Column: Workers' Comp

Creatively Building Wellness

By: | June 1, 2017 • 2 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.

Richard Graham has a front row seat for viewing how work roles can influence employee health, even contributing to differences in physiques after years of performing certain jobs.


Given his vantage point, the director of workers’ compensation for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority is a believer in the wellness services SEPTA offers in an attempt to help its nearly 10,000 employees improve their health.

The wellness efforts provide an example of the creativity employers must reach for when other exposure mitigation strategies reveal their limits.

SEPTA bus drivers, whose roles require constant sitting, appear different after years of service than do SEPTA’s mechanics, whose physical jobs entail frequent movement throughout their workdays.

His observation of body differences isn’t the only factor making Graham a wellness believer. Claims severity, and the frequency of comorbidities impacting injury recovery also differs substantially between the two occupations.

“I’m a believer because I don’t think you have to look too much further than the differences in our workforce,” Graham said. “You start to see the folks that are on their feet, moving and doing different things every day. We know that more often they are going to get better, recovering [faster post injury] than the folks that are not moving.”

It is also easier to engineer workplace safety measures that mitigate mechanic injury frequency.

SEPTA bus drivers, whose roles require constant sitting, appear different after years of service than do SEPTA’s mechanics, whose physical jobs entail frequent movement throughout their workdays.

SEPTA adopted many accident-prevention measures for its buses and drivers. But unlike its ability to control the mechanics’ environment, it can’t control the weather or the other motorists that its bus operators encounter on crowded city streets.  That caps SEPTA’s ability to mitigate causes of bus driver injury frequency.

Meanwhile, there is no replacement for the valuable experience its bus drivers of many years bring to the job, Graham said. SEPTA needs them at work to provide the public with about 1.1 million daily rides, and do so on schedule.


So SEPTA employs a range of claims strategies like assigning nurse case managers to help injured workers with the comorbidities that can complicate their return to work.

But in hopes of reducing comorbidities and claims severity further, SEPTA partners with the University of Pennsylvania for a weight-loss program employees can participate in.

SEPTA also sponsors a farm-share program to help employees buy fresh produce, offers yoga classes at its headquarters, and placed stationary bikes in four workplace locations where bus drivers congregate.

Personal responsibility is also a huge factor in a worker’s health and it’s up to the drivers to get on those bikes and take advantage of SEPTA’s other health improvement offerings.

SEPTA, meanwhile, does not yet have outcomes data to definitively determine the effectiveness of its wellness offerings.

Complacency isn’t a risk-management tool. Creativity is. &

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]