Study Targets Lower Back Injury
Identifying at-risk workers for low back pain ahead of time may reduce injuries and lower workers’ comp costs, suggest researchers. Their report indicates the value of an appropriately administered post-hire intervention.
While much attention has been focused on improving safety for commercial drivers, less has been targeted on preventing low back pain. The researchers looked at the use of a functional capacity evaluation during post-hire evaluation of truck drivers for their fitness for duty and the outcomes related to it. Their results were published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
“There was a 54 percent reduction in low back injury incidence rate with an associated 45 percent reduction in workers’ comp costs on average between the pre-intervention period and the post-intervention period,” the study says. “The workers’ comp costs of low back injuries per injured driver increased over the pre-intervention period then decreased thereafter over the post-intervention period.”
Low back pain accounts for 15-25 percent of all workers’ comp injuries, but 30-40 percent of the costs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Commercial truck drivers are especially at risk due to the long hours of driving and additional tasks such as unloading freight, cranking dollies, sliding tandems, pulling fifth wheel pins, securing loads, applying tire chains in inclement weather, applying tarps on loads, and performing pre- and post-trip inspections.
More than 5 million commercial drivers were employed in the U.S. in 2012, according to the study. The back continues to be the body part most affected by work incidence.
“Recognizing that musculoskeletal injury is common among commercial truck drivers, some employers and insurers are employing an FCE as a tool to assist in decision making regarding appropriate job placement of these commercial truck drivers as well as regarding return to work duty after an injury,” the study says. “The assumption is that if the testing results are employed to appropriately fit the worker to the job, there will be a reduction in injury and subsequent workers’ comp costs. This research focuses on the institution of such program and on determining the outcomes of said interventions.”
For the study, a nationwide trucking company incorporated a standardized fitness-for-duty evaluation of drivers in 2003, the main element of which included the addition of an FCE to the already established and traditional Department of Transportation physical examination. Called the RoadReady Evaluation, the FCE was used in conjunction with the DOT exam, and the results evaluated to guide worker placement on low back injury incidence and costs.
Trained physical therapists asked the post-hire employees a series of questions focusing on the neck and back. They also conducted various assessments to determine potential risk factors.
After the evaluation, approximately 3 percent of the drivers were found to not meet the standards. They were given the opportunity for placement elsewhere within the company.
The researchers looked at the incidence rates and workers’ comp costs of drivers with low back injuries from 1999 to 2003, three years before the FCE and from 2003-06, three years after the intervention. They pointed out that overall in the transportation industry there was a reduction of low back injuries between 1999 and 2006.
“Nevertheless, the reduction in workers’ comp costs associated with low back injury since the introduction of the program in 2003 may have been due to the intervention, where individuals assessed as having a higher risk of low back injury may have been placed elsewhere,” the report says. “The upper back, not targeted in this intervention, served as a comparison group where the number of injuries and associated workers’ comp costs remained flat.”
Growing Pains for Rideshare Services
In the long run, ridesharing software services will be part of city transport systems around the country, and the new business they foster will grow markets for commercial lines of insurance. But those eventualities are far down the road.
Right now, ridesharing businesses are stuck in a jam of pending legislation and even, litigation.
When services like Uber and Lyft made their debuts, it seemed like such as simple premise: a virtual clearinghouse of drivers with an empty seat in the car matched with potential passengers willing to toss them a few bucks towards gas.
From the start, the services were adamant that they were software companies, not taxi operators, and that drivers were not even independent contractors, but private citizens willing to give a stranger a lift.
Regulators are starting to see things differently, and the courts will soon weigh in as well. Bills specifying obligatory insurance types and amounts, as well as assigning liability in case of loss, are now pending in at least five states — Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland and Oklahoma — as well as in municipalities such as Chicago, Seattle, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Dallas.
California was the first state to enact rules governing ridesharing operations, and in a tragic irony, San Francisco is the venue for one of the first lawsuits involving a fatality. On New Year’s Eve, a driver who was registered with Uber, but was not working a call at the time, accidentally killed a young pedestrian at a notorious intersection in downtown San Francisco. The driver was arrested and his case is pending, but the stricken family is also suing Uber.
The first complication, said property and casualty underwriters and brokers, is that private automobile insurance specifically excludes use of the vehicle for hire.
Covering the Gap
In response to the tragic accident, Uber recently announced that it would expand its insurance coverage.
Previously, it required drivers to have $1 million of commercial insurance to cover driver liability from the time they accept a trip request through their app until completion of the ride. Uber also included $1 million coverage for uninsured/underinsured motorists, and contingent comprehensive and collision insurance, up to $50,000 per incident.
Although the company noted that “the vast majority of personal insurance policies” would cover the driver when they have the app open and are available, but have not yet received a transportation request, Uber decided to “cover any potential ‘insurance gap’ by providing contingent coverage of $50,000 for bodily injury for an individual; a total of $100,000 for bodily injury for an incident; and $25,000 for property damage for an incident.
“Uber is taking this step to eliminate any ambiguity while the insurance industry and state governments update policies and regulations for the new world of ridesharing transportation,” the company announced.
Lyft also followed suit, announcing it would provide “backstop coverage” to drivers when their app is open but the drivers are not yet providing rides. That protection is to be rolled out over time, state by state, according to reports.
Neither company responded to requests for comment.
“Ridesharing is going on all over the country,” said Robert Passmore, senior director of personal lines policy at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. “The California Public Utilities Commission [CPUC] was the first, and so far the only state, to attempt to regulate the business.
“Uber and Lyft and the other rideshare services have always stressed that they are not transportation companies,” he said, “but so far that argument has not convinced anyone.”
Last autumn, the CPUC ruled that rideshare services were indeed transportation companies, but the companies are appealing that decision.
“In our industry, when someone hears words like ‘excess’ and ‘contingent’ coverage, we know that there has to be primary coverage that specifically addresses the activity,” said Passmore.
In the case of automobile coverage just the opposite is true, with personal policies specifically excluding rides for hire.
Passmore said his association and P&C underwriters in general do not oppose rideshare services.
“The reason we are getting involved in this issue is that it does present opportunities for carriers. There needs to be coverage intended specifically to address the risk in question.”
He also noted that many smaller cities are underserved by taxi and radio-car services, so that once the insurance and liability questions are resolved, rideshare services will be a boon for those local economies.
Indeed, he believes that the software firms and underwriters can make it a common cause. “The software companies have a great deal of data about how and where and why people drive and ride. That data is of great interest to the underwriting community,” Passmore said.
Broadening the focus, Stephen Hackenburg, chief broking officer for national casualty at Aon, said: “We are all working on contingent exposures. The industry is getting smarter, expanding exclusions of negligent supervision, situations where there can be failure of oversight or failure of due diligence. The ISO 2013 general liability policies had expanded exclusions of negligent supervision.”
As an example, Hackenburg offered a scenario: A vacationing family wants to take an off-road tour, and the hotel or cruise ship concierge books them or refers them to one. If something goes wrong, the hotel or cruise line can try to claim that the tour operator is a separate operation.
“But,” he said, “any enterprising lawyer could make a case out of what did the hotel or cruise line do to verify the safety of the tour operator.”
One possible partial solution, Hackenburg said, is the kind of blanket liability policy that some importers are starting to buy to cover their international suppliers.
“If you are a toy company, and something you imported from China is found to have lead in it, it will be very difficult to try to go after some nebulous manufacturer in China. Instead you get a foreign-supplier liability policy and schedule all your sources. You can either just eat the cost, or try to get them to pay for some or all of it.”
He said the same would apply to a large company doing business with small firms that are often undercapitalized. Cruise lines make significant profits from booking land-side tours, but if there is a problem, the vacationers are going to sue the cruise line, not the guy with the jeep.
Hackenburg also noted that there are other options, including creating an affinity program within a captive that small vendors and suppliers can buy into. “We work closely with our clients on contingent exposures,” he said. “There are actually lots of tools available. You just have to have those discussions.”
He said that online businesses from ridesharing to tour booking to international supply chains are bringing more disparate interests together. That creates many new business opportunities, but also a whole new web of liabilities. Far better to make some decisions in advance than when the car is in the ditch.
Passionate About Technology
If you overheard the passion and enthusiasm that Brit Waters uses to describe his most important business technology, you would immediately assume it was the latest smartphone or tablet. But it’s not Apple or Google that generates so much enthusiasm, it’s the Riskonnect risk management platform.
“Riskonnect revolutionized how our department does business. This system changed the way we gather, analyze and communicate information. It’s made us more efficient, effective and reliable,” said Waters, Manager, Risk Management at Avery Dennison Corporation. “These are not bandages, but complete solutions.”
Avery Dennison is a multinational company offering labeling and packaging materials and solutions whose applications and technologies are an integral part of products used in every major market and industry. The company operates in more than 50 countries with over 26,000 employees and $6 billion in revenues in 2013.
“Riskonnect revolutionized how our department does business. This system changed the way we gather, analyze and communicate information. It’s made us more efficient, effective and reliable. These are not bandages, but complete solutions.”
– Brit Waters, Manager, Risk Management, Avery Dennison Corporation
The company partnered with Riskonnect, the provider of premier, enterprise-class technology platforms. In just 18 months, the system not only revolutionized the department but also delivered wide-ranging value for plenty of other parts of the organization. Those departments utilize the system to manage financial assets, keep track of vehicles and will soon oversee facilities requests.
‘The Simplicity is Unreal’
For global property insurance renewals, Riskonnect changed the way Avery Dennison collects data on its 300 manufacturing facilities, warehouses and other properties around the world. Gone are the days of sorting through hundreds of separate emails with information about the properties and merging hundreds of separate spreadsheets into one.
Not only was the old process cumbersome, it left lots of room for error.
With Riskonnect, the process is automated. It sends emails to the more than 100 individual contacts and the users insert the information into the Riskonnect portal themselves — something that makes Waters’ life a whole lot easier.
“I hit a button once and it runs the report for me. The simplicity is unreal,” he said. “Plus, it gives us better information that we can communicate to our insurance carriers, and gives them increased confidence about the risks they’re insuring.”
Waters said it’s a big time-saver. “Before, the process could take up to three months, and now we get it done in less than a month.”
One thing he’s particularly excited about is the configurability of the portal. If he wants to customize it, he can easily do so without going through a computer programmer or contacting an account executive.
“It gives you the power to set up the system as you need it, not as someone else envisions you need it,” said Waters.
The Riskonnect portal is also the primary source for reporting workers’ compensation claims. Again, the Riskonnect system simplified the process. Before, employees had to call a 1-800 number or fill out a long form and fax it to the Third Party Claims Administrator (TPA). Now they just log on and use the claims reporting portal, which is equipped with drop-down menus and other efficiencies that help expedite the process.
“We take the guessing game out of their hands,” said Waters. “In a matter of minutes, they get a confirmation email that the claim has been submitted to the TPA.”
Through the Riskonnect dashboard tools, Waters and his department can learn a lot about trends in workers’ comp claims. The system tracks claims year-to-date, costs, causes of injury and even the top body parts that are hurt. Then risk management communicates that information to local managers to make sure that safety-and-prevention programs are appropriate and will help reduce the amount of claims and their costs.
“The Riskonnect dashboards layout all this valuable information in easy-to-use tables and charts, making it simple for us to study the data and implement necessary safety changes,” said Waters.
ROI on a Values Collection Module
At the start of the process, Waters never imagined just how many other departments would use the tool. The finance department uses the system for asset management. The fleet administrator uses it to have drivers sign off on its manuals. Even the facilities department is jumping on board, using the Riskonnect system to identify when properties need repairs to big-ticket items like roofs or windows.
The company is also looking to report global property claims, transit claims and employers’ liability claims through the platform. It’s even evaluating if it can use it on the shop floor with health-and-safety team members having easy access to the system via iPads.
”The Riskonnect platform can help many different departments with a wide variety of tasks,” said Waters. “It’s really making risk management a much more strategic contributor to the company.”
“I hit a button once and it runs the report for me. The simplicity is unreal,” Waters said. “Plus, it gives us better information that we can communicate to our insurance carriers, and gives them increased confidence about the risks they’re insuring. Before, the process could take up to three months, and now we get it done in less than a month.”
Waters’ enthusiasm for the product is clear, but he’s not alone. End-users are raving about how easy, intuitive and customizable it is. For example, training end-users used to consist of holding approximately 15 different webinars to walk everyone through the process. Now, it’s accomplished in one easy-to-understand mass communication through the Riskonnect portal.
The end users even helped Waters and the Avery Dennison team add efficiencies that improve the entire process. On the property reporting side, they suggested adding an attachment tool for adding spreadsheets – so the information is easy to find the following year.
“It’s amazing when you give the end users a product and you see how they come back to you with advice that you never even thought of,” said Waters. “That speaks volumes for the system.”
In just 18 months, Riskonnect changed the way Avery Dennison does business — something Waters can’t hide his enthusiasm about.
“I don’t consider them just a vendor,” said Waters. “I consider them a long-term strategic partner.”