Not long out of college, Elizabeth Ruff arrived at Peerless Industrial Group in June of 2011, tasked with taking control of workers’ compensation for the company. She soon discovered that the company had a culture of lost time and that really bothered her.
“She said, ‘We’ve got to put a stop to this hemorrhaging,’ ” recalled her boss, Vice President of Human Resources Barbara Breza.
Ruff was intent on getting employees back to work, in some capacity, as soon as possible.
“One of the first things I initiated is that whenever somebody was injured on the job and they required immediate medical attention, either myself or Barb would actually go with the employee to the health care provider’s office and sit with them,” said Ruff.
“The reason that was really key was because we were able to talk to the doctor about the fact that Peerless accommodates almost every type of light duty or transitional option,” Ruff added.
Before Ruff began her new approach, Peerless had 40 lost-time claims, multiple years in a row.
“In 2012-2013, with a total of 386 employees in the company, we had it down to less than 25 claims,” said Ruff.
At the company’s main plant in Winona, Minn., which has 287 employees, Peerless has gone 700 days without a lost-time claim.
“It’s a pretty heavy-duty industrial manufacturing plant, so that’s a huge accomplishment, which we’re extremely proud of,” said Ruff.
“The head of underwriting at a major insurance company recently said that he has never seen anyone like Elizabeth at a company, big or small. She is truly one of a kind and a major difference-maker in our industry.” — Josh Warren, senior vice president of Equity Risk Partners
Josh Warren, senior vice president of Equity Risk Partners, Peerless’ broker, said, “They do have some additional lifting machines that make it easier on the employees, but the main difference is that Elizabeth and her colleagues in the HR department pay attention to their employees, learn from workplace injuries in order to avoid repeat situations and get people back to work.”
Warren added: “The head of underwriting at a major insurance company recently said that he has never seen anyone like Elizabeth at a company, big or small. She is truly one of a kind and a major difference-maker in our industry.”
Other accomplishments Ruff has initiated at Peerless include bolstering the company’s safety program. Safety is particularly important at Peerless because it is the largest manufacturer and distributor in North America for industrial and consumer chain and tractor products.
“One of the things I created was regular training programs,” Ruff said. “Each month, there is some type of training program project I am organizing, whether it is bringing in an external expert or coordinating with an internal supervisor.”
Another thing Peerless has done is to spend more money on capital each year to be proactive rather than reactive.
“Each year since 2011, we’ve been adding $20,000 per year just in capital for hoists,” she said.
Under Ruff’s direction, Peerless has also been aggressive in implementing ergonomic improvements, Breza said.
Ruff still works 20 hours a week at Peerless, while also working at BIC Graphic, which she joined in June.
“What I value most about Elizabeth is her knowledge and expertise and professionalism in the field of HR and how broad-based she is and that she came in that way to Peerless when she was so young,” said Breza. “She is just so intelligent.”
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