Co-Chairs Discuss High Points, Prepare for 2015
The 23rd annual National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo was, by all accounts, a rousing success. The talk of posts on various social media sites, the nation’s premiere event for workers’ comp and disability practitioners attracted record attendance in November.
The conference had barely ended when planning organizers were already getting started on the 24th National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo, scheduled for Nov. 11-13 again at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Speaking proposals are being accepted through Feb. 6.
This year’s planning co-chairs hope to build on the success of last year’s event, which they say is a hard act to follow.
“I think we’re going to have to dig deep to do better,” said Denise Gillen-Algire, director of managed care and disability risk management for Safeway and a conference planning co-chair. “This last conference was really good.”
As a returning conference program co-chair, Gillen-Algire says she has definitely seen changes since she began in 2010. “In terms of what I see people looking for five or six years ago vs. today is more innovation and program design topics,” she said. “Things around how to design programs, measure performance of providers, best practices in programs; things like that.”
Joining Gillen-Algire as a planning program co-chair is Bill Wainscott, manager of workers’ compensation and occupational health for International Paper. He is especially focused on expanding the push to include as many employers as possible.
“A lot of times [at conferences] speakers tend to talk in theoretical terms about research or trends,” Wainscott said. “This year what struck me was employers saying ‘here’s what we did.’ I learned a lot from other companies willing to share.”
Wainscott’s sentiments were echoed by Gillen-Algire, who said she heard many positive comments about the focus on employers. “There was great feedback on several panels we had with employers on them in that people were talking about real experiences,” she said. “That’s important – a case study approach, the pros and cons to certain programs, or implementing different systems.”
Wainscott said he heard and spoke with many different employers not only during sessions but also in the expo hall. He was pleasantly surprised to find out about innovative programs for smaller and mid-sized employers.
“I walked away learning some things I could do differently that I hadn’t thought about,” Wainscott said. “I probably stole more from those than I gave to smaller employers. It was a really good opportunity to network with people.”
As an example, Wainscott said he spoke with a woman whose program focuses squarely on the employee. “I tend to get really focused on all the processes and medical management things and return-to-work issues and she brought me back to the point that it’s all about the employee,” he said. “They did an excellent job of communicating to employees, setting expectations well before an accident occurs. Every employee and supervisor knew what would happen when an injury occurred and held everybody accountable.”
In another “eye-opening” expo hall conversation, he learned about a small employer’s inclusion of its employee assistance program. “If a wife is struggling with her husband being around all day and juggling all the family activities and money is not coming in as much as it was, the EAP gets involved and helps around the depression issues or family struggles,” Wainscott said. “I hadn’t thought about EAP playing a serious role in workers’ comp. They said it really helped out, helped the employee deal with things and more importantly helped the family deal with things. I hadn’t really thought about bringing the family in.”
One of the first orders of business for the co-chairs is deciding on the opening general session. The 2014 opening keynote address was delivered by Dr. L. Casey Chosewood, senior medical officer and director of the Office for Total Worker Health Coordination and Research at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
“I was very pleased and received nothing but positive feedback on Dr. Chosewood’s session,” Gillen-Algire said. “That theme was in many sessions; several on integrated disability management and total worker health, and that sort of followed through several sessions. It touched on the importance of pre-loss/post-loss and managing workers’ health.”
Those themes may continue into the 2015 conference.
“Looking at the core of the conference, it is workers’ comp and disability. So I think it’ll be important for us to have sessions around integrated disability and how that integrates with employees and wellness programs and the Affordable Care Act,” Gillen-Algire said. “Obviously, the ACA has been in place for a few years, and most employers and insurers are just starting to see the impact. Additional sessions on strategies for workers’ comp and employers around the ACA will be important.”
Other possible sessions included risk financing, the consolidation of the industry and the impact on managing vendor partners, and the management of litigation. Ultimately, the sessions are chosen with input from the full advisory board.
“That’s the nice thing about this conference,” Wainscott said. “We get such a diverse group of people at the table.”
To submit a proposal or for more information, please visit our website.
Is Health Care Integration the Answer to Compliance?
Addressing worker health has many parts – health care, wellness, disability management and workers’ comp.
Managing them as a whole instead of discrete components can help reduce costs while improving outcomes, which is why more and more employers are moving toward an integrated approach to employee health and safety.
But streamlining administration of these programs and making decisions that go across the board can also have the added benefit of tightening up regulatory compliance.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – and amendments made in 2008 – present employers with a thorny trail to blaze.
Especially after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, employers are shouldering a greater responsibility for employees’ health and wellness, and rules imposed by the ADA can complicate matters as companies and organizations strive to improve worker health without overstepping boundaries.
The intersection of the ADA with other regulations like the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) also creates gray areas for employers when it comes to deciding what benefits an injured or disabled employee is entitled to, if any.
In a National Law Review article, labor and employment attorney Melvin Muskovitz called the intersection of ADA, FMLA and workers’ comp issues the “‘Bermuda Triangle’ of employee health-related statutes.”
Leave and benefits provided by workers’ compensation can overlap with what employees may be entitled to under the ADA and FMLA; carriers can benefit from more open communication with administrators of health plans and wellness and safety programs to ensure the right program responds to a request for accommodation or benefits.
One issue they all have in common is “the potential for claims of discrimination or retaliation,” Muskovitz wrote. “An employer must be sure the employee does not suffer any adverse employment action as a result of the leave of absence or condition necessitating the leave.”
“Integration is the only way to go with all these regulations coming at employers,” said Tamara Blow, principal consultant at TYB Global Business Consultants, LLC. “You need all the key players involved.”
That includes human resources, safety managers, risk managers, and legal counsel, as well as the payroll department or others in charge of tracking attendance.
With multiple perspectives weighing in on decisions, it should be easier to identify where clashes with different statutes could occur.
Take for example the case of Peggy Young, a female UPS delivery worker who sued the company in 2007.
When Young became pregnant in 2006, her doctor ordered her not to lift more than 20 pounds; UPS delivery workers sometimes have to lift packages of up to 70 pounds.
Young brought the doctor’s note to her supervisor and requested a temporary reassignment, which was denied because pregnancy is not covered under the ADA.
She was placed on unpaid leave for the duration of her pregnancy.
Young, whose case is currently being heard by the Supreme Court, argued that UPS violated the PDA, which states that pregnant women must be treated the same, in terms of receipt of benefits, as “others not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.”
In other words, if UPS provides accommodations for an injured worker with the same physical limitations as Young, she should also receive benefits even though she is not technically disabled.
Could an integrated approach have helped UPS avoid this regulatory tangle?
“Absolutely,” Blow said. “Any HR professional who’s worth their salt knows that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act would be the first to come into play with a pregnant employee.” A cross-functional team that included the legal department might have been able to anticipate potential violations.
“If their system was integrated, they would see that impairments that arise out of being pregnant would qualify as temporary disability covered under the ADA and FMLA,” she said.
For larger employers, though, there are structural hurdles blocking integration. Health care, disability management and workers’ comp tend be viewed as separate programs, so decision-making around them also remains separate.
“Workers’ comp is handled by risk management, which report up to either treasury or general counsel,” said Russell Johnston, casualty president for the Americas at AIG.
“Disability benefits and medical tend to be human resources or the administration side. So within larger employers, in terms of their governance model, there are structural disconnects.”
Bringing everyone together from different departments is a time-consuming effort that can also be constrained by office politics, Blow said. “Some departments want to be in charge. They may bash heads over who wants to take this initiative, especially with senior management’s eyes on it.”
Another structural hurdle Johnston pointed to was the way in which companies access these products on the market.
“Larger employers access the workers’ comp market through agents and brokers,” he said. “On the benefits and medical side, agents and brokers tend to be very different from the P/C side. They tend to operate completely separately. And in some cases it’s provided directly by the medical providers to employers.”
For these reasons, smaller employers have an easier time implementing an integrated approach to employee health. “They don’t have the luxury of having large infrastructure, so decisions are made across the totality of their business,” Johnston said.
Despite the obstacles, larger companies can still benefit in the long run from a unified employee health front because of cost savings. However, Johnston believes it won’t necessarily ease compliance issues.
“I struggle to see where it will make a material impact on the compliance side,” he said. “But is there a compelling reason for employers to look at this and try to implement it? Absolutely.”
From Coast to Coast
The 3,920-ton Left Coast Lifter, originally built by Fluor Construction to help build the new Bay Bridge in San Francisco, will be integral in rebuilding the Tappan Zee Bridge by 2018.
The Lifter and the Statue of Liberty
When he got the news, Scot Burford could see it as clearly as if somebody handed him an 8 by 11 color photograph.
On January 30, the Left Coast Lifter, a massive crane originally built by Fluor Construction to help build the new Bay Bridge in San Francisco, steamed past the Statue of Liberty. Excited observers, who saw the crane entering New York Harbor, dubbed it the “The Hudson River Hoister,” honoring its new role in rebuilding the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River.
Powered by two stout-hearted tug boats, the Lauren Foss and the Iver Foss, it took more than five weeks for the huge crane to complete the 6,000 mile ocean journey from San Francisco to New York via the Panama Canal.
Scot took a deep breath and reflected on all the work needed to plan every aspect of the crane’s complicated journey.
A risk engineer at Liberty International Underwriters (LIU), Burford worked with a specialized team of marine insurance and risk management professionals which included John Phillips, LIU’s Hull Product Line Leader, Sean Dollahon, an LIU Marine underwriter, and Rick Falcinelli, LIU’s Marine Risk Engineering Manager, to complete a detailed analysis of the crane’s proposed route. Based on a multitude of factors, the LIU team confirmed the safety of the route, produced clear guidelines for the tug captains that included weather restrictions, predetermined ports of refuge in the case of bad weather as well as specifying the ballast conditions and rigging of tow gear on the tugs.
Of equal importance, the deep expertise and extensive experience of the LIU team ensured that the most knowledgeable local surveyors and tugboat captains with the best safety records were selected for the project. After all, the most careful of plans will only be as effective as the people who execute them.
The tremendous size of the Left Coast Lifter presented some unique challenges in preparing for its voyage.
The original intention was to dry tow the crane by loading and securing it on a semi-submersible vessel. However, the lack of an American-flagged vessel that could accommodate the Left Coast Lifter created many logistical complexities and it was decided that the crane would be towed on its own barge.
At first, the LIU team was concerned since the barge was not intended for ocean travel and therefore lacked towing skegs and other structural components typically found on oceangoing barges.
But a detailed review of the plan with the client and contractors gave the LIU team confidence. In this instance, the sheer weight and size of the crane provided sufficient stability, and with the addition of a second tug on the barge’s stern, the LIU team, with its knowledge of barges and tugs, was confident the configuration was seaworthy and the barge would travel in a straight line. The team approved the plan and the crane began its successful voyage.
As impressive as the crane and its voyage were, it was just one piece in hundreds that needed to be underwritten and put in place for the Tappan Zee Bridge project to come off.
The rebuilding of the Tappan Zee Bridge, due to be completed in 2018, is the largest bridge construction project in the modern history of New York. The bridge is 3.1 miles long and will cost more than $3 billion to construct. The twin-span, cable-stayed bridge will be anchored to four mid-river towers.
When veteran contractors American Bridge, Fluor Corp., Granite Construction Northeast and Traylor Bros. formed a joint venture and won the contract to rebuild the Tappan Zee, one of the first things the consortium needed to do was find an insurance partner with the right coverages and technical expertise.
The Marsh broker, Ali Rizvi, Senior Vice President, working with the consortium, was well known to the LIU underwriting and engineering teams. In addition, Burford and the broker had worked on many projects in the past and had a strong relationship. These existing relationships were vital in facilitating efficient communication and data gathering, particularly given the scope and complexity of a project like the Tappan Zee.
And the scope of the project was indeed immense – more than 200 vessels, coming from all over the United States, would be moving construction equipment up the Hudson River.
An integrated team of LIU underwriters and risk engineers (including Burford, Phillips, Dollahon and Falcinelli) got to work evaluating the risk and the proper controls that the project required. Given the global scope of the project, the team’s ability to tap into their tight-knit global network of fellow LIU marine underwriters and engineers with deep industry relationships and expertise was invaluable.
In addition to the large number of vessels, the underwriting process was further complicated by many aspects of the project still being finalized.
“Because the consortium had just won this account, they were still working on contracts and contractors to finalize the deal and were unsure as to where most of the equipment and materials would be coming from,” Burford said.
Despite the massive size of the project and large number of stakeholders, LIU quickly turned around a quote involving three lines of marine coverage, Marine Liability, Project Cargo and Marine Hull & Machinery.
How could LIU produce such a complicated quote in a short period of time? It comes down to integrating risk engineers into the underwriting process, possessing deep industry experience on a global scale and having strong relationships that facilitate communication and trust.
Photo Credit: New York State Thruway Authority
When completed in 2018, the Tappan Zee will be eight lanes, with four emergency pullover lanes. Commuters sailing across it in their sedans and SUVs might appreciate the view of the Hudson, but they might never grasp the complexity of insuring three marine lines, covering the movements of hundreds of marine vessels carrying very expensive cargo.
Not to mention ferrying a 3,920-ton crane from coast to coast without a hitch.
But that’s what insurance does, in its quiet profundity.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Liberty International Underwriters. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.