Column: Roger's Soapbox

Heroes, Seen and Unseen

By: | November 1, 2013 • 3 min read
Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected]

Recently, I moved from London to a small town on the south coast of England called Eastbourne. It’s a retirement community, akin to Florida but without the sun, sand (the beaches are pebbles) or cocaine proceeds that have fueled Miami’s growth.

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The other day, two men in crash helmets were peering into my living room window. Nothing very unusual there, I suppose. Except that perverts rarely wear crash helmets, I’m guessing.

Because of the enhanced real estate values in a giant metropolis such as London, I was able to swap a modest 750-square-foot apartment in social housing for something rather grander: a giant penthouse, hard on the English Channel. My nearest neighbor to the south is France.

My new abode is a glorious folly, absurdly flashy and even slightly regal. My ‘Bourne Identity’ is that of king.

The apartment is on the ninth floor, which for reasons best known to themselves, the British refer to as the eighth floor. One would think that, on that basis, the first floor should be called the zeroth floor and the ninth should perhaps be known as the sky floor, but it seems logic is not applied in such matters.

The apartment is as far into the heavens as a man may climb in Eastbourne, which made the spectre of two men in crash helmets peering in, well … something of an anomaly, to say the least.

Were they 80 feet tall? On stilts? Superman and the Green Lantern on patrol?

They were, in fact, supermen of a sort. They were officers of the East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service. They were perched, rather precariously, I thought, atop an aerial ladder, an extending metal pole thingie, a new piece of kit being tested on Eastbourne’s tallest building. My building, that is.

Wobbling all the way, they roamed around the space between my building and the one next door.

From time to time, they stopped so close to (ahem) one of my balconies that we were able to have a pleasant chat. They reluctantly turned down the offer of a cup of tea because their boss was keeping an eye on them from the zeroth floor.

I have nothing but respect for firemen. The word “heroes” barely begins to describe them. Not just because they rush into burning buildings to save children and cats, if the movies are to be believed, but because they wobble around in a steel box 80 feet off the ground in case some old fool like me accidentally sets fire to his home and then can’t get out.

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It struck me later that firemen fulfill a role exactly analogous to that of insurers: They take on the risks that no one else wants to carry. If your building burns down and you’re fried to a crisp, all the insurance in the world won’t make any difference.

Despite the dangers, firemen help you avoid that fate, so that you may cash in on the insurance.

Yet, where firemen are rightly regarded as heroes, insurers tend not to be. At best, they are considered, as someone said recently, staid. But when catastrophe strikes, we turn to firemen as well as insurers to seek relief.

Maybe it would help their image if insurers wore fluorescent orange jackets instead of boring suits. An aerial ladder outside every insurance office? It might be worth a shot.

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]