Column: Risk Management

Waiving Stupidity

By: | February 20, 2017 • 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 happened to catch the movie “King Kong” on TV this week. Even though I knew the fictional plot, the fatal outcome for King Kong lingered in my mind. I think it was because I am tired of seeing beautiful majestic creatures captured, caged and turned into circus acts.

Then we the humans are surprised when they get angry and turn on us. One truth seems to hold true — it never ends well for the innocent animal.

Coincidentally, this week I read about “Humpback,” a 12-foot-long alligator caught on video from the Circle B Bar Reserve in Florida. He became an instant attraction on social media due to his absolute mammoth size and lumbering gait.

Reserve workers expressed concern about Humpback’s new celebrity status: “Humpback has lived his life out here, and we want him to live the remainder of his life out here. We don’t want to have to destroy him because somebody was doing something they should not have been doing.”

It should be widely understood as a social contract that if you are doing something you have been told not to do because it is dangerous, and you do it anyway and get hurt, no one is to blame for your hurt but you.

It was frustrating to read. It should be widely understood as a social contract that if you are doing something you have been told not to do because it is dangerous, and you do it anyway and get hurt, no one is to blame for your hurt but you.


Compare it to, say, skydiving. Caveat: I have never tried it as the sheer thought of plummeting from a plane and having to rely on my wits to pull a rip cord scares me to my core. But if one day I do try it and I get hurt, I know no one is to blame but me.

Sadly, we risk managers all too often need to manage outrageous and ridiculous claims or lawsuits that involve persons not wanting to take accountability for their own irresponsible behaviors. I find this the hardest part of our job as risk managers.
I empathize with the Florida reserve. Now due to some individual’s insatiable thirst for an adrenaline-filled adventure, poor Humpback is in potential jeopardy and so is the reserve.

An animal reserve or refuge is typically run on charitable donations and not rich with funds. Now they may need to consider having visitors sign a waiver before visiting their premises. Fortunately, waivers are still mostly enforceable in Florida.

What is interesting about waivers is that it is a contract that tries to absolve, say, a reserve from fault or liability for injuries that result from their “ordinary” negligence as long as the reserve uses “ordinary” care for its visitor.

What is appropriate care in this situation? How can we save Humpback if he defends himself and creates a ruckus?

“Do not go anywhere near the mammoth alligator that is the size of a small car because he can kill you,” should say the future sign posted every 100 feet around the premises of the reserve. Is that “ordinary” enough? Is it a reasonable action that a prudent professional reserve would take under the circumstances? For Humpback’s sake, I sure hope so. &

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]