On-site Injuries Plummeted at South Bay Wire and Cable Company. Here’s How They Did It

To increase employee safety in the workplace, South Bay Wire and Cable Company implemented an incentives program that achieved massive results.
By: | October 19, 2022

If you’re looking for a workers’ compensation success story that highlights what it truly means to build from the ground up, look no further.

Meet South Bay Wire and Cable Company LLC: Based in the mountains of Idyllwild, California, this manufacturer has for several decades worked to provide insulated fiber cable for the most important of functions. South Bay’s products are used by the Department of Defense, and the cable lines that lie on the ocean floor are South Bay’s cable.

While its deliverables are high in value, the company uses original cable-making equipment that’s been active since its inception in 1957. While the equipment has been kept and maintained in great condition, this type of work comes with its fair share of worker injuries.

And at times, workers who became injured on the job would abuse the workers’ comp system. This was due to the lack of a structured program to not only clearly define a proper injury claim but also to promote a productive return-to-work program.

Jennifer Feddema wears many hats in her role at South Bay: purchasing manager, traffic/logistics manager and HR/benefits manager. She also works in the company’s safety department, where she observed the need for a workers’ comp program.

“Prior to about 2002 to 2003, we really did not have any safety incentive programs in place,” she said.

Unsurprisingly, this led to a multitude of problems, including high rates of workplace injury and employee turnover.

With the help of Jacki Mortenson, senior risk management consultant at ICW Group, and incorporating incentives to promote worker safety, the company has seen exceptional results. Not only was a structured workers’ comp program put in place, but it’s also been effectively maintained.

It’s these methods of improvement that have earned South Bay Wire and Cable Company LLC a 2022 Teddy Awards Program of Distinction accolade.

Making Claims Black and White

Before the initiative for a workers’ comp program began, South Bay was experiencing about 15 to 20 recorded workplace injury incidents a year. With a staff of about 80 to 100 individuals, this number was considered relatively high.

Coupled with that, employee turnover was above average, which Feddema linked to the number of claims being recorded. Some employees would file a workers’ comp claim with circumstances that did not meet the requirement for said claim or render claims that were false altogether. They’d then receive unearned time off, thus depleting the number of available staff and hurting the company.

“[South Bay] kept having employees who felt that workers’ comp was a private, beneficial program for them,” Mortenson said. “[The company] didn’t understand how employees could abuse the workers’ comp system.”

The first step both Mortenson and Feddema took was to clearly investigate every claim filed by South Bay workers to evaluate whether approving it as a workers’ comp claim was appropriate.

Jennifer Feddema, South Bay Wire and Cable Company LLC

This initial action was a pivotal one, as it provided South Bay with the framework to “look past the complaint, problem or incident and [zero in on] what actually caused it,” Mortenson said. With this mindset, Feddema and Mortenson began to really sift through the claims, determining which actually met the claim standards and which did not.

You Get a Gift Card, and You Get a Gift Card! 

What’s also helped in solving South Bay’s workers’ comp struggles was the creation of an incentives program that celebrates the prevention of injury or injured workers’ return to the site.

Feddema recognized South Bay’s incentives program as the true contributor to its workers’ comp success. Not only did the program lead to impressive results but it also provided a fun way for South Bay’s employees to keep safety on the brain.

“Our goal was to create a safe workplace environment for our employees, with zero recordable incidents,” she said.

According to South Bay’s Teddy Award application, Feddema created the company’s safety incentive program, dubbed the “Safety Jack Pot.”

How does it work? Every employee receives a lotto card, and at the end of a workweek, workers who recorded no injury incidents are awarded “points” that can be earned throughout the quarter. At the quarter’s conclusion, employees who demonstrated safety, as reflected by the points tallied on their lotto card, receive prizes.

Taking the program a step further, employees who go six months with no recordable incidents receive an incentive gift card for their success.

“Employees have really seemed to enjoy our various incentive programs,” Feddema said.

Coupled with the program’s popularity is the success shown in the number of incidents (or lack thereof) following its implementation. The company experienced three recordable incidents in 2021, one in 2020, two in 2019, one in 2018 and one in 2017 — averaging only 1.6 incidents a year.

The low number of incidents throughout the years has also contributed to a low turnover rate.

“We’ve really prided ourselves on not having a high turnover rate the last 20 years,” Feddema said. “I would say that 60-65% of our employees have been here for 20 years or longer. And so, as the turnover decreased, our MOD rate began to reflect having highly trained, long-term employees.”

Feddema also implemented a similar incentive program for employees who share ideas for potential safety improvements the company could pursue. She values the perspectives of South Bay’s employees when it comes to worker safety, because “a lot of those [issues] we don’t necessarily notice because we’re not on the floor all day.”

Additionally, incentivizing safety added a level of intentionality to worker function that may have been not present before: “We always explain to employees that it’s really about thinking about what you’re doing before you have the chance to get hurt,” Feddema said.

She continued, “The program has been with us for a very long time, and employees are always very excited to receive their safety gift cards and incentive prizes.”

An Open-Door Policy

While Feddema credits the gift card incentives program as the linchpin of South Bay’s workers’ comp achievements, what should not be forgotten is the level of communication and collaboration between employer and employee.

Feddema noted employees are urged to share any concerns or requests when it comes to safety with South Bay leadership.

“We’ve really become an open-door company where employees can come in and ask us for anything safety-related they need, or if they have safety suggestions,” she said. “That’s something that we really try to emphasize when onboarding and training our new employees.”

For Feddema, this honest line of dialogue has also provided a notable difference in worker safety. &

Emma Brenner is a staff writer with Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected].

More from Risk & Insurance