Column: Risk Management

Risk Triangles

By: | April 9, 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]

I was eight when I first learned of fire safety from Elmer the Safety Elephant. An animated mascot, Elmer’s mission was to spread messages of safety to all Canadian children around fire, railway, school bus, traffic, home and the internet.


Born in 1947, Elmer’s effectiveness was astonishing. In his very first year of teaching practical traffic safety rules, traffic accidents involving children dropped by 44 percent even as vehicle numbers grew by 10 percent.

He taught common-sense safety rules, one of which I still remember — the fire triangle.

The fire triangle characterizes the three components necessary for a fire to occur. A fire needs fuel, an ignition source and oxygen. Remove one, and a fire cannot occur.

Fire extinguishers smother flames by denying them oxygen. We restrict the use and carrying of matches and other ignition sources. Flame retardants reduce the possibility of objects becoming fuel sources. We comply with legislation mandating working fire alarm systems.

How many risk prevention and mitigation techniques are now designed around this simple triangle? One example, we have the fraud risk triangle.

When fraud or theft occurs in an organization, three conditions usually surround the perpetrator. They feel pressure or have an incentive to commit the crime. They find rationalization for their crime. Thirdly, they have the opportunity and resources to commit the crime.

To effectively prevent fraud risk, your risk response plans must aim to, at minimum, quash one side. Removing opportunities removes risk of fraud.

An individual can be incentivized to steal if they are burdened and pressured by debts or financially draining addictions. An individual can rationalize their theft if they feel wronged by the company. The stolen money balances the scale for them.

Most importantly, an opportunity must exist to commit the crime. Working in a money transacting department with loose or unmonitored financial controls is an ideal environment.

To effectively prevent fraud risk, your risk response plans must aim to, at minimum, quash one side. Removing opportunities removes risk of fraud.

This triangle rule applies to other crimes, too. My heart went out to the families and friends of the victims from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.


What a horror.

A mass shooter is incentivized by the notoriety they may gain from the act. They select individuals who they feel wronged them and are deserving of punishment. The victims’ deaths balance the scale for the shooter.

But most glaringly, a mass shooter needs the opportunity with resources to commit the act. They need a gun. Without one, a shooting cannot occur.

Americans constitute about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. These numbers are screaming for immediate attention. Much less is more. &

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]