Column: Roger's Soapbox

Fear of Cosmic Rays

By: | September 14, 2015 • 3 min read
Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected]

Do you fly regularly? If so, pour yourself a stiff drink and sit down. I have bad news, which I won’t sugarcoat: You’re doomed, lost without hope. You might as well accept it. The only job you’re fit for is president of the United States.

The British Cabinet Office — not a furniture store, but the body that claims to “ensure the effective running of government” — reports that airline passengers and crew could be at risk from dangerous solar cosmic rays. A full report is due any time now from the Cosmic Radiation Advisory Group, and it’s going to say that frequent flyers have had their chips. They’ve run out of luck.


Large explosions on the sun throw out huge amounts of magnetically charged particles, in what are known as coronal mass ejections. The report will indicate that humanity would have a 12-hour warning about such an ejection, which could damage the electricity supply, oil and gas pipelines, and railway signals.

This is not news, apparently. Radiation levels are already modeled for aircrew, but passengers are on their own. During an event, accurate advice is unavailable. So, if you’re on a plane, and you start to feel weird, it’s not down to the so-called omelet you just ate (more fool you). Coronal ejections are to blame.

Absolute evidence of the danger was made available recently by presidential hopeful Donald Trump, who said that Mexican immigrants to the U.S. are “rapists.” Clearly, The Donald, who flies around all the time dispensing his wisdom to those unable to get away before he starts, has had his brain fried by coronal ejections. This might also explain his inevitable electoral ejection.

If you’re on a plane, and you start to feel weird, it’s not down to the so-called omelet you just ate (more fool you). Coronal ejections are to blame.

Solar storms can trigger showers of harmful radiation that could cause health problems not just in the air, but also at ground level. The evidence suggests that although radiation at ground level from solar events is too weak to cause concern, it may trigger “secondary” showers of ionizing particles that can tear apart atoms and molecules.

“Neutrons, which don’t reach the ground, do reach airline altitude,” said Adrian Melott, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Kansas.

“During solar particle events, airplanes are diverted away from the North Pole, where a lot more cosmic rays come down.”

Say, for purposes of illustration, that you return home from a flight to the Phoenix office to discuss the wording of your company’s terms and conditions. You start spouting idiotic and hateful things about foreigners and exaggerating your usefulness to the rest of society, a la Trump. Your wife, who has read this article, rushes you to hospital, where it is confirmed that your brain has been toasted by excessive solar radiation.

You phone your insurance agent. You explain to him that all Canadians are child abusers. He surmises, correctly, that your brain has been baked by the sun while you were aloft.


You ask how much money you will be paid as a consequence. The broker points out that, since your flight was unnecessary, as are the great majority of business flights, your claim will be rejected.

You reply that all insurance brokers are serial killers, and the conversation ends.

Here’s the good news. Once the contents of Hillary Clinton’s emails are made public, she will have to withdraw from the race, and you can go on to be elected president. You appoint your broker as vice president; ground Air Force One; and achieve détente with Vladimir Putin, whom you declare to be a man you can do business with.

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]