial risk and thus get back to work as soon as they can.

Holistic Approach to Work Safety

The study called for organizations to implement a “total worker health” approach, including heightened focus on mental well-being, which may reduce both the occurrence and cost of workplace injuries.

Karen Curran, director of worksite wellness, Pinnacol Assurance

Karen Curran, director of worksite wellness, Pinnacol Assurance

“Our findings strengthen the argument that businesses should address stress management as part of their safety programs and also focus on the systemic factors in their business that may cause stress, such as poor leadership, poor social support, lack of control over work demands and lack of work/life balance,” said Schwatka.

“If you are an employer with limited resources, there are simple things that can be done to help employees identify and manage stress,” said Curran.

Measures organizations could take to reduce workplace stress include flexible working hours and the inclusion of dedicated breaks for deep breathing or meditation during the working day to help keep workers minds’ “in the present,” she said.

Schwatka added that companies should also consider incorporating stress management into return-to-work programs.

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However, Curran noted, many male-driven industries still struggle to overcome cultural stigma associated with mental health issues.

“Industries with high suicide rates such as construction, and oil and gas are also the ones that have the hardest time wrapping their arms around workplace stress, which is seen as a touchy-feely subject,” she said.

“The first thing you have to do as an employer is take the taboo out of the workplace. Depression is a clinical diagnosis, not a character flaw. Leaders have to acknowledge it is OK to talk about stress.” &

Antony Ireland is a London-based financial journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Cyber Resilience

No, Seriously. You Need a Comprehensive Cyber Incident Response Plan Before It’s Too Late.

Awareness of cyber risk is increasing, but some companies may be neglecting to prepare adequate response plans that could save them millions. 
By: | June 1, 2018 • 7 min read

To minimize the financial and reputational damage from a cyber attack, it is absolutely critical that businesses have a cyber incident response plan.

“Sadly, not all yet do,” said David Legassick, head of life sciences, tech and cyber, CNA Hardy.

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In the event of a breach, a company must be able to quickly identify and contain the problem, assess the level of impact, communicate internally and externally, recover where possible any lost data or functionality needed to resume business operations and act quickly to manage potential reputational risk.

This can only be achieved with help from the right external experts and the design and practice of a well-honed internal response.

The first step a company must take, said Legassick, is to understand its cyber exposures through asset identification, classification, risk assessment and protection measures, both technological and human.

According to Raf Sanchez, international breach response manager, Beazley, cyber-response plans should be flexible and applicable to a wide range of incidents, “not just a list of consecutive steps.”

They also should bring together key stakeholders and specify end goals.

Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions

With bad actors becoming increasingly sophisticated and often acting in groups, attack vectors can hit companies from multiple angles simultaneously, meaning a holistic approach is essential, agreed Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions.

“Collaboration is key — you have to take silos down and work in a cross-functional manner.”

This means assembling a response team including individuals from IT, legal, operations, risk management, HR, finance and the board — each of whom must be well drilled in their responsibilities in the event of a breach.

“You can’t pick your players on the day of the game,” said Hogg. “Response times are critical, so speed and timing are of the essence. You should also have a very clear communication plan to keep the CEO and board of directors informed of recommended courses of action and timing expectations.”

People on the incident response team must have sufficient technical skills and access to critical third parties to be able to make decisions and move to contain incidents fast. Knowledge of the company’s data and network topology is also key, said Legassick.

“Perhaps most important of all,” he added, “is to capture in detail how, when, where and why an incident occurred so there is a feedback loop that ensures each threat makes the cyber defense stronger.”

Cyber insurance can play a key role by providing a range of experts such as forensic analysts to help manage a cyber breach quickly and effectively (as well as PR and legal help). However, the learning process should begin before a breach occurs.

Practice Makes Perfect

“Any incident response plan is only as strong as the practice that goes into it,” explained Mike Peters, vice president, IT, RIMS — who also conducts stress testing through his firm Sentinel Cyber Defense Advisors.

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Unless companies have an ethical hacker or certified information security officer on board who can conduct sophisticated simulated attacks, Peters recommended they hire third-party experts to test their networks for weaknesses, remediate these issues and retest again for vulnerabilities that haven’t been patched or have newly appeared.

“You need to plan for every type of threat that’s out there,” he added.

Hogg agreed that bringing third parties in to conduct tests brings “fresh thinking, best practice and cross-pollination of learnings from testing plans across a multitude of industries and enterprises.”

“Collaboration is key — you have to take silos down and work in a cross-functional manner.” — Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions

Legassick added that companies should test their plans at least annually, updating procedures whenever there is a significant change in business activity, technology or location.

“As companies expand, cyber security is not always front of mind, but new operations and territories all expose a company to new risks.”

For smaller companies that might not have the resources or the expertise to develop an internal cyber response plan from whole cloth, some carriers offer their own cyber risk resources online.

Evan Fenaroli, an underwriting product manager with the Philadelphia Insurance Companies (PHLY), said his company hosts an eRiskHub, which gives PHLY clients a place to start looking for cyber event response answers.

That includes access to a pool of attorneys who can guide company executives in creating a plan.

“It’s something at the highest level that needs to be a priority,” Fenaroli said. For those just getting started, Fenaroli provided a checklist for consideration:

  • Purchase cyber insurance, read the policy and understand its notice requirements.
  • Work with an attorney to develop a cyber event response plan that you can customize to your business.
  • Identify stakeholders within the company who will own the plan and its execution.
  • Find outside forensics experts that the company can call in an emergency.
  • Identify a public relations expert who can be called in the case of an event that could be leaked to the press or otherwise become newsworthy.

“When all of these things fall into place, the outcome is far better in that there isn’t a panic,” said Fenaroli, who, like others, recommends the plan be tested at least annually.

Cyber’s Physical Threat

With the digital and physical worlds converging due to the rise of the Internet of Things, Hogg reminded companies: “You can’t just test in the virtual world — testing physical end-point security is critical too.”

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How that testing is communicated to underwriters should also be a key focus, said Rich DePiero, head of cyber, North America, Swiss Re Corporate Solutions.

Don’t just report on what went well; it’s far more believable for an underwriter to hear what didn’t go well, he said.

“If I hear a client say it is perfect and then I look at some of the results of the responses to breaches last year, there is a disconnect. Help us understand what you learned and what you worked out. You want things to fail during these incident response tests, because that is how we learn,” he explained.

“Bringing in these outside firms, detailing what they learned and defining roles and responsibilities in the event of an incident is really the best practice, and we are seeing more and more companies do that.”

Support from the Board

Good cyber protection is built around a combination of process, technology, learning and people. While not every cyber incident needs to be reported to the boardroom, senior management has a key role in creating a culture of planning and risk awareness.

David Legassick, head of life sciences, tech and cyber, CNA Hardy

“Cyber is a boardroom risk. If it is not taken seriously at boardroom level, you are more than likely to suffer a network breach,” Legassick said.

However, getting board buy-in or buy-in from the C-suite is not always easy.

“C-suite executives often put off testing crisis plans as they get in the way of the day job. The irony here is obvious given how disruptive an incident can be,” said Sanchez.

“The C-suite must demonstrate its support for incident response planning and that it expects staff at all levels of the organization to play their part in recovering from serious incidents.”

“What these people need from the board is support,” said Jill Salmon, New York-based vice president, head of cyber/tech/MPL, Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance.

“I don’t know that the information security folks are looking for direction from the board as much as they are looking for support from a resources standpoint and a visibility standpoint.

“They’ve got to be aware of what they need and they need to have the money to be able to build it up to that level,” she said.

Without that support, according to Legassick, failure to empower and encourage the IT team to manage cyber threats holistically through integration with the rest of the organization, particularly risk managers, becomes a common mistake.

He also warned that “blame culture” can prevent staff from escalating problems to management in a timely manner.

Collaboration and Communication

Given that cyber incident response truly is a team effort, it is therefore essential that a culture of collaboration, preparation and practice is embedded from the top down.

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One of the biggest tripping points for companies — and an area that has done the most damage from a reputational perspective — is in how quickly and effectively the company communicates to the public in the aftermath of a cyber event.

Salmon said of all the cyber incident response plans she has seen, the companies that have impressed her most are those that have written mock press releases and rehearsed how they are going to respond to the media in the aftermath of an event.

“We have seen so many companies trip up in that regard,” she said. “There have been examples of companies taking too long and then not explaining why it took them so long. It’s like any other crisis — the way that you are communicating it to the public is really important.” &

Antony Ireland is a London-based financial journalist. He can be reached at [email protected] Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]