Risk Insider: Chris Thorn

The Threat From Within

By: | April 8, 2015 • 2 min read

Chris Thorn is a recently retired Southwest Airlines Senior Risk Manager and is currently a risk consultant. He is a CPA with 15 years of aviation risk experience including navigating through war risk insurance during the 9/11 crisis. He can be reached at [email protected]

When you are a risk manager for an airline, hearing the news about a plane crash gets your attention immediately.  The first thing that goes through your mind is, “was it one of ours?”

When you discover it isn’t, you feel an overwhelming sense of relief as you can dismiss the next hundred thoughts that would immediately follow an affirmative response.  Next, you feel a little guilty as you realize one of your counterparts at another airline is not so lucky.

During the first few hours that follow an accident, speculation as to the cause consumes the media.  Was it mechanical?  Was it human error?  Was it terrorism?

This is important to discover so improvements can be made to prevent the next accident.  Thanks to the hard work of the NTSB, aircraft manufacturers, and airlines, many mechanical weaknesses have been addressed and improvements to pilot training have been made.

But what can be done about terrorism?

The FAA requires two people to be in the cockpit at all times.  Therefore, when a pilot goes to the lavatory, a flight attendant must enter the cockpit and lock the door.

In response to terrorists accessing the cockpits of four aircraft on 9/11, airlines reinforced and locked the cockpit doors of their aircraft to diminish the threat of unauthorized access.

Some airlines also decided to allow their pilots to carry firearms in the cockpit for an additional layer of protection.  This has worked very well to reduce outside threats.

However, sometimes our efforts to eliminate risk create new risks.  Creating a fortress of the cockpit has now created a weakness if the threat is already inside the cockpit.

What if a pilot is the threat?  This has been the leading theory for the missing Air Malaysia flight of last year and the recent Germanwings crash.

Some have suggested automating the flight controls by overriding the pilots if an unsafe condition is detected.  While this might solve a few instances of pilot error or maliciousness, it creates new risks such as tampering or sabotage.

Commercial aircraft have used the art of redundancy successfully for risk mitigation for a century.  There are two of every vital instrument, two pilots, two or more engines, etc.  This allows for a safe operation when something goes wrong with the first.  The second person or piece of equipment can take over.

The FAA requires two people to be in the cockpit at all times.  Therefore, when a pilot goes to the lavatory, a flight attendant must enter the cockpit and lock the door.

This is not required for some international carriers.  I expect to see many countries adopt the rule this year to prevent a recurrence of the Germanwings type incident.

After an accident, there is tremendous pressure to rectify the weakness in the process.  Just make sure the solution you put into place is effective and not creating even more risk than before.

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]