2017 Vermont Report

Vermont Eyes Agency Captives

An agricultural consortium is one group taking a serious look at forming an agency captive in Vermont.
By: | April 7, 2017 • 6 min read

Agency captives have become increasingly popular in recent years, with more and more large associations with hundreds or even thousands of members looking to insure themselves.

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Vermont, the leading domestic captive domicile, is currently working on legislation to allow them and could see it approved in a month.

An agency captive is essentially a reinsurance company owned by an insurance agency or brokerage that works through an agreement with a fronting carrier, whereby the captive receives a share of all premiums written and retains any investment income, but in return it has to pay a portion of the claims.

Most agency captives write business owner policy, package, general liability, errors and omissions, workers’ compensation and auto liability.

The concept of an agency captive or producer-owned reinsurance company (PORC) is nothing new; they have been around for several years, but few domiciles were willing to register them after they came under scrutiny from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and other regulators.

The problem was that under the PORC structure, producers could recommend a particular policy to a client because it generated an underwriting profit for its company rather than being the most suitable policy for that client.

David Provost. deputy commissioner, Captive Insurance Division, Vermont

It also allowed the producer to cherry-pick the best risks for its own PORC and offload the poorer risks to other carriers, as well as the model being used in fraudulent schemes.

“That’s why we will have a clear preference for an agency/producer that is working with program business and/or is owned or affiliated with the ultimate buyers, such as an association or other homogenous group of risks,” said David Provost, deputy commissioner for Vermont’s Captive Insurance Division, who tabled a proposal to register agency captives in a captive bill in January.

“Our proposal limits this to commercial insurance business — we are not likely to see heterogeneous risk being placed.”

Vermont Launch

The bill has already received the green light from the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development, but it is still awaiting approval for a tax credit included within the bill from the Ways and Means Committee. Provost, for one, doesn’t anticipate any problems.

“I don’t anticipate that we’ll have any trouble getting it passed before the legislative session ends in May.” — David Provost. deputy commissioner, Captive Insurance Division, Vermont

“This year we decided to put forward a proposal to make it law in order to open the door to potential business,” he said.

“I don’t anticipate that we’ll have any trouble getting it passed before the legislative session ends in May.”

Similar to a group captive, instead of being owned by the group members, it is owned by an insurance agency such as an MGA or a program administrator, and the group business is placed with an insurer backed up by the captive as a reinsurance company, said Provost.

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“That is exactly the kind of business that we are looking for — a group program with a captive to share and participate in the risk, and potentially the profits, as well as sharing best practices and other risk mitigation strategies,” he said.

“This should achieve a virtuous cycle where the group drives down costs, in turn generating profits which can then be returned to its members in the form of either a dividend or put back into cost control.”

“Working closely with our members we are able to better understand and mitigate against the risk, which ultimately helps control claims costs.” — Jan Klodowski, vice president at Agri-Services Agency

Provost said that, if granted approval, an agency captive would also be regulated in the same way as a group captive; required to provide an annual statement, actuarial review and audited financials, as well as undergoing a thorough review of its forms and contracts to ensure the policy is fit for purpose.

“The key to an agency captive is to ensure that there is full disclosure of all business placed to the members that are paying the premiums, and that they get the full benefit of the captive,” he said.
“In the case of the group captive, if it is generating a profit it is important that this is applied to the captive’s risk management strategy to drive down costs.”

Provost said that since announcing the proposal, Vermont started receiving an uptick in interest in agency captives.

“I don’t expect it will be a flood of applications, but we are probably going to see one or two a year.”

Provost added that an agency captive was perfect for large associations with difficult to place risks such as agricultural risks.

“It’s a lot easier to place that kind of risk if you have 500 or 1,000 policyholders than one or two,” he said.

“If you have got volume and a premium and it can be turned into something that is mutually beneficial and profitable for both the members and the insurer.”

Association Application

Agri-Services Agency (ASA), a wholly owned subsidiary of Dairy Farmers of America, formed more than 30 years ago to provide affordable insurance programs to its thousands of members and affiliated agricultural producers before being changed to a sponsored cell captive, similar to the agency captive model.

ASA started the Agrisurance Inc. captive in Vermont to provide consistent workers’ compensation for agricultural production companies that were struggling to secure coverage and was quickly extended to supporting businesses.

It’s considering moving to the agency captive model if and when Vermont legislators approve the structure.

Jan Klodowski, vice president, Agri-Services Agency

“We knew that we had to reach a broad group of people and we wanted to be able to stabilize the pricing as well as have a consistent workers’ compensation program available for agricultural production and agricultural types of business,” said Jan Klodowski, vice president at Agri-Services Agency.

“To our members our program looks like a traditional insured’s, but we don’t have the same fluctuation in pricing even though we follow the state recommendations.

“And because we have that pricing flexibility we have been able to work with our members more effectively in investing the money back into developing safety programs.”

Klodowski said that at the time of setting up the captive, Dairy Farmers of America opted for a model that it could understand and favorably predict where its losses were going to be and price accordingly.

During the good years, any profits made were plowed back into value-added services for the program and into expanding the captive’s loss control team of agricultural experts, she added.

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The captive, which had an underwriting combined ratio of 87 percent at the end of 2016, also has a claims manager and analyst onsite, said Klodowski. “When we have catastrophic losses as a result of serious accidents, we work closely with the employer and employee concerned to provide them with access to the best medical care.”

“Working closely with our members we are able to better understand and mitigate against the risk, which ultimately helps control claims costs.”

Gary Osborne, president of USA Risk Group, whose company has managed many agency captives and who advocated for agency captives for Vermont more than 10 years ago, said that from his experience, the most successful ones were individual agencies with a niche that allows for customization and specialized cover that forms a market.

“Specialized programs should be the target,” he said. &

__________________________________________________

2017 Vermont Report

A Perfect Fit

Life Time Fitness finds a captive home in Vermont.

Eight Questions for Dan Towle  

Risk & Insurance® speaks with Dan Towle as he departs from his long tenure as director of financial services for the State of Vermont.

 

 

Alex Wright is a U.K.-based business journalist, who previously was deputy business editor at The Royal Gazette in Bermuda. You can reach him at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Workers' Comp

Keeping Workers on Their Feet

Slip and fall prevention programs must interweave all of the factors contributing to the risk.
By: | July 6, 2017 • 11 min read

If you peruse the last decade’s worth of literature from the CDC, NIOSH, or numerous other agencies or organizations, you’re bound to come across the “good news” that slips, trips and falls are largely preventable.

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So it’s frustrating, then, that slip, trip and fall injuries consistently account for more than a quarter of all nonfatal occupational injuries, and at least 65 percent of those injuries happen on same-level walking surfaces. And those figures just don’t budge all that much from year to year.

According to the “2016 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index,” falls on same level currently rank as the second highest cause of disabling injuries in the U.S., with direct costs of $10.17 billion, accounting for 16.4 percent of the total national injury burden.

“Not only are they still happening often, but they tend to be very significant injuries,” said Mike Lampl, director of research at the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.

“We’ve seen these trends grow over the years,” said Wayne Maynard, product director, risk control, with Liberty Mutual. “Bottom line is, it’s a real, real big problem.”

So why are preventable falls so hard to prevent? This stubborn status quo, say experts, is that the causes of slips and trips are typically far more complex than they seem. There are nearly always multiple factors in play, from footwear and flooring and the interplay of both, to cleaning procedures, lighting, housekeeping, weather, and workers’ mental or physical conditions as well as overall awareness.

And all of these factors are being exacerbated by the fact that incidents often go unreported.

“Slips, falls — people get up, move on, they don’t report it,” said Maynard.

“When somebody’s injured and files a claim — in the workers’ arena, how many are behind the scenes that may have happened that are not reportable? …. The unreported number is considerable in my opinion.”

The key to making any headway in reducing slips and falls on the same surface, say experts, is to have a comprehensive fall prevention plan that addresses all possible factors. No small task.

Engineering Solutions

Flooring conditions are often the most obvious starting point. Ideally, said Maynard, all the right choices are made at the planning and design stage. But sometimes mistakes are made, and in other cases, a business may be inheriting an older space with floor chosen for a different purpose.

Patricia Showerman, senior loss control consultant, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

So even flooring in good condition may be the wrong type of material and may not have the necessary coefficient of friction (slip resistance) needed for the work being done.

If companies want to drill down into all the details of the surfaces in their facilities, a friction coefficient study is always an option, said Patricia Showerman, senior loss control consultant at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

But if a company doesn’t want to take that step, she said, it may be a simpler matter of saying, “Let’s look at what you’ve got. Let’s look at your floor surfaces and how you’re maintaining them.”

A lot of people want that “shiny grocery store glam look,” she said. “And if you can do it properly, and maintain it properly and keep that coefficient of friction and have the shiny look, that’s great. That’s what everybody wants but how do they get there?”

Certain surfaces may start out with an adequate coefficient of friction when they’re clean and dry. But add even an invisible layer of dust or debris, “and it’s like microscopic little BBs that you slide across,” said Showerman. “So if you have dust on your floor, you are dramatically reducing your slip coefficient.”

For companies that do have flooring surfaces in need of improvement, ripping up the floor and replacing it isn’t typically a feasible option. Fortunately there are more budget-friendly ways to get the maximum slip resistance from existing flooring, such as coatings and etchings.

A coating adds a microscopic layer on top of the flooring that creates a grip surface while maintaining the shine. Showerman likened the effect to the way that Velcro fasteners work.

“You want that hook effect … sharp points are going to microscopically stick into the soles of your shoes, rather than rolling off the top.”

Etching can work in a similar way, chemically altering the existing surface to make it imperceptibly gritty. Etching can also be used to create pores in an existing surface, which is useful for areas such as machine shops, she said.

Be Smart With Surfactants

While keeping floor surfaces clean is one of the best ways to remove slip and fall hazards, cleaning them the wrong way can actually do more harm than good.

Failure to follow appropriate cleaning procedures can severely diminish a surface’s coefficient of friction.

Experts suggest that companies engage with their chemical suppliers, and discuss their flooring as well as the types of dirt or grease removal and disinfectant needs. Detergents – which can contain different types of surfactants — aren’t a one size fits all solution.

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Sometimes purchasers might be inclined to try to cover all their bases by buying the strongest product on the market, but that might mean adding unnecessary surfactants that make surfaces less slip resistant.

“Clearly identify the types of surfaces you’re using it for, the type of oil or dirt or debris you have, and whether or not you need a sanitizing step,” said Showerman.

“You’ve got to find the right balance.”

But that’s only half the battle. A significant problem experts see time and time again is that companies don’t understand how their flooring is being maintained on a day-to-day basis by front-line employees. Failure to follow appropriate cleaning procedures can severely diminish a surface’s coefficient of friction.

“This is where you’re seeing someone with a mop and bucket and they are just re-smearing that grease from one place to another. They put the dirty mop in the dirty bucket, the mop gets full of that emulsified grease and you’re smearing it across the room. In high grease areas, you have to replace with clean water consistently.”

In other cases, a worker without the proper training may grab the first detergent he finds, even if it’s meant for the equipment rather than the floor. Or perhaps he mixes equal parts detergent and water when he was supposed to only use 8 oz. of detergent for every five gallons of water.
Sometimes people will even over-concentrate the detergent on purpose, she added.

Peter Koch, safety management specialist, The MEMIC Group

“I see that in the food industry frequently,” said Showerman. “They find that the more detergent they leave on the floor, the easier it is to clean up next time … but then everyone’s slipping and falling like in a cartoon.”

A company could invest a significant amount in flooring improvements, only to have the benefits undone by improper detergent use or failure to follow recommended rinsing procedures.

It’s incumbent upon safety managers to reinforce that maintaining floor surfaces isn’t just a matter of housekeeping, but a key part of the company’s workplace safety program.

The Human Factor

When you’ve done everything possible to address hazards in the physical work environment, workers themselves remain the wildcard. Most employers routinely include slip and fall hazards in their safety awareness training or toolbox talk programs. But that training should go well beyond a general “watch where you walk” message, say experts.

“One of the most overlooked parts for employee safety is actually employee training,” said Peter Koch, safety management specialist at  The MEMIC Group.

“How do you train an employee to not slip and fall? I think many times that is wrapped in a “you have to be more careful” message, which is valid but nebulous and not very helpful — it means something different to everyone based on your risk tolerance as an individual.”

Koch’s employee training regimen revolves around four elements: surfaces, awareness, footwear and environment (SAFE).

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The first goal of the surface portion is just to get employees to start thinking about the different types of surfaces they walk on and how it can change throughout the work day. Koch said he likes to ask: “How many different types of surfaces did you have to walk on the get to this training room?”

The footwear piece of it is the most straightforward. Are your shoes designed for the work that you’re doing and the surfaces you’re walking on? Are they in good condition? Are the soles worn out?

There is no ASTM standard for measuring the performance of slip-resistant footwear, added Gallagher’s Showerman. So workers should be reminded that wearing the right shoe isn’t a guarantee — it’s just one piece of the solution.

Awareness, said Koch, may be the most challenging piece of the puzzle — helping people to think about their gait, what they’re carrying, what they’re doing, and simply where their heads are at any given moment.

“If you’re thinking about 15 things you have to get done by the end of the day, or you have a particularly challenging employee interaction coming up that day, or you had a fight with your girlfriend last night— or whatever it is — you’re not focused. Then you take that step through the icy patch, and now it relies completely on your athletic ability and luck to stay upright.”

Workers may not necessarily make the connection between personal factors and fall risk. Someone who has an ear infection or is taking certain medications, for example, may not even be aware that their balance might be compromised, putting them at higher risk for a fall.

Employees also should be reminded of how even normal daily stressors can contribute to risk. Everyone is under pressure to deliver more in less time. Everyone is rushing, everyone is stretched to their limits. Add the ever-present cellphone beeping and buzzing and demanding our attention and perhaps it’s a wonder slips and falls don’t happen even more often than they already do.

We’re so conditioned to react when the vibration goes off or the tone chimes in our pockets that we just grab it without thinking, Koch said.

“If you knowingly put yourself at risk by knowingly going quickly through an area with slip and fall exposures, it’s just Russian roulette – at some point you’re going to get broken.” — Peter Koch, safety management specialist, The MEMIC Group.

“Even that, in certain conditions, is going to be enough to put you on the ground.”

Awareness of environmental factors should also be part of the training, Koch said, especially in terms of what workers can’t control, like inclement weather.  He said the main thing he tries to impress upon people is to slow down in a high-risk environment.

“If you knowingly put yourself at risk by knowingly going quickly through an area with slip and fall exposures, it’s just Russian roulette – at some point you’re going to get broken.”

Koch says that getting people to put all of these facets of awareness together is where the training can really click.

The goal is that when they approach an area with a higher-risk surface, employees are thinking “for those few seconds or minutes that I’m going to be walking through it, I need to have a greater sense of awareness, I need to put away the mental [distractions] and focus on what I’m doing – don’t answer your phone, don’t answer your texts.”

Some employers are looking to address the human piece of the slip and fall puzzle by using training that goes far beyond hazard awareness. Active slip-prevention training focuses on body mechanics and teaches workers how to respond when they feel themselves begin to slip.

One such program revolves around the Slip Simulator, technology born of a research partnership between Virginia Tech researchers and UPS. The simulator that creates slippery and hazardous conditions in a controlled environment while participants walk in a harness so they can slip safely. An instructor offers real-time guidance on how to alter their movements to avoid falling.

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After mastering the initial technique, trainees face additional challenges related to their specific work environments, such as walking up ramps or turning wheels. A New Mexico security team practiced drawing firearms while standing on the simulator, which led to a change in how they wear their weapons. Workers at an Ohio refinery practiced stepping over pipes and turning large valves.

Clients of the program are reporting 60 to 80 percent reductions in accident rates.

The Road Ahead

A comprehensive slip and fall prevention plan is a must for employers, experts agreed, with clear, consistent procedures that empower employees to be a part of the solution.

“Employees play a very critical role,” said Liberty Mutual’s Maynard. “If they see a slip risk or a slipperiness issue, they need to be able to report it and they need to be able to get that corrected immediately. They have an important role in maintaining a safe facility and reducing risk themselves — be proactive, don’t walk by, clean it up.

“Any time you can involve the employee in solutions …. the likelihood of success of that intervention is higher.”

Maynard added that the best prevention plans will also be forward-looking.

“Understand where current safety performance is. Then make a roadmap to get better,” he said. “Emphasize where you’re doing well,” then identify opportunities to effect improvement, now and over the next three, four or five years.

“Prevention is too often reactive,” Maynard said. “We’ve got an issue and now what do we do? The goal is for companies to be proactive.” &

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