2023 Teddy Awards | One Team, One Mission: The Secret to Johnson Controls’ Post-merger Worker Safety Achievements

After a merger with Tyco International in 2016, Johnson Controls leveraged its workers’ compensation program, emphasizing strong communication and collaboration.  
By: | August 9, 2023
A worker walks along a girder suspended above a stadium construction site

Any executive who has shepherded two companies through a merger understands the importance of company culture.   

If the cultures don’t mesh, conflicts can arise as leadership teams spar over the future of the new company.

One set of leaders might think their way of doing things is correct; executives from the other company disagree, and neither sees the opportunities to be found in taking the successes from both methods and combining them.      

When two cultures gel, however, it can make operations at both companies run more efficiently. Departments from IT security to safety and workers’ compensation can borrow tips from each other, improving critical processes and streamlining day-to-day responsibilities.   

That’s what happened when Johnson Controls Inc. merged with Tyco International in 2016 to form Johnson Controls International.

Craig Davis, associate director of global insurance and claims and corporate risk management, Johnson Controls International

Leaders of the two businesses (a sustainable building technology company and a fire and security solutions company, respectively) knew that if their cultures aligned, they could succeed in tandem.

So they prioritized a few mission-critical values: integrity, future-focused product design and purpose-led business.

Central to this ethos was the idea that they were all one team, working together for everyone’s success.

With more than 100,000 employees in field and manufacturing sites across all 50 U.S. states and 150 countries, Johnson Controls knew that keeping workers safe and helping them get back to work as quickly as possible after an injury would be indispensable to the company’s post-merger success.   

“Without that one team and every member of that team, we can’t be successful in any of the other areas,” said Craig Davis, associate director of global insurance and claims and corporate risk management for Johnson Controls International.    

In the six years since the merger, Johnson Controls has made good on that mission, working to continuously improve its safety and workers’ compensation programs, reducing its average claim cost by 22% over five years. The company’s hard work has earned it a 2023 Teddy Award.   

Protecting Workers In and Out of the Field  

Johnson Controls’ one team mission began with protecting employees on factory floors and in the field. Because its employees operate motor vehicles and work in diverse  environments, the company is exposed to a variety of workers’ comp perils. Strains and sprains are common injuries, as are motor vehicle accidents.   

The variety of site-specific challenges and injuries the company faces requires that every worker remain abreast of potential threats to safety.

“We want all of our employees to be a part of a good safety culture,” said Brian Nuelk, ​​lead workers’ compensation manager with Johnson Controls International.

In their manufacturing sites, workers are actively encouraged to report safety hazards. Any worker can approach their manager and stop work if they notice a potential safety hazard. The issue is then corrected, enabling the company to avoid injuries.  

“All of our employees can stop work at any time,” Nuelk said. “If they notice that there’s a safety hazard, they can stop work, call their managers and try to rectify the situation before an accident even occurs.” 

While Johnson Controls can establish safety procedures and correct any environmental issues for its manufacturing workers, field employees venture into all kinds of unfamiliar territories, encountering unanticipated hazards. At a school, hospital or other locale, workers face different safety risks. 

To address these concerns, Johnson Controls uses a safety application to help field workers assess sites and report near-miss accidents.

If an employee is at a jobsite and a box falls off a shelf nearly hitting them, for instance, they can report that incident in the app. These reports help the company address risks that recur, making workers safer overall.   

We’re always looking for trends and trying to put an end to things,” Nuelk said. “We get a feel for what’s occurring out in the field, and what we do is we recognize whether or not we’re seeing more incidents.”       

In the event that a worker is injured, the company investigates each case to see how they could prevent a similar accident from occurring in the future. “We thoroughly investigate when incidents occur so that we can attempt to prevent it from happening again,” Nuelk said. “We roll every stone.”  

Communication, Communication, Communication 

When an injury occurs, the Johnson Controls workers’ comp team knows how stressful it can be for the employee. A worker might feel uncertainty about whether they’ll be able to regain function or confused by the intricacies of the workers’ compensation system.

“Life can change with the snap of a finger,” Nuelk said. “There’s nothing worse than somebody who doesn’t go home or is injured.” 

That’s why the company gets involved in claims as early as possible.

At some companies, it’s considered early reporting if an injury is logged within 24 hours. For Johnson Controls, the team needs to be notified immediately after an injury occurs; anything longer than that is considered late.   

“We don’t require employees to report all injuries within 24 hours. A lot of employers do that. I can tell you that that was the way we operated years ago,” Nuelk said.

“Our process is to report all injuries and incidents immediately. We want people to do that so we can start investigations immediately, not a day or two later.” 

To ensure all injuries are reported swiftly, the company has a dedicated injury line that the company’s field employees and their managers know to call as soon as an issue occurs. Manufacturing employees report injuries to a dedicated on-site team member who helps initiate the claims process.   

Once it receives the initial report, the workers’ compensation team begins investigating how the injury occurred and working with adjusters and care providers to begin the treatment process. By communicating with doctors at the beginning of a claim, the workers’ comp team can help ensure workers receive appropriate treatment for their injuries and job functions.   

“We feel that immediate involvement in claims is a plus and a necessity,” Nuelk said. We’re able to communicate with doctors before they even evaluate the employees so that they know the full details of the situation.”   

All of the information the workers’ compensation team gathers during its initial investigation and communications is then shared with Johnson Controls’ third-party claim administrator, Sedgwick.  

“Better information makes for better decisions, ultimately creating great results. The detail in the initial claimant notification from the Johnson Controls workers’ compensation managers sets into motion subsequent decisions for obtaining medical histories, looking for past claims on index reports and developing a custom statement questionnaire based upon the detailed circumstances of the accident as provided,” said Bobby Holden, vice president of client services with Sedgwick.  

“For most other claims in the industry,” Holden added, “the adjuster must obtain all that initial information before they can start thinking about the questions that need to be asked. Johnson Controls wants to provide the information to the adjuster, get out of the way and let them work their magic.”  

Throughout this process, a 24/7 voice-to-voice communication line exists for adjusters and injured workers.

Employees who have a question about their claim can speak to a dedicated adjuster who has the jurisdictional expertise needed to guide them through the process, offering critical support when an injured worker may be feeling anxious.

This system is supported by a robust text notification system that alerts workers to when an adjuster will call them and what documents they may need for that conversation.   

“Twenty-four-hour voice-to-voice contact with injured employees is critical,” Holden said.    

Return to Purpose, Not Just Return-to-Work   

As a worker heals, Johnson Controls prepares them to transition back into their regular position with a suite of light-duty return-to-work options.  

Manufacturing workers who need light-duty assignments often have a number of predetermined positions that accommodate their various restrictions. The workers’ comp team works with field workers to come up with creative return-to-work options, including coming into an office and completing administrative tasks or training rather than going out into the field.    

We’re very creative when it comes to light-duty work,” Nuelk said. 

This plethora of return-to-work options helps ensure that employees continue to feel connected to their careers and a purpose. Workers may report feeling depression or anxiety after an injury. They might feel desultory sitting at home. Returning to their careers, even in a limited capacity, can help alleviate these challenges.        

“One of the biggest benefits of having our robust return-to-work program is we can make sure employees feel valued,” Davis said. We’re going to find work for them regardless of where they are, and we’re going to help them get healthy and back to their normal day-to-day.”  

It all goes back to the company’s ethos: Everyone is one team.

Johnson Controls wants to help its team members get back to their jobs — and their lives — as soon as possible after an injury. They recognize this mission isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s essential to the company’s continued success.  

“If we didn’t have a good safety record in the workers’ comp program, our company wouldn’t be in business,” Nuelk said. “We take care of our employees.” &

The Teddy Award, established in 1994, was named in honor of President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, who introduced the first piece of significant workers’ compensation legislation in the U.S. The Teddy Award honors employers across the country for achieving excellence in workers’ compensation and injury prevention.

To view the four winners selected for 2023, visit here.

Courtney DuChene is a freelance journalist based in Philadelphia. She can be reached at [email protected].

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