August 17, 2012
"The least expensive claim is the one that doesn't happen," says Joyce Long, global workforce strategies practice leader for Marsh Risk Consulting in St. Louis.
And a safety program that's integrated into the organization is a key to preventing and mitigating workers comp claims, consultants say.
Too often, however, workplace safety, workers comp claims administration, and data and analytics operate in silos reporting to different parts of an organization, and valuable information about cost drivers is not captured for use in safety programs.
"It's not just a problem with the separate reporting. Sometimes the safety or loss control people don't understand the workings of work comp and risk management and vice versa," said John Spath, senior consultant at Aon Risk Solutions' global risk consulting and casualty risk consulting unit in Boston. "There are a lot of opportunities to get training in these areas and understand some of the basics" from broker resources to professional organizations, including the American Society of Safety Engineers' Business of Safety Resource Center, he said. "The better organizations are integrating the functions now," he added.
Setting up a risk allocation process, where comp insurance costs are allocated to facilities based on their performance, is one way to get plant managers, risk managers and safety people to collaborate, Spath said.
"Safety people perceive risk differently than their claims peers," said Long. Safety professionals focus on measurements associated with Occupational Safety and Health Administration, such as the number of reportable incidents, while claims people are looking at the dollar value of the claims, she said. But they should have shared goals and use data to determine the return on investment of linking improved safety to workers comp, she said.
Facilitating tight integration at Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. in Newport News, VA, is that "we have a dense population in just two locations," said James Thornton, director of environmental health and safety for the maker of naval aircraft carriers and submarines. "Safety, workers comp, environmental and our medical facility all sit equally and at the same level in the same organizational chain," he said. A data warehouse allows safety people to see accident trends and their impact on workers comp claims.
NNS safety personnel report accident statistics to operations on a weekly basis based on incident rate and time-loss goals set at the beginning of the year. "In order to really influence operations, it's a regular interaction as opposed to event-based. That's what integration is—it's continuous improvement," Mr. Thornton said.
In addition, the data warehouse sends out a daily electronic report of injuries seen at the clinic. "Safety is getting the information in real time. We have our own fire department and rescue squad, so if an ambulance is dispatched, we get an email," he said.
At a company with far-flung facilities like Ensign-Bickford Industries Inc., integration is more challenging. The diversified manufacturing company based in Simsbury, CT, has several subsidiaries making products from explosive materials to pet food additives.
"Differences come in how you treat safety at each site," said Richard Roberts Jr., corporate risk manager for Ensign-Bickford. Nevertheless, the company is working on making work comp data accessible to safety people so they can track injury trends and suggest areas for intervention. Once business unit leaders "see what their cost drivers are, they can focus safety folks and HR folks in areas that need to be addressed," he said.
"If a company is going to have a good system for detecting hazards, then there has to be communication between claims and safety," said Len Welsh, chief for workplace safety at State Compensation Insurance Fund in San Francisco. "There has to be an organized approach to capturing data. You have to look at loss trends over time-generate your own company statistics," he said. Successful integrated safety programs have been recognized by OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program, he said. "Good dialogue and communication among a company's systems makes it good at manufacturing and selling its products—not just safety," he added.
Ophelia Galindo, national leader for Buck Consultants LLC's absence and productivity solutions unit in Orange, CA, said she is seeing company departments "bridging across the divide." A single department may now cover leaves of absence, disability plans and work comp, whereas these historically were handled separately by HR, benefits and risk management, she said. Alternately, those three areas often now collaborate on a project such as developing a return-to-work strategy, she said.
The expansion of the Americans with Disabilities Act is spurring employers "to have a more comprehensive perspective" because they must accommodate an employee's return to work, Ms. Galindo added. With return to work being a main goal of workers compensation programs, safety professionals are called on to identify jobs that a person returning from disability can perform without re-injury, consultants said.
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