2017 Teddy Awards: Honorable Mention

Fit for Duty

Recognizing parallels between athletes and public safety officials, the city of Denver made tailored fitness training part of its safety plan.
By: | November 1, 2017 • 4 min read

“Public safety folks are going to get injured.”

It’s a sobering but accurate assumption about the work of firefighters, police officials and sheriffs, as expressed by Ray Sibley, the director of Risk Management at The City and County of Denver.

It’s also been a great motivator … fueling a change of culture in the Public Safety Department at the council that led to a 48 percent in workers’ comp claims in only one year.

Ray Sibley, director of risk management, City and County of Denver

It has also earned the department an honorable mention in the 2017 Teddy Awards.

The reward acknowledges the introduction of a program that strives to prepare firefighters, sheriffs and police officials to face the physical demands of their jobs in a way that’s reminiscent of the conditioning undergone by professional football and basketball players.

Public safety staff, like athletes, face significant risk of injury. Prevention can go only so far in keeping the number of injuries down. Sibley said that risk management policies adopted over more than a decade by the Council have done a good job in reducing the number of injuries. In 2000, right after he took over the department, almost 1,900 injury-related workers’ comp claims were filed each year. In 2016, that figure was cut nearly in half.

But claims costs continued to rise nonetheless. Claims costs more than doubled from 2013 to 2015, going from $3.7 million to $7.9 million.

“We realized that the number of injuries dropped as low as it could go,” Sibley said. “So we decided to focus on reducing the severity of the injuries and the treatment required to bring folks back to work.”

The decision has paid dividends already. In 2016, the number of injuries once again remained fairly stable, but costs plunged to $4.1 million.

Tailored Training

One effective measure was the implementation of a physical therapy program which aims to help firefighters, police officials and sheriffs condition their bodies to the specific demands of their jobs.

Therapists are available at the respective academies to work with current staff and to guide new recruits from the beginning of their careers on how to stay fit to perform their demanding jobs.

“The goal is to help them maintain their physical abilities to reduce the impact of minor injuries,” Sibley pointed out. He draws a comparison with professional athletes, who work their bodies out according to the sports they play, and therefore are better prepared to deal with any injuries they may suffer during a game.

“When they have an injury, it doesn’t take them six months to recover,” he said. “It takes them a week or two.”

Public safety staff are subject to levels of physical demand similar to athletes when, for instance, they are called to an emergency. Take the case of firefighters, who need to carry a 60-pound SCBA apparatus upon their shoulders when there is a fire. If they do not strengthen their shoulders to do that, it’s easy to get injured while simply getting ready to answer to the call of duty.

Experts identified the critical functional movements for each group and tailored exercise routines to improve the physical ability of each department. “In the rush, when the fire bell goes off, they will throw the pack over their shoulders and not get hurt by doing it, because their bodies are used to doing that movement,” Sibley said.

Public safety workers who do get hurt are now getting back to work quicker than in previous years, reducing the need for the council to pay extra time for the professionals called to fill vacant spots.

“In the rush, when the fire bell goes off, they will throw the pack over their shoulders and not get hurt by doing it, because their bodies are used to doing that movement,” — Ray Sibley, director of risk management, The City and County of Denver

The conditioning program was piloted with firefighters four years ago and has since expanded to the police and sheriff’s departments.

Sibley said that it took a while for staff members to really buy into the new ideas, but they began to embrace the program once the benefits for their personal lifestyles become evident.

The physical therapy program complements other initiatives that focus on proactive ways to help employees to take responsibility for their well-being while performing their daily activities, both at work and at home.

They include training in subjects such as defensive driving and ergonomics and the implementation of a Functional Movement Screening system that produces personalized exercise regimes for employees, according to their daily routines.

The Department has also adopted policies to increase the efficiency of the handling of workers’ comp claims, such as the replacement of a paper-based system by a telephone-based one, and the hiring of two nurses to serve as a first point of contact for injured workers.

The next step, said Sibley, is to focus on mental health. Firefighters, police officials and sheriffs need appropriate support while performing jobs that necessarily involve high levels of stress.

“We want them to enjoy a good life once they retire, after providing us services for decades,” he said. &

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More coverage of the 2017 Teddy Award Winners and Honorable Mentions:

Advocacy Takes Off: At Delta Air Lines, putting employees first is the right thing to do, for employees and employer alike.

 

Proactive Approach to Employee SafetyThe Valley Health System shifted its philosophy on workers’ compensation, putting employee and patient safety at the forefront.

 

Getting It Right: Better coordination of workers’ compensation risk management spelled success for the Massachusetts Port Authority.

 

Carrots: Not SticksAt Rochester Regional Health, the workers’ comp and safety team champion employee engagement and positive reinforcement.

 

Fit for Duty: Recognizing parallels between athletes and public safety officials, the city of Denver made tailored fitness training part of its safety plan.

 

Triage, Transparency and TeamworkWhen the City of Surprise, Ariz. got proactive about reining in its claims, it also took steps to get employees engaged in making things better for everyone.

A Lesson in Leadership: Shared responsibility, data analysis and a commitment to employees are the hallmarks of Benco Dental’s workers’ comp program.

 

Rodrigo Amaral is a freelance writer specializing in Latin American and European risk management and insurance markets. He can be reached at [email protected]

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.

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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.

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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]