2016 Teddy Award Winner

The Family That’s Safe Together

An unwavering commitment to zero lost time is just one way that Harder Mechanical Contractors protects its workers.
By: | November 2, 2016 • 6 min read

From a safety and workers’ comp perspective, the construction industry is one of the most daunting of all industries. The numbers say it best. One in 10 construction workers is injured every year, according to OSHA, and over the course of a 45-year career, a construction worker has a 1 in 200 chance of dying. Sobering odds.

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One company beating those odds is Harder Mechanical Contractors, a 2016 Teddy Award winner.

Portland, Ore.-based Harder Mechanical specializes in process piping fabrication and installation, equipment installation, commercial HVAC piping and plumbing, instrumentation and controls, civil and poured-in-place concrete work and structural steel erection services.

The size of the company’s workforce varies, ranging from around 2,000 to more than 3,000 employees, depending upon the number of projects the company has in the works. Having that kind of revolving-door operation can be a major stumbling block for a safety program. But it has actually made the company double down on its efforts to create a safety culture that can thrive even as workers come and go.

“It’s a never-ending battle,” said Jennifer Massey, the company’s corporate director of safety and health and claims management. “Every day we have to reinforce it.”

Jennifer Massey, corporate director of safety and health and claims management, Harder Mechanical Contractors

Jennifer Massey, corporate director of safety and health and claims management, Harder Mechanical Contractors

It’s a battle they’re winning. The company’s injury frequency plunged from 71 to 18 in the past four years, and its total incurred cost per claim dropped from $21,322 in 2011 to $683 in 2015.

“We have a team that is aligned and focused to prevent injuries at the jobsite,” said company President Dustin Harder. “Our senior leaders are trained to support our crews and a lot of attention is put on the boots on the ground. Our field foremen are the first line of defense to preventing injuries and properly managing the ones that do occur.”

“Every person in the company, from the president to the apprentice, is deeply committed to the goal of achieving zero-injuries,” agreed the company’s general counsel and risk manager, Bill Murphy.

Results like that take diligence. Massey’s team is constantly on top of its leading and lagging indicators, working to spot any sign that the company’s safety efforts may need a course-correct.

When the team became concerned that workers were suffering hand injuries despite wearing gloves, it set out to find out why.

“The problem was, we just weren’t helping them to understand that they needed to wear the right gloves for the job they were doing, or to stop and change [gloves] as the conditions change,” said Massey.

With worker input, the team created a colorful quick-reference 4-by-8-foot glove matrix banner, matching images of glove types to specific jobs and tasks.

“We don’t want to just impose something upon the people out there in the field — they’re the ones turning the wrenches, and know how to do their jobs safely. We need to get their input so they own it,” she said.

The outcome was even better than expected — a rapid 60 percent reduction in hand injuries.

Getting to Zero

Harder Mechanical’s lost-time accident rate is enviable: Zero. The company just reached a remarkable 16 million man hours without a lost-time accident.

“That one is actually our easiest situation to deal with,” said Massey, well aware of how surprising that sounds. The key, she said, is an environment of trust. Workers readily partner with the company to make zero lost-time happen.

Dustin Harder, president, Harder Mechanical Contractors

Dustin Harder, president, Harder Mechanical Contractors

Employee pay scales are negotiated under collective bargaining agreements for each state jurisdiction and craft. If somebody is off work and getting TTD payments, said Massey, “they are severely affected” in terms of salary, health and welfare benefits for their families, and pension credit hours.

That’s a heavy burden to bear. Harder Mechanical makes sure that every employee understands there’s another option.

“We effectively communicate with them that … you can partner with us, and get your doctor involved, and all of us come together and agree that we’re going to keep you working no matter what. … Which would you choose if you were an injured worker?”

In the short-term, Massey’s team provides online training platforms. Recovering workers are brought to a warehouse location, where it’s easiest to accommodate restrictions safely. Treating physicians are highly cooperative because they understand that workers’ recoveries will not be compromised, and are inclined to follow their patients’ wishes.

“I tell [workers], you have to advocate for yourself and tell your doctor, ‘No, this is what I am doing; this is how the company and I are partnering.’ ”

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In 2014, a steamfitter nearing retirement suffered a crushed leg, and nearly lost his foot. Despite multiple surgeries, he was able to utilize the online training platforms until he could return to modified duty at the warehouse.

The employee couldn’t return to his job in the same capacity, so Massey’s team brought in a vocational specialist to help design a permanent job description for him.

With assistance from the state’s preferred worker program, Harder provided numerous accommodations, including special shoes, rolling stools that allow him to rest his leg, a motorized scooter and a golf cart which he uses to travel between buildings.

“We don’t want to just impose something upon the people out there in the field — they’re the ones turning the wrenches, and know how to do their jobs safely. We need to get their input so they own it.” — Jennifer Massey, corporate director of safety and health and claims management, Harder Mechanical Contractors

Throughout the entire journey, he never had to worry about whether he’d be able to provide for his family. That allowed him to focus on his recovery. Eliminating that anxiety has a major impact on outcomes, Massey said.

“Our employees are not affected adversely, financially, so they’re focusing on getting better because they’re not stressed out about how they’re going to pay their bills, or how they’re going to have medical benefits for their family,” she said.

The Human Connection

One important feature of Harder Mechanical’s safety culture is how the company communicates with employees, reminding them why safety matters in the first place, especially in their lives outside of work.

 Bill Murphy, general counsel and risk manager, Harder Mechanical Contractors

Bill Murphy, general counsel and risk manager, Harder Mechanical Contractors

That comes into play with safety commitment letters — letters that workers are asked to write to their families, making a personal promise to work safely.

It’s a tool so powerful that the company only uses it when circumstances warrant a wake-up call.

“We use it when we feel like we’re definitely trending the wrong way and we have to take prompt corrective action to turn the train around before something happens,”  Massey said.

The same principle is applied in a lighter fashion in the company’s newsletter. That features a retiree profile in each issue that details the joys of a retirement they worked so hard for.

For Massey, getting employees safely to those golden years is personal.

“Coming up through, with my dad in the shipyard, [I knew] a lot of my dad’s colleagues who passed away from asbestosis, or they were totally broken down … their quality of life was not what it should be. … People who work hard, they deserve to enjoy the rest of their lives after working.”

Massey said the commitment to protecting every Harder Mechanical employee runs from the top down.

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“For me safety is a value that we will never sacrifice,” said Harder. “I have worked personally with many of the guys within our company; they are an extension of my family, the Harder family. If one of them were to get hurt it’s like a family member gets hurt.”

“The company’s message and safety programs are focused on every worker being able to go home to their families at night in the same condition as when they left for work in the morning,” said Murphy. “I have always been impressed with the company’s consistent approach in all aspects of its business:  ‘Do the right thing.’ ” &

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Read more about the 2016 Teddy Award winners:

target-150x150Bringing Focus to Broad Challenges: Target brings home a 2016 Teddy Award for serving as an advocate for its workers, pre- and post-injury, across each of its many operations.

 

hrt-150x150The Road to Success: Accountability and collaboration turned Hampton Roads Transit’s legacy workers’ compensation program into a triumph.

 

excela-150x150Improve the Well-Being of Every Life: Excela Health changed the way it treated injuries and took a proactive approach to safety, drastically reducing workers’ comp claims and costs.

 

harder-150x150The Family That’s Safe Together: An unwavering commitment to zero lost time is just one way that Harder Mechanical Contractors protects the lives and livelihoods of its workers.

 

More coverage of the 2016 Teddy Awards:

Recognizing Excellence: The judges of the 2016 Teddy Awards reflect on what they learned, and on the value of awards programs in the workers’ comp space.

Fit for Duty: 2013 Teddy Winner Miami-Dade County Public Schools is managing comorbid risk factors by getting employees excited about healthy living.

Saving Time and Money: Applying Lean Six Sigma to its workers’ comp processes earned Atlantic Health a Teddy Award Honorable Mention.

Caring for the Caregivers: Adventist Health Central Valley Network is achieving stellar results by targeting its toughest challenges.

Advocating for Injured Workers: By helping employees navigate through the workers’ comp system, Cottage Health decreased lost work days by 80 percent.

A Matter of Trust: St. Luke’s workers’ comp program is built upon relationships and a commitment to care for those who care for patients.

Keeping the Results Flowing: R&I recognizes the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago for a commonsense approach that’s netting continuous improvement.

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

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

High Net Worth

High Net Worth Clients Live in CAT Zones. Here’s What Their Resiliency Plan Should Include

Having a resiliency plan and practicing it can make all the difference in a disaster.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 7 min read

Packed with state-of-the-art electronics, priceless collections and high-end furnishings, and situated in scenic, often remote locations, the dwellings of high net worth individuals and families pose particular challenges when it comes to disaster resiliency. But help is on the way.

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Armed with loss data, innovative new programs, technological advances, and a growing army of niche service-providers aimed at addressing an astonishingly diverse set of risks, insurers are increasingly determined to not just insure against their high net worth clients’ losses, but to prevent them.

Insurers have long been proactive in risk mitigation, but increasingly, after the recent surge in wildfire and storm losses, insureds are now, too.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy,” said Laura Sherman, founding partner at Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners.

And especially in the high net worth space, preventing that loss is vastly preferable to a payout, for insurers and insureds alike.

“If insurers can preserve even one house that’s 10 or 20 or 40 million dollars … whatever they have spent in a year is money well spent. Plus they’ve saved this important asset for the client,” said Bruce Gendelman, chairman and founder Bruce Gendelman Insurance Services.

High Net Worth Vulnerabilities

Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

As the number and size of luxury homes built in vulnerable areas has increased, so has the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events, including hurricanes, harsh cold and winter storms, and wildfires.

“There is a growing desire to inhabit this riskier terrain,” said Jason Metzger, SVP Risk Management, PURE group of insurance companies. “In the western states alone, a little over a million homes are highly vulnerable to wildfires because of their proximity to forests that are fuller of fuel than they have been in years past.”

Such homes are often filled with expensive artwork and collections, from fine wine to rare books to couture to automobiles, each presenting unique challenges. The homes themselves present other vulnerabilities.

“Larger, more sophisticated homes are bristling with more technology than ever,” said Stephen Poux, SVP and head of Risk Management Services and Loss Prevention for AIG’s Private Client Group.

“A lightning strike can trash every electronic in the home.”

Niche Service Providers

A variety of niche service providers are stepping forward to help.

Secure facilities provide hurricane-proof, wildfire-proof off-site storage for artwork, antiques, and all manner of collectibles for seasonal or rotating storage, as well as ahead of impending disasters.

Other companies help manage such collections — a substantial challenge anytime, but especially during a crisis.

“Knowing where it is, is a huge part of mitigating the risk,” said Eric Kahan, founder of Collector Systems, a cloud-based collection management company that allows collectors to monitor their collections during loans to museums, transit between homes, or evacuation to secure storage.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy.” — Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

Insurers also employ specialists in-house. AIG employs four art curators who advise clients on how to protect and preserve their art collections.

Perhaps the best known and most striking example of this kind of direct insurer involvement are the fire teams insurers retain or employ to monitor fires and even spray retardant or water on threatened properties.

High-Level Service for High Net Worth

All high net worth carriers have programs that leverage expertise, loss data, and relationships with vendors to help clients avoid and recover from losses, employing the highest levels of customer service to accomplish this as unobtrusively as possible.

“What allows you to do your job best is when you develop that relationship with a client, where it’s the same people that are interacting with them on every front for their risk management,” said Steve Bitterman, chief risk services officer for Vault Insurance.

Site visits are an essential first step, allowing insurers to assess risks, make recommendations to reduce them, and establish plans in the event of a disaster.

“When you’re in a catastrophic situation, it’s high stress, time is of the essence, and people forget things,” said Sherman. “Having a written plan in place is paramount to success.”

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Another important component is knowing who will execute that plan in homes that are often unoccupied.

Domestic staff may lack the knowledge or authority to protect the homeowner’s assets, and during a disaster may be distracted dealing with threats to their own homes and families. Adequate planning includes ensuring that whoever is responsible has the training and authority to execute the plan.

Evaluating New Technology

Insurers use technologies like GPS and satellite imagery to determine which homes are directly threatened by storms or wildfires. They also assess and vet technologies that can be implemented by homeowners, from impact glass to alarm and monitoring systems, to more obscure but potentially more important options.

AIG’s Poux recommends two types of vents that mitigate important, and unexpected risks.

“There’s a fantastic technology called Smart Vent, which allows water to flow in and out of the foundation,” Poux said. “… The weight of water outside a foundation can push a foundation wall in. If you equalize that water inside and out at the same level, you negate that.”

Another wildfire risk — embers getting sucked into the attic — is, according to Poux, “typically the greatest cause of the destruction of homes.” But, he said, “Special ember-resisting venting, like Brandguard Vents, can remove that exposure altogether.”

Building Smart

Many disaster resiliency technologies can be applied at any time, but often the cost is fractional if implemented during initial construction. AIG’s Smart Build is a free program for new or remodeled homes that evolved out of AIG’s construction insurance programs.

Previously available only to homes valued at $5 million and up, Smart Build recently expanded to include homes of $1 million and up. Roughly 100 homes are enrolled, with an average value of $13 million.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work.” — Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“We know what goes wrong in high net worth homes,” said Poux, citing AIG’s decades of loss data.

“We’re incenting our client and by proxy their builder, their architects and their broker, to give us a seat at the design table. … That enables us to help tweak the architectural plans in ways that are very easy to do with a pencil, as opposed to after a home is built.”

Poux cites a remote ranch property in Texas.

Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“The client was rebuilding a home but also installing new roads and grading and driveways. … The property was very far from the fire department and there wasn’t any available water on the property.”

Poux’s team was able to recommend underground water storage tanks, something that would have been prohibitively expensive after construction.

“But if the ground is open and you’ve got heavy equipment, it’s a relatively minor additional expense.”

Homes that graduate from the Smart Build program may be eligible for preferred pricing due to their added resilience, Poux said.

Recovery from Loss

A major component of disaster resiliency is still recovery from loss, and preparation is key to the prompt service expected by homeowners paying six- or seven-figure premiums.

Before Irma, PURE sent contact information for pre-assigned claim adjusters to insureds in the storm’s direct path.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work,” said Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting for Ironshore’s Private Client Group.

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“If you’ve got custom construction or imported materials in your house, you’re not going to go down the street and just find somebody that can do that kind of work, or has those materials in stock.”

In the wake of disaster, even basic services can be scarce.

“Our claims and risk management departments have to work together in advance of the storm,” said Bitterman, “to have contractors and restoration companies and tarp and board services that are going to respond to our company’s clients, that will commit resources to us.”

And while local agents’ connections can be invaluable, Goetsch sees insurers taking more of that responsibility from the agent, to at least get the claim started.

“When there is a disaster, the agency’s staff may have to deal with personal losses,” Goetsch said. &

Jon McGoran is a novelist and magazine editor based outside of Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]