How a Kansas School Made Teachers Safer by Making Parents Part of Risk Management

This Kansas workers' comp manager changed one school's safety culture by focusing on proper training, work-life balance and the world of special education.
By: | December 2, 2019

The only thing more challenging than caring for children is caring for other people’s children; this was something Brian White discovered in an unconventional way.

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When he took over as the executive director of human resources and operations for Auburn-Washburn Unified School District 437 in 2012, White didn’t have a background in education. Like most people, he had never looked at a school as a business, let alone analyzed the ins and outs of its operation.

When it came to an environment of educators, a level of genuine care for employee well-being was evident, but an understanding of proper safety procedures were not.

“They care very deeply about employees and keeping them safe, but there are certain aspects of managing workers’ compensation and disability that they just had not been exposed to or didn’t know about.”

White rose to the unique challenge of bridging the gap between the high expectations of education and running a business-as-usual workers’ compensation program.

The result? Slashed insurance costs, improved student and teacher advocacy and a 2019 Teddy Award Honorable Mention.

Here’s how he did it.

Bridging the Gap 

While reviewing his first claim, White noticed the district had been letting the injured workers fill out their own accident investigation as well as injury reports.

Brian White, executive director of HR and operations, Auburn-Washburn Unified School District 437

While this approach was not completely ineffective, it allowed workers to stop at the first right answer without analyzing what led to the injury in the first place. White knew he had to present the numbers in a way that made sense to everyone.

“Education is very data driven, so I was able to provide statistics and metrics around when employees get hurt and the effects they have on injured workers.”

In a district that serves almost 6,000 students and 500 teachers, identifying trends within seemingly isolated incidents was no small feat.

By examining data across the entire district and providing leadership with the information they needed to comfortably identify gaps in workers’ compensation, White was able to take action.

Within the data, White identified a school that was struggling with a particularly high number of “struck-by” incidents inflicted on faculty.

“There were a lot of injuries caused from students who have severe disabilities, whether they’re behavioral or emotional.”

Not only were most faculty members unaccustomed to handling these types of situations, but they struggled to evoke concern in parents over incident severity.

“By giving the team the statistics, they were able to sit down with the parent to show those to them and talk about it and the parent hadn’t realized how much this was happening to the staff.”

Not only did this effort increase awareness and lessen injury claims, but it gave White a new understanding and appreciation for special education teachers.

“The world of helping those students achieve their potential and helping them learn and grow was something I had not experienced as a private industry person. The amount of work, effort and care that goes into that is extraordinary.”

White managed to translate this value into the everyday culture of the school district.

“It allowed us to have conversations about what was happening there and if there was something that could be done differently. As I did that, I learned that they were struggling with a parent of the student on how severe things were. We began working with them to make continuous improvements.”

By the Numbers

In order to catalyze continuous improvement, White implemented improvised safety training for all employee groups.

“Our biggest mission is the academic achievement of the students to help each student learn and grow. When I start talking about workers’ comp, it doesn’t directly correlate to student success,” said White of his difficulties.

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By implementing useful safety training in ways that employees could appreciate, understand and respond to, such as a game titled “Risky or Not,” USD 437 began to show results.

Through sustained efforts, they were able to save $70,000 heading into the 2019-20 school year.

From 2018-2019, workers’ compensation costs were reduced by 35%.

Their experience MOD reached an impressive 0.65 in 2018.

“Part of it was just educating our staff on what the MOD is and how it impacts us,” said White. “If you’re less than one, you’re going to be better than average.”

Ensuring a Work-Life Balance

Monetary improvements and avocation for safety are key principles on which workers’ compensation practices were founded, but White knew that injured worker prevention in education had to be about more than slips and falls and bumps and bruises. It is about ensuring a proper work-life balance for all employees and protecting the people that protect our kids.

“It is indicative and reflective of the outstanding focus and efforts our staff in ensuring that our workplace is safe. Everyone has something that they like to do outside of work, and we don’t want to impact our staff’s ability to do those things because of something that could happen at work,” said White. 

“Our vision will continue to focus on ensuring a safe workplace and taking care of our staff so that they are able to help inspire, challenge, and prepare every student, every day.” &

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

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]