Column: Risk Management

A Betrayal of Trust

By: | May 6, 2015 • 3 min read
Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

As part of my business management training, I took executive leadership courses. I lean on information from one course in particular every day. The course was entitled: Trust.

As a class, we debated the idea of trust and the importance of building trust with staff and within our organizations.

A question was posed: How does one build trust with another person specifically? Answers flew around the class: One needs to show integrity, be likeable, be good, to care, to listen, to acknowledge others. All the answers didn’t seem quite right.


The instructor interjected: “Trust is built when one demonstrates painfully consistent behavior.”

You don’t have to like someone to trust them. Take Mr. Grumpy-Pants who sits next to you in the office, who is gloomy and unpleasant every day. He may drag you down, but you probably can count on him. As opposed to Ms. Two-Face, who is sweet one day while the next she is stabbing you in the back. Hard to feel steady and trust her next move.

Trust problems cannot be solved by applying more technology. Trust issues are solved by actively building trust — starting with trust between pilots and their airlines.

Think of people you have difficulty trusting. Likely, it is because of their unsteady, unexpected or inconsistent behavior. Their surprising volatility impedes your ability to trust them.

This idea of trust has been front-of-mind for me lately. I write this column six days following the incomprehensible loss of 150 people on Germanwings flight 4U9525.

I watched hours of news footage that attempted to reveal what may have transpired that tragic day. Initially, the hours of analyses resulted in suggestions of increased safety measures to remove the risk of such an event ever occurring again. New technical measures were recommended including pilotless planes, remote aviation ability and flight-deck video surveillance.

Then, panel experts debated “failures” in aviation processes and safety systems including the flight deck door — a door system that was purposely redesigned post-911 to protect at all costs the most important people on the plane, the pilots.

It was suggested that the flight deck door safety system failed because the co-pilot was able to take advantage of the known impenetrability of the door to help perpetrate his plan. This insinuation bothered me on many levels.

Safety systems have goals. The design of a safety system starts with the question: What are we trying to protect? The flight deck door was designed to protect the pilots from unwanted intruders so they can do what we trusted them to do. Safely fly the plane.

The door system on the Germanwings flight did not fail. It behaved as it was designed. A redesign of the flight deck door will not reduce the risk of another pilot murder-suicide. The aviation regulator’s new requirement that at least two crew members remain in the flight deck at all times may add a new barrier but gives no guarantee.


The failure here was that of the co-pilot. He was in the position of utmost, blind trust for passengers. He deeply betrayed that privilege, a privilege bestowed on him by so many people. He failed; the safety systems did not.

Our interdependence with others forces our need for continued trust. Trust problems cannot be solved by applying more technology. Trust issues are solved by actively building trust — starting with trust between pilots and their airlines. If we are to revisit anything to improve risk and safety, let’s ensure there is trust — painfully consistent organizational behaviors that make flight crews truly feel safe to self-declare problems if need be. In that I trust.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

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