Column: Risk Management

Opinion | The Risks of New Technologies Are Ignored for the Sake of ‘Progress’

By: | September 14, 2018 • 2 min read
Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

Imagine a world where, in one year, a war claimed 16 million lives and another 500 million were infected by a flu pandemic, killing 50 million.

Imagine a time where only six percent of Americans graduated from high school. Imagine eight percent of homes having a telephone and a three-minute call from Denver to New York costing $11.

Imagine a trip from London to New York taking five days, and one from Australia to London taking three and a half months.

Imagine no more. That was 1918.  A mere 100 years ago. How things have changed and at breakneck speed.

Ethical Transformation 

Consider that in 1956, 5 MB of RAM cost $120,000 and you needed a truck to move it. Today, one TB of memory is only $99 and can easily be lost in your pocket. That is a 10-trillion-fold price performance improvement.

Lifespans have doubled. Food is 20 times cheaper. Energy is 50 times cheaper. Global income has tripled. Connection to the internet is 1-million-fold faster and cheaper.

Such technological transformation is a good thing.


And transformation is set on an even faster track going forward. Currently half the planet is connected to the internet. In five years, it is expected the whole planet will be connected, with unparalleled internet connection speeds.

This means that four billion more minds will have access to vast amounts of information, enabling everyone on the planet to solve problems like we’ve never seen before. It’s dizzying just thinking about it.

But maybe it’s the risk manager in me. The fun sponge. I trust technology. But sadly, I do not trust all humans.

Eight billion minds transforming our planet, all with good intentions … right?

Consider CRISPR, a powerful new gene-editing technology. This tool can manipulate genes and delete undesirable traits with high precision. It has the potential to eliminate diseases, enhance the nutrition and endurance of food and to help us fully understand the human genome and what each gene does.

This is revolutionary, but somehow I feel we may need to pause and take a breath. Do a little risk assessment.

I once saw an MIT experiment where a kitten was born glowing in the dark. I’ve also read of the successful cloning of primates in China. I have been shown a future where gene editing could produce “designer babies” with superhuman skills and abilities.

Here is where I struggle. Just because we can do these things, should we? I shudder at the thought of the unintended risks and consequences that could transpire from such gene editing in nature. This technological transformation train zooms ahead with no governing ground rules and no ethical frameworks to constrain and guide us as a society.

Let’s take a collective breath. &

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]