Why Teaming Up With Criminology Students Can Reduce Your Workers’ Comp Losses

Criminologists can use past workers' comp data to analyze injuries and near misses, pinpointing pain areas and gathering insight on how to prevent future losses.
By: | October 25, 2018

Eric Wente, chairman of the board at the Wente Family Estates vineyards, is known for his data-driven, think-outside-the box approach. So when his company wanted to reduce workers’ compensation claims, Wente remembered an article he’d read in the Wall St. Journal about a partnership between United Airlines and the University of New Haven that used interns from the criminology department as part of a data visualization project, leading to a 23 percent reduction in employee injuries and a 29 percent reduction in aircraft damage on the ground.

“I did a little research and found out that Holy Names University in Oakland actually has a criminology department,” said Liza Moran, vice president, Pinnacle Brokers Insurance Solutions, Wente’s broker. “So I met with the Professor [Carina] Gallo, the head of the department. She thought it was a fantastic idea.”

Neither United nor Wente had any suspicion of fraud or criminal behavior regarding their losses. Utilizing the criminological approach was more about utilizing a different way to look at data.

“The criminology terminology is based on what they’re studying, but essentially they’re very strong data people who are looking at it in a different way,” said Suzi Potts, head of human resources for Wente.

“We have a certain way of looking at claims, and we’ve looked at injuries this way for so long that it’s difficult to close that perspective because it’s ingrained,” said Potts.

“This idea of data visualization and actually seeing the situation as opposed to just looking at spreadsheets and putting it into a system allows for different insights to be gathered.”

Moran met with the students for two hours each week for a semester. “We got all the claims activity and all the near-miss activity from the last five years and … the students broke out the information and went into as much detail as they could: Part of body, type of injury, day of [the] week, time of day, occupation, location, age, tenure — as many details as they could find,” she said.

“After looking at all the claims, we met again with HR at Wente, and we did a tour of the facility where they got to actually see physically where claims occurred,” Moran said. “They looked at things differently, brought up some really interesting questions,”

The program helped identify an uptick in claims in newer hires and led to an added focus on training that has contributed to a reduction in losses at Wente.

“I think we were doing a good job, and now it is becoming part of an ingrained cultural norm that safety is one of our top priorities as an organization,” said Potts.

Wente is not the only company to have been inspired by United’s experiment, and Potts and Moran agree the approach may definitely be worth exploring for many companies out there. But probably not for everyone.

“It has to be a large enough company where you have enough data to provide relevant feedback,” said Moran.

Potts emphasized companies should be prepared for the special challenges of working with students. “We have a culture that’s accustomed to supporting student learners. That would be an important part for an organization to consider,” she said. “I wouldn’t overlook that in the planning process.”

One potential added benefit to such programs is introducing the idea of careers in insurance to students who otherwise might not have considered it.

“We linked up one student with a carrier,” said Moran, who added several of the interns showed interest in the business. “They were mostly interested in the SIU Special Investigation Unit of the insurance carriers, [but] a risk engineer would be another great fit.” &

Wente Family Estates was an applicant for the Risk & Insurance Teddy Award, which honors the very best workers’ compensation programs. Although the company was not named a winner in 2018, the editors thought its achievements worthy of a separate feature.

Jon McGoran is a magazine editor based outside of Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected].

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