Column: Workers' Comp

Fear Not the Robot

By: | January 10, 2018 • 3 min read
Roberto Ceniceros is senior editor at Risk & Insurance® and chair of the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. He can be reached at [email protected] Read more of his columns and features.

Several reports on the changing nature of work and the future of jobs conclude that plentiful employment will continue for (injury prone) humans despite the continuing adoption of artificial intelligence, robotics and other automation.

Technology might even generate more jobs than it eliminates by fueling productivity gains and economic expansion, although many workers will need to shift work paths amid the coming major transitions.

Keeping the economy healthy and the labor force employed as technology advances will also require greater investment in education and retraining programs for displaced workers. Unfortunately, retraining workers is something at which neither the U.S. government or the private sector excel.  Job training certainly isn’t a current national priority.

Overall though, growing concern over the existence of future jobs given automation’s impact may be unfounded, according to a December, 2017 McKinsey & Company report titled “Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: Workforce Transitions in a Time of Automation.”

McKinsey forecasts that by 2030, about 9 percent of labor demand will come from occupations that do not exist today.  According to Gartner, the IT-focused research and advisory firm, AI will create 2 million net new jobs by 2025.

The workers’ compensation industry has its eye on these trends, and concerns have been expressed that a decline in payroll numbers through automation may adversely impact those who work in workers’ compensation.

But forecasts pointing to continued job creation over the next 15 years and beyond mean a continuing stream of workers’ comp insurance premiums and claimants needing services.

Of course, the nature of work will continue evolving, pushed along by automation. Look no further than workers’ comp’s own claims practices and how AI and technology are changing the adjuster role.


Shifting work roles will force underwriters to reevaluate the new jobs and risks they will want to insure.  But that is nothing new, insurers have frequently adjusted their risk mix to better manage their books.

Future economic expansion, though, and the severity of economic cycles may be predicated on the ability of workers to adapt to new roles, requiring knowledge that allows them to work alongside technology.

The speed of recovery from recessions, for instance, will depend on large portions of the workforce possessing the education, skills, and training necessary to shift into new, technology-related roles.

None of that means that all jobs, and thus workers’ comp insurance products, will be replaced by robots and AI.  If the advisory companies’ predictions prove true, the resiliency of the nation’s workforce may be more a focus of concern than fears over whether robots will replace the majority of human workers. &

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]