For This Award-Winning County, Employee Safety Begins Before the Job Offer

Monmouth County, New Jersey, used a combination of advanced technology and safety-and-wellness programs to lower claims 44 percent and losses by 76 percent from 2009 to 2017.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 6 min read

As a man lifts weights over his head, an ergonomist carefully analyzes his movements: Are the feet spread far enough apart to distribute weight evenly? Are there any weak points that seem out of the ordinary? Is the shoulder angle correct?


Rather than watching and taking their best guess, the ergonomist uses motion capture technology that displays a likeness of the man’s skeleton and real-time movements on a computer screen — offering precise information about posture, capabilities and limitations. It’s the kind of technology used in filmmaking and digital gaming — but in Monmouth County, New Jersey, it’s being used to mimic the actual day-to-day tasks of a parks department employee.

The test is one of many innovative solutions implemented by Monmouth County leadership to spur a dramatic turnaround in its workers’ compensation program. Back in 2009, the County saw over 400 new claims and losses of $5.5 million. They hired too many people not physically capable of the job tasks. Injured workers could get full pay and benefits for up to a year. Light duty was underutilized.

Departments hardly communicated. Newly appointed manager of benefits and workers’ compensation William McGuane knew something needed to change — fast.

“When I got here, I saw a workers’ compensation policy that actually lessened the employees’ ability to return to work safely and consistently,” said McGuane. “When you can stay home and make full pay, there’s not a lot of incentive to come back to work.”

Through a combination of safety-and-wellness programs, advanced technology and modernized labor union agreements, Monmouth has seen a dramatic turnaround. From 2009 to 2017, claims dropped by 44 percent and losses dropped 76 percent. The effort led Monmouth County to receive a 2018 Teddy Award, for excellence in workers’ compensation risk management.

Digging In

First things first — who is getting hurt? There are 4,100 workers in the County doing incredibly varied jobs. There are corrections officers and librarians. There are maintenance workers and nursing home employees. So who’s driving these massive comp claims?

William McGuane, manager of benefits and workers’ compensation, Monmouth County, N.J.

After digging into the data, McGuane found workers in their first 90 days were particularly susceptible to injury — especially those working the most strenuous jobs like building, grounds, corrections, highway, law enforcement and in the parks departments.

“We were hiring people incapable of doing the jobs,” said McGuane. “It became evident that they couldn’t do it safely.”

To combat that, the County had ergonomists and physical therapists from Hackensack Meridian Health measure the dynamic forces employees endured while doing their normal job functions. Then came motion capture.

“We have them do all those job functions in front of a physical therapist, guiding them on proper technique. If they don’t pass, they don’t get the job — and that weeds out a lot of potential injuries down the road,” said Dr. Jared Schulman, corporate medical director, occupational health, Hackensack Meridian Health.

The parks department was a particularly high driver of injuries — generating nearly half of the County’s total incurred costs in some years.

“We consistently saw seasonal injuries. Tick bites in summer are unavoidable, heat exposure and poison ivy are pretty consistent, too,” said Schulman. “Overall, musculoskeletal complaints are most frequent — low back injuries, shoulders, knees.”

So the County piloted a safety-and-loss-prevention program in the parks department, working with risk management solutions firm PMA Companies to teach workers and supervisors how to lift and move ergonomically. They also conducted a safety survey and the results were clear — there were serious discrepancies between employees’ and supervisors’ views of safety policies. And that led to a major lack of communication.

“We helped train their supervisors to understand their role in the safety process,” said Justin Wilkinson, account executive at PMA Companies. “You’re not disciplining an employee by telling them they’re doing something wrong, you’re helping them stay safe.”

“What they’ve been able to do is phenomenal. A big part of that is Monmouth County being transparent with their employees and respectful. It sends a message to the whole organization that health and safety are important to them.” — Dr. Jared Schulman, corporate medical director, occupational health, Hackensack Meridian Health

The safety-and-loss-prevention program is a winner, as new claims volume for the parks department has declined 22 percent from 2011 to 2017. The pilot program will soon be rolled out to other departments in the County.


Another population that represented heavy claims were people returning to work after injuries. Part of the problem was antiquated job descriptions. Revamping them to accurately portray the physicality of each position led to an expansion of light duty. Getting them to light duty greatly increased the chance of a return-to-work success story.

“Bringing them back early hurt them to a greater degree. That’s when claims got out of control and employees didn’t return to work and ugly scenarios emerged that we didn’t want to see,” said McGuane.

Changing a Culture

Another major hurdle: Existing labor union contracts provided full salary continuation for up to a year for an employee’s work-related injury. Workers could then get FMLA leave tacked on afterwards. It damaged morale, strained overtime budgets and — most importantly — kept people out of work far too long.

“They can develop what I call the I Love Lucy syndrome, where sitting on the couch and getting atrophied becomes their lifestyle,” said McGuane. “It’s no way to have a fulfilling life. It does a disservice to the injured worker and a disservice to all levels of the organization.”

Over three years of negotiations with 32 labor unions, they brought that number down to six months.

“We explained the unintended consequence of what was happening. Getting them back in the building in some type of capacity was far more humane than having them sit on the couch someplace,” said McGuane.

Another major initiative was the wellness program — highlighted by the “Pledge 10” initiative aimed at getting employees to lose 10 pounds over a 12-week period. For the naturally thin or people already in shape, they could maintain their ideal weight. They also offered free biometric screenings, flu shots, wellness seminars and an annual physical — where employees were entered into a raffle to win a free personal day.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better,” said McGuane. “We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds.”

Changing Lives

Monmouth saw tremendous results from its efforts. Overall claims costs fell from over $5.5 million incurred in accident years 2009 and 2010 to under $2.1 million in 2016 and $1.3 million in 2017.

Total new claim volume decreased 44 percent, from 410 in 2009 to 230 in 2017. Lost-time claims decreased from 80 in 2009 to 34 in 2017. Open outstanding claims decreased from 332 in 2010 to 254 claims today. The County’s calendar year paid totals have been trending downward from $5.1 million in 2010 to $4.4 million in 2017.

“Over the course of 10 years, the program has just gotten better,” said Wilkinson. “We hope to drive our clients to have the kind of success Monmouth County is having. We use them as a model when we market to other counties. We’ve had success with other accounts, but this one stands out.”


Schulman is equally impressed: “What they’ve been able to do is phenomenal. A big part of that is Monmouth County being transparent with their employees and respectful. It sends a message to the whole organization that health and safety are important to them.”

For McGuane, the workforce and workers’ comp program he inherited years ago feels incredibly different. It’s a safer place to work. Injured workers are more likely to get better. Claims are no longer out of control.

“I’ve seen people’s lives change as a result of the program we’ve done,” he said. “It’s one of the most gratifying things I’ve ever seen professionally.” &

Jared Shelly is a journalist based in Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Exclusive | Hank Greenberg on China Trade, Starr’s Rapid Growth and 100th, Spitzer, Schneiderman and More

In a robust and frank conversation, the insurance legend provides unique insights into global trade, his past battles and what the future holds for the industry and his company.
By: | October 12, 2018 • 12 min read

In 1960, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg was hired as a vice president of C.V. Starr & Co. At age 35, he had already accomplished a great deal.

He served his country as part of the Allied Forces that stormed the beaches at Normandy and liberated the Nazi death camps. He fought again during the Korean War, earning a Bronze Star. He held a law degree from New York Law School.


Now he was ready to make his mark on the business world.

Even C.V. Starr himself — who hired Mr. Greenberg and later hand-picked him as the successor to the company he founded in Shanghai in 1919 — could not have imagined what a mark it would be.

Mr. Greenberg began to build AIG as a Starr subsidiary, then in 1969, he took it public. The company would, at its peak, achieve a market cap of some $180 billion and cement its place as the largest insurance and financial services company in history.

This month, Mr. Greenberg travels to China to celebrate the 100th anniversary of C.V. Starr & Co. That visit occurs at a prickly time in U.S.-Sino relations, as the Trump administration levies tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese goods and China retaliates.

In September, Risk & Insurance® sat down with Mr. Greenberg in his Park Avenue office to hear his thoughts on the centennial of C.V. Starr, the dynamics of U.S. trade relationships with China and the future of the U.S. insurance industry as it faces the challenges of technology development and talent recruitment and retention, among many others. What follows is an edited transcript of that discussion.

R&I: One hundred years is quite an impressive milestone for any company. Celebrating the anniversary in China signifies the importance and longevity of that relationship. Can you tell us more about C.V. Starr’s history with China?

Hank Greenberg: We have a long history in China. I first went there in 1975. There was little there, but I had business throughout Asia, and I stopped there all the time. I’d stop there a couple of times a year and build relationships.

When I first started visiting China, there was only one state-owned insurance company there, PICC (the People’s Insurance Company of China); it was tiny at the time. We helped them to grow.

I also received the first foreign life insurance license in China, for AIA (The American International Assurance Co.). To date, there has been no other foreign life insurance company in China. It took me 20 years of hard work to get that license.

We also introduced an agency system in China. They had none. Their life company employees would get a salary whether they sold something or not. With the agency system of course you get paid a commission if you sell something. Once that agency system was installed, it went on to create more than a million jobs.

R&I: So Starr’s success has meant success for the Chinese insurance industry as well.

Hank Greenberg: That’s partly why we’re going to be celebrating that anniversary there next month. That celebration will occur alongside that of IBLAC (International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council), an international business advisory group that was put together when Zhu Rongji was the mayor of Shanghai [Zhu is since retired from public life]. He asked me to start that to attract foreign companies to invest in Shanghai.

“It turns out that it is harder [for China] to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

Shanghai and China in general were just coming out of the doldrums then; there was a lack of foreign investment. Zhu asked me to chair IBLAC and to help get it started, which I did. I served as chairman of that group for a couple of terms. I am still a part of that board, and it will be celebrating its 30th anniversary along with our 100th anniversary.


We have a good relationship with China, and we’re candid as you can tell from the op-ed I published in the Wall Street Journal. I’m told that my op-ed was received quite well in China, by both Chinese companies and foreign companies doing business there.

On August 29, Mr. Greenberg published an opinion piece in the WSJ reminding Chinese leaders of the productive history of U.S.-Sino relations and suggesting that Chinese leaders take pragmatic steps to ease trade tensions with the U.S.

R&I: What’s your outlook on current trade relations between the U.S. and China?

Hank Greenberg: As to the current environment, when you are in negotiations, every leader negotiates differently.

President Trump is negotiating based on his well-known approach. What’s different now is that President Xi (Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China) made himself the emperor. All the past presidents in China before the revolution had two terms. He’s there for life, which makes things much more difficult.

R&I: Sure does. You’ve got a one- or two-term president talking to somebody who can wait it out. It’s definitely unique.

Hank Greenberg: So, clearly a lot of change is going on in China. Some of it is good. But as I said in the op-ed, China needs to be treated like the second largest economy in the world, which it is. And it will be the number one economy in the world in not too many years. That means that you can’t use the same terms of trade that you did 25 or 30 years ago.

They want to have access to our market and other markets. Fine, but you have to have reciprocity, and they have not been very good at that.

R&I: What stands in the way of that happening?

Hank Greenberg: I think there are several substantial challenges. One, their structure makes it very difficult. They have a senior official, a regulator, who runs a division within the government for insurance. He keeps that job as long as he does what leadership wants him to do. He may not be sure what they want him to do.

For example, the president made a speech many months ago saying they are going to open up banking, insurance and a couple of additional sectors to foreign investment; nothing happened.

The reason was that the head of that division got changed. A new administrator came in who was not sure what the president wanted so he did nothing. Time went on and the international community said, “Wait a minute, you promised that you were going to do that and you didn’t do that.”

So the structure is such that it is very difficult. China can’t react as fast as it should. That will change, but it is going to take time.

R&I: That’s interesting, because during the financial crisis in 2008 there was talk that China, given their more centralized authority, could react more quickly, not less quickly.

Hank Greenberg: It turns out that it is harder to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.

R&I: Obviously, you have a very unique perspective and experience in China. For American companies coming to China, what are some of the current challenges?


Hank Greenberg: Well, they very much want to do business in China. That’s due to the sheer size of the country, at 1.4 billion people. It’s a very big market and not just for insurance companies. It’s a whole range of companies that would like to have access to China as easily as Chinese companies have access to the United States. As I said previously, that has to be resolved.

It’s not going to be easy, because China has a history of not being treated well by other countries. The U.S. has been pretty good in that way. We haven’t taken advantage of China.

R&I: Your op-ed was very enlightening on that topic.

Hank Greenberg: President Xi wants to rebuild the “middle kingdom,” to what China was, a great country. Part of that was his takeover of the South China Sea rock islands during the Obama Administration; we did nothing. It’s a little late now to try and do something. They promised they would never militarize those islands. Then they did. That’s a real problem in Southern Asia. The other countries in that region are not happy about that.

R&I: One thing that has differentiated your company is that it is not a public company, and it is not a mutual company. We think you’re the only large insurance company with that structure at that scale. What advantages does that give you?

Hank Greenberg: Two things. First of all, we’re more than an insurance company. We have the traditional investment unit with the insurance company. Then we have a separate investment unit that we started, which is very successful. So we have a source of income that is diverse. We don’t have to underwrite business that is going to lose a lot of money. Not knowingly anyway.

R&I: And that’s because you are a private company?

Hank Greenberg: Yes. We attract a different type of person in a private company.

R&I: Do you think that enables you to react more quickly?

Hank Greenberg: Absolutely. When we left AIG there were three of us. Myself, Howie Smith and Ed Matthews. Howie used to run the internal financials and Ed Matthews was the investment guy coming out of Morgan Stanley when I was putting AIG together. We started with three people and now we have 3,500 and growing.

“I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

R&I:  You being forced to leave AIG in 2005 really was an injustice, by the way. AIG wouldn’t have been in the position it was in 2008 if you had still been there.


Hank Greenberg: Absolutely not. We had all the right things in place. We met with the financial services division once a day every day to make sure they stuck to what they were supposed to do. Even Hank Paulson, the Secretary of Treasury, sat on the stand during my trial and said that if I’d been at the company, it would not have imploded the way it did.

R&I: And that fateful decision the AIG board made really affected the course of the country.

Hank Greenberg: So many people lost all of their net worth. The new management was taking on billions of dollars’ worth of risk with no collateral. They had decimated the internal risk management controls. And the government takeover of the company when the financial crisis blew up was grossly unfair.

From the time it went public, AIG’s value had increased from $300 million to $180 billion. Thanks to Eliot Spitzer, it’s now worth a fraction of that. His was a gross misuse of the Martin Act. It gives the Attorney General the power to investigate without probable cause and bring fraud charges without having to prove intent. Only in New York does the law grant the AG that much power.

R&I: It’s especially frustrating when you consider the quality of his own character, and the scandal he was involved in.

In early 2008, Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging a meeting with a prostitute at a Washington Hotel and resigned shortly thereafter.

Hank Greenberg: Yes. And it’s been successive. Look at Eric Schneiderman. He resigned earlier this year when it came out that he had abused several women. And this was after he came out so strongly against other men accused of the same thing. To me it demonstrates hypocrisy and abuse of power.

Schneiderman followed in Spitzer’s footsteps in leveraging the Martin Act against numerous corporations to generate multi-billion dollar settlements.

R&I: Starr, however, continues to thrive. You said you’re at 3,500 people and still growing. As you continue to expand, how do you deal with the challenge of attracting talent?

Hank Greenberg: We did something last week.

On September 16th, St. John’s University announced the largest gift in its 148-year history. The Starr Foundation donated $15 million to the school, establishing the Maurice R. Greenberg Leadership Initiative at St. John’s School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science.

Hank Greenberg: We have recruited from St. John’s for many, many years. These are young people who want to be in the insurance industry. They don’t get into it by accident. They study to become proficient in this and we have recruited some very qualified individuals from that school. But we also recruit from many other universities. On the investment side, outside of the insurance industry, we also recruit from Wall Street.

R&I: We’re very interested in how you and other leaders in this industry view technology and how they’re going to use it.

Hank Greenberg: I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.

R&I: So as the pre-eminent leader of the insurance industry, what do you see in terms of where insurance is now an where it’s going?

Hank Greenberg: The country and the world will always need insurance. That doesn’t mean that what we have today is what we’re going to have 25 years from now.

How quickly the change comes and how far it will go will depend on individual companies and individual countries. Some will be more brave than others. But change will take place, there is no doubt about it.


More will go on in space, there is no question about that. We’re involved in it right now as an insurance company, and it will get broader.

One of the things you have to worry about is it’s now a nuclear world. It’s a more dangerous world. And again, we have to find some way to deal with that.

So, change is inevitable. You need people who can deal with change.

R&I:  Is there anything else, Mr. Greenberg, you want to comment on?

Hank Greenberg: I think I’ve covered it. &

The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]