Column: Workers' Comp

Next-Level Solutions for 2017

By: | December 14, 2016 • 2 min read

Roberto Ceniceros is senior editor at Risk & Insurance® and chair of the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. He can be reached at [email protected] Read more of his columns and features.

As surely as Americans will resolve to exercise more and eat less following the holiday excess, workers’ compensation writers will be busy this month predicting 2017’s top stories.

I’ll limit my predictions to two. Neither will become a sexy news story, nor will readers proclaim me a workers’ comp clairvoyant. But even the world’s most cautious risk manager would sleep soundly wagering a year’s salary on their certain occurrence.

I predict that one, workers will continue getting hurt. Two, good workers’ comp and safety managers will continue looking for measures to reduce those injuries.

Given my predictions are certain to occur, I’ll provide some ideas to help mitigate the inevitable.

One is a strategy I first heard from my friend Bill Wainscott, manager of workers’ comp and occupational health at International Paper.

It calls for establishing a separate worker safety program exclusively focusing on the causes of a company’s most severe accidents, while maintaining the employer’s established safety program for reducing overall frequency.

During 2016, I heard more employers touting results from increased worker-involvement measures, like allowing any employee to halt any job when they observe safety issues.

Over the years, employers have continually cut frequency. Many are experiencing record low injury rates because of their safety measures, coupled with factors like increased workplace automation.

But severity continues to hound them.


So while establishing a second injury-prevention program is not a widespread trend, some large, name-brand employers decided they needed to do more to stop severe injuries and deaths. They have reportedly experienced successful results.

It’s a topic Wainscott addressed at this year’s National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo.

He believes success means employers first establish a safety culture that truly impacts overall frequency. You can’t skip that requirement. It provides the foundation for launching an exclusive severity program.

Employers can then identify what’s driving their serious worker injuries and fatalities to develop very detailed safety programs targeting those causes.

Another idea requires increasingly involving workers in safety leadership. This can work with the above idea or stand-alone. But during 2016, I heard more employers touting results from increased worker-involvement measures, like allowing any employee to halt any job when they observe safety issues. You might find that such measures make your safety efforts more about people and less about procedures. This can occur because people typically respond better when they engage in creating or fostering safety procedures.

They are more likely to take pride in the success of practices they help develop and enforce and to understand that safety is about caring for themselves and their co-workers.

Continue finding measures like these that help employees return home safe every day, and I predict less of your company’s revenue will flow to claim-service providers, no matter what workers’ comp news topics emerge during 2017. &

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]