2018 Risk All Star: Kevin Farthing

How Farm Life Shaped One Risk Manager’s Tenacity for Worker Safety

Kevin Farthing, a 2018 Risk All Star, solved his staff's high rate of musculoskeletal injuries, saving more than $500K in annual workers' comp costs. 
By: | September 14, 2018 • 2 min read

Growing up on a 385-acre tobacco farm shaped Kevin Farthing’s unflinching work ethic. The central Kentucky sun was relentless. The 20-hour days maddening. The physical labor intense.

Kevin Farthing. environmental health and safety manager, Sparton Electronics

“It’s hot, miserable, tough work, but it taught me about work ethic, problem solving, how to handle urgency and how to prioritize,” he said. “That training was more valuable than my college education.”

Now Farthing is bringing that same drive to Sparton Electronics in De Leon Springs, Fla., where he serves as environmental health and safety manager. The 600-employee company manufactures sonobuoys for the navies of the world — but faced a high number of musculoskeletal injuries and annual workers’ comp claim costs exceeding $500,000. Despite multiple modifications to the production processes and attempts to control ergonomic risk factors, nothing seemed to work.

Farthing knew where the answer was, so he dug through filing cabinets for injury data, built spreadsheets and searched for trends. Were older workers more susceptible to injury? Were certain job tasks more dangerous? Then a eureka moment — he found that 40 percent of the musculoskeletal injuries were occurring during the first three years of employment. Sparton was hiring candidates who were previously injured or not capable of performing the physical tasks required.

“[Farm work] is hot, miserable, tough work, but it taught me about work ethic, problem solving, how to handle urgency and how to prioritize. That training was more valuable than my college education.” — Kevin Farthing. environmental health and safety manager, Sparton Electronics

That led him to partner with BTE Workforce Solutions to design specific post-offer, pre-employment tests to make sure candidates were up to the physical challenges. They tested for all the tasks that required high force, awkward posture and high grip strength. Initially, the failure rate was 50 percent.


Rather than lowering the demands of the tests, he identified which tests individuals were failing most and modified the actual work tasks they corresponded to. For example, they no longer require employees to manually move certain types of heavy loads.

“We took that test completely out of the equation, and my plant is safer because of it,” said Farthing. In another instance, he tested a banding cutter personally and realized the incredible grip force required to do the job.

“I took them to a maintenance shop, took them apart and threw them in the garbage,” he said. “Two days later, we had an electric banding cutter in there.”

Buy-in from senior management took serious tenacity, but that didn’t stop a risk manager as determined as Farthing.

“He didn’t let a ‘no’ stop him,” said Connie Miller, the BTE vice president of Business Development. After two years of implementation, the program has seen excellent results. A two-year investment of $174,000 has yielded an expected savings of more than $950,000. &


Risk All Stars stand out from their peers by overcoming challenges through exceptional problem solving, creativity, clarity of vision and passion.

See the complete list of 2018 Risk All Stars.

Jared Shelly is a journalist based in Philadelphia. 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.


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]