Risk Insider: Marilyn Rivers

Managing the Madness of the Political Season

By: | April 18, 2016 • 2 min read
Marilyn Rivers, CPCU, ARM, AIC, currently serves as the director of risk and safety — city safety and compliance officer for a municipality in Upstate New York and is a director at large and delegate for the government and public sector division of the National Safety Council. She can be reached at [email protected]

A story I often tell at PRIMA Institute is of a hot summer day in the heat of a political campaign season. Tasked with assisting security for the event, I helped with balloons, ice cream, crowds and the arrival of a “distinguished” politician.

Well, the heat melted the ice cream and the candidate was late, making for a tiresome, disappointing event. As the event closed, the candidate got into his big black SUV with tinted windows and proceeded to exit the public park.

In one pristine moment on that fine summer day, universes collided — school children arrived for a history lesson, the candidate’s posse turned on their vehicle engines and a flock of baby ducks, led by their parents, decided to cross the road.

As the SUV revved its engine in front of the school children — attempting a speedy exit — I did the only thing any sensible risk manager would do … I stood between the ducks and the SUV as a fellow employee shooed the ducks along.

He eventually revved his “engine” a little too loudly and too frequently — while the ducks still reside in the park generations later.

I found out later the politico’s “handler” called my boss and demanded I be fired.

Thankfully, my boss called me and asked me my side of the story and sided with the ducks. We often joke amongst ourselves when that individual’s name comes up that arrogance breeds contempt.

We also take solace that while the candidate won the race, he eventually revved his “engine” a little too loudly and too frequently — while the ducks still reside in the park generations later.

Let’s talk about those baby ducks and the common sense of any candidate for office and the reality of governance of “for the people, by the people” and a few basis rules of survival.


Rhetoric may sell headlines, but it doesn’t make for credibility in public service. The internet, as a vast trove of snippet storage, never lets anyone forget a misstep, a slip of a phrase or an unkept promise.

Risk professionals work with the community and law enforcement to provide opportunities for discussion and deal with the fallout of overzealous patrons in the search for democracy.

As public risk professionals manage the madness that descends upon their communities and the disruption it brings to daily governance, they’ll question their sanity, their patience and the limitations of providing the opportunity for free speech within a fixed budget.

The moral of the duck flock, you ask?

It’s about distinguishing between the pressures of singular political aspirations versus the patient reality of the community one serves. Sometimes, the smallest of our actions in that one split second of each of our judgments sets the standards of who we as a community should all aspire to be.

Marilyn Rivers’ views are her own and don’t represent the City of Saratoga Springs.

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]