Column: Risk Management

Waiving Stupidity

By: | February 20, 2017 • 2 min read
Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

I happened to catch the movie “King Kong” on TV this week. Even though I knew the fictional plot, the fatal outcome for King Kong lingered in my mind. I think it was because I am tired of seeing beautiful majestic creatures captured, caged and turned into circus acts.

Then we the humans are surprised when they get angry and turn on us. One truth seems to hold true — it never ends well for the innocent animal.

Coincidentally, this week I read about “Humpback,” a 12-foot-long alligator caught on video from the Circle B Bar Reserve in Florida. He became an instant attraction on social media due to his absolute mammoth size and lumbering gait.

Reserve workers expressed concern about Humpback’s new celebrity status: “Humpback has lived his life out here, and we want him to live the remainder of his life out here. We don’t want to have to destroy him because somebody was doing something they should not have been doing.”

It should be widely understood as a social contract that if you are doing something you have been told not to do because it is dangerous, and you do it anyway and get hurt, no one is to blame for your hurt but you.

It was frustrating to read. It should be widely understood as a social contract that if you are doing something you have been told not to do because it is dangerous, and you do it anyway and get hurt, no one is to blame for your hurt but you.


Compare it to, say, skydiving. Caveat: I have never tried it as the sheer thought of plummeting from a plane and having to rely on my wits to pull a rip cord scares me to my core. But if one day I do try it and I get hurt, I know no one is to blame but me.

Sadly, we risk managers all too often need to manage outrageous and ridiculous claims or lawsuits that involve persons not wanting to take accountability for their own irresponsible behaviors. I find this the hardest part of our job as risk managers.
I empathize with the Florida reserve. Now due to some individual’s insatiable thirst for an adrenaline-filled adventure, poor Humpback is in potential jeopardy and so is the reserve.

An animal reserve or refuge is typically run on charitable donations and not rich with funds. Now they may need to consider having visitors sign a waiver before visiting their premises. Fortunately, waivers are still mostly enforceable in Florida.

What is interesting about waivers is that it is a contract that tries to absolve, say, a reserve from fault or liability for injuries that result from their “ordinary” negligence as long as the reserve uses “ordinary” care for its visitor.

What is appropriate care in this situation? How can we save Humpback if he defends himself and creates a ruckus?

“Do not go anywhere near the mammoth alligator that is the size of a small car because he can kill you,” should say the future sign posted every 100 feet around the premises of the reserve. Is that “ordinary” enough? Is it a reasonable action that a prudent professional reserve would take under the circumstances? For Humpback’s sake, I sure hope so. &

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

2017 Teddy Awards

The Era of Engagement

The very best workers’ compensation programs are the ones where workers aren’t just the subject of the program, they’re a part of it.
By: | November 1, 2017 • 5 min read

Employee engagement, employee advocacy, employee participation — these are common threads running through the programs we honor this year in the 2017 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Awards, sponsored by PMA Companies.

A panel of judges — including workers’ comp executives who actively engage their own employees — selected this year’s winners on the basis of performance, sustainability, innovation and teamwork. The winners hail from different industries and regions, but all make people part of the solution to unique challenges.


Valley Health System is all-too keenly aware of the risk of violence in health care settings, running the gamut from disruptive patients to grieving, overwrought family members to mentally unstable active shooters.

Valley Health employs a proactive and comprehensive plan to respond to violent scenarios, involving its Code Atlas Team — 50 members of the clinical staff and security departments who undergo specialized training. Valley Health drills regularly, including intense annual active shooter drills that involve participation from local law enforcement.

The drills are unnerving for many, but the program is making a difference — the health system cut its workplace violence injuries in half in the course of just one year.

“We’re looking at patient safety and employee safety like never before,” said Barbara Schultz, director of employee health and wellness.

At Rochester Regional Health’s five hospitals and six long-term care facilities, a key loss driver was slips and falls. The system’s mandatory safety shoe program saw only moderate take-up, but the reason wasn’t clear.

Rather than force managers to write up non-compliant employees, senior manager of workers’ compensation and employee safety Monica Manske got proactive, using a survey as well as one-on-one communication to suss out the obstacles. After making changes based on the feedback, shoe compliance shot up from 35 percent to 85 percent, contributing to a 42 percent reduction in lost-time claims and a 46 percent reduction in injuries.

For the shoe program, as well as every RRH safety initiative, Manske’s team takes the same approach: engaging employees to teach and encourage safe behaviors rather than punishing them for lapses.

For some of this year’s Teddy winners, success was born of the company’s willingness to make dramatic program changes.


Delta Air Lines made two ambitious program changes since 2013. First it adopted an employee advocacy model for its disability and leave of absence programs. After tasting success, the company transitioned all lines including workers’ compensation to an integrated absence management program bundled under a single TPA.

While skeptics assume “employee advocacy” means more claims and higher costs, Delta answers with a reality that’s quite the opposite. A year after the transition, Delta reduced open claims from 3,479 to 1,367, with its total incurred amount decreased by $50.1 million — head and shoulders above its projected goals.

For the Massachusetts Port Authority, change meant ending the era of having a self-administered program and partnering with a TPA. It also meant switching from a guaranteed cost program to a self-insured program for a significant segment of its workforce.

Massport’s results make a great argument for embracing change: The organization saved $21 million over the past six years. Freeing up resources allowed Massport to increase focus on safety as well as medical management and chopped its medical costs per claim in half — even while allowing employees to choose their own health care providers.

Risk & Insurance® congratulates the 2017 Teddy Award winners and holds them in high esteem for their tireless commitment to a safe workforce that’s fully engaged in its own care. &


More coverage of the 2017 Teddy Award Winners and Honorable Mentions:

Advocacy Takes Off: At Delta Air Lines, putting employees first is the right thing to do, for employees and employer alike.


Proactive Approach to Employee SafetyThe Valley Health System shifted its philosophy on workers’ compensation, putting employee and patient safety at the forefront.


Getting It Right: Better coordination of workers’ compensation risk management spelled success for the Massachusetts Port Authority.


Carrots: Not SticksAt Rochester Regional Health, the workers’ comp and safety team champion employee engagement and positive reinforcement.


Fit for Duty: Recognizing parallels between athletes and public safety officials, the city of Denver made tailored fitness training part of its safety plan.


Triage, Transparency and TeamworkWhen the City of Surprise, Ariz. got proactive about reining in its claims, it also took steps to get employees engaged in making things better for everyone.

A Lesson in Leadership: Shared responsibility, data analysis and a commitment to employees are the hallmarks of Benco Dental’s workers’ comp program.


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