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2014 Risk All Star: Elizabeth Ruff

Simply Peerless

Not long out of college, Elizabeth Ruff arrived at Peerless Industrial Group in June of 2011, tasked with taking control of workers’ compensation for the company. She soon discovered that the company had a culture of lost time and that really bothered her.

“She said, ‘We’ve got to put a stop to this hemorrhaging,’ ” recalled her boss, Vice President of Human Resources Barbara Breza.

Elizabeth Ruff, human resources generalist, Peerless Industrial Group

2014 ri, human resources generalist, Peerless Industrial Group

Ruff was intent on getting employees back to work, in some capacity, as soon as possible.

“One of the first things I initiated is that whenever somebody was injured on the job and they required immediate medical attention, either myself or Barb would actually go with the employee to the health care provider’s office and sit with them,” said Ruff.

“The reason that was really key was because we were able to talk to the doctor about the fact that Peerless accommodates almost every type of light duty or transitional option,” Ruff added.

Before Ruff began her new approach, Peerless had 40 lost-time claims, multiple years in a row.


“In 2012-2013, with a total of 386 employees in the company, we had it down to less than 25 claims,” said Ruff.

At the company’s main plant in Winona, Minn., which has 287 employees, Peerless has gone 700 days without a lost-time claim.

“It’s a pretty heavy-duty industrial manufacturing plant, so that’s a huge accomplishment, which we’re extremely proud of,” said Ruff.

“The head of underwriting at a major insurance company recently said that he has never seen anyone like Elizabeth at a company, big or small. She is truly one of a kind and a major difference-maker in our industry.” — Josh Warren, senior vice president of Equity Risk Partners

Josh Warren, senior vice president of Equity Risk Partners, Peerless’ broker, said, “They do have some additional lifting machines that make it easier on the employees, but the main difference is that Elizabeth and her colleagues in the HR department pay attention to their employees, learn from workplace injuries in order to avoid repeat situations and get people back to work.”

Warren added: “The head of underwriting at a major insurance company recently said that he has never seen anyone like Elizabeth at a company, big or small. She is truly one of a kind and a major difference-maker in our industry.”

Other accomplishments Ruff has initiated at Peerless include bolstering the company’s safety program. Safety is particularly important at Peerless because it is the largest manufacturer and distributor in North America for industrial and consumer chain and tractor products.

“One of the things I created was regular training programs,” Ruff said. “Each month, there is some type of training program project I am organizing, whether it is bringing in an external expert or coordinating with an internal supervisor.”


Another thing Peerless has done is to spend more money on capital each year to be proactive rather than reactive.

“Each year since 2011, we’ve been adding $20,000 per year just in capital for hoists,” she said.

Under Ruff’s direction, Peerless has also been aggressive in implementing ergonomic improvements, Breza said.

Ruff still works 20 hours a week at Peerless, while also working at BIC Graphic, which she joined in June.

“What I value most about Elizabeth is her knowledge and expertise and professionalism in the field of HR and how broad-based she is and that she came in that way to Peerless when she was so young,” said Breza. “She is just so intelligent.”


350px_allstarRisk All Stars stand out from their peers by overcoming challenges through exceptional problem solving, creativity, perseverance and/or passion.

See the complete list of 2014 Risk All Stars.

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NWCDC Preview

Disability Track Focuses on Saving Money, Managing Absences

NWCDC's Disability Management track includes breakout sessions on integrated disability management, managing workplace absences, and making the most of workplace diversity.
By: | September 10, 2014 • 4 min read

The 23rd annual National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo takes place Nov. 19-21 at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. The confer­ence is produced by LRP Publications, which also publishes Risk & Insurance®.

ConferenceThis Disability Management track of the 23rd annual National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo includes breakout sessions on integrated disability management programs that are saving employers money, managing workplace absences, and making the most of workplace diversity.

The Productivity Challenge: Engaging Injured, Absent and Disconnected Workers


  • Teresa Bartlett, M.D., senior vice president of medical quality, Sedgwick
  • Kevin Confetti, employment practices and workers’ compensation, University of California

Managing workplace absences is as much an art as a science. Whether due to injury or disability, occupational or nonoccupational problems, or personal challenges that render employees unproductive, the results are the same: Less than optimal output for the employer.


The speakers will offer insight to help employers integrate their health, wellness, safety, and quality care programs. Bartlett and Confetti will share a comprehensive employee-centric model they say has been shown to engage injured, absent, and disconnected workers and produce dividends for employers. They will identify ways to lessen the drain on workplace productivity, demonstrate the direct linkage between health, safety and wellness, quality care, employee engagement, and productivity, and compare traditional programs with those being integrated and expanded to improve performance.

Harley-Davidson Saves $3.5 Million Through Injury Prevention, Management Program


  • Sue Gartner, corporate health services HR manager, Harley-Davidson Motor Company
  • Beth Mrozinsky, corporate safety and health HR director, Harley-Davidson Motor Company

A 68 percent reduction in workers’ comp claims, a 63 percent drop in costs, and bottom line savings of $3.5 million are the achievements at Harley Davidson since 2009. Gartner and Mrozinsky will outline the challenges that led to their integrated approach focusing on occupational and nonoccupational injuries, and will share their strategies and successes to help other employers build a similar program.

They will provide strategies for employers to integrate absence management programs and build on the strengths of the employer’s partners, demonstrate how to manage an aging workforce from hire to retire, evaluate metrics to gauge progress and determine the need for modifications to continue ensuring successful results, and show how to use outside-the-box thinking to incorporate progressive solutions to issues previously considered just a part of doing business.

Overcoming Psychosocial Barriers to Recovery: It’s Not Just a Theory Anymore


  • Sherri Burrell, head of operations, Briotix Inc.
  • Ruth Estrich, chief strategy officer, MedRisk
  • Carrie Freeland, manager of the Integrated Leave Department, Costco Wholesale

Despite advances in medical care, many rehabilitation programs fall short of the main goal: returning injured workers to preinjury functional outcomes. According to the speakers, these programs typically are symptom-based and lack effective elements to address the psychosocial issues that stall recovery in the claims responsible for 80 percent of the workers’ comp spend.


They will address how cutting-edge behavioral modification programs that effectively address these psychosocial barriers can help practitioners identify at-risk injured workers, facilitate faster return to work, and promote reintegration into life-role activities. The three will explain how psychosocial risk factors impact disability and drive costs; differentiate cost-effective rehabilitation programs designed to improve return-to-work, health, and socioeconomic outcomes; and illustrate how the integration of physical therapy and a behavioral modification program can result in reduced medical and disability costs for occupational and nonoccupational injuries.

Making Integrated Disability Management Work for You


  • Loyd Hudson, integrated disability management manager, American Electric Power
  • Terri Rhodes, executive director, Disability Management Employer Coalition
  • Sarah von Schrader, assistant director of research of the Employment and Disability Institute, Cornell University

Reduced lost time, lower costs, and simpler processes are some of the benefits of a well-run integrated disability management program. But making the business case for IDM can be a challenge.

The speakers will offer advice to lay the groundwork for workplace policies and climate in conjunction with best practices in regulatory compliance with best practices in ADA compliance using IDM. They will offer a variety of tools, steps, and resources for an effective program and describe how American Electric Power achieved a regulatory compliant and fiscally successful IDM program. The speakers will outline the building blocks of integrated disability management, demonstrate how to build a successful IDM program, and review research on RTW and ADA and the aging workplace and how they impact IDM.

How Diversity Impacts Workers’ Compensation and Disability Strategies


    • Jennifer De La Torre, executive director of workforce diversity, AT&T
    • Elizabeth Demaret, executive vice president, chief customer relationship officer, Sedgwick

The increasing diversity in today’s workforce is impacting the way companies conduct business. Workers today exhibit a range of differences in age, race, religion, gender, and physical abilities with each individual providing a unique contribution to the products and services delivered. The speakers will address some of the diversity shifts in the workforce and offer strategies for employers to manage these differences. Additionally, they will examine the impact diversity has on workers’ comp and disability programs. Finally, the two will outline ways employers can capitalize on diversity and improve productivity.

For more information, visit NWCDC’s website. To post your thoughts on the conference, join LinkedIn’s National Workers Compensation and Disability Conference & Expo.

Nancy Grover is co-Chair of the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference and Editor of Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at
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Sponsored: Liberty International Underwriters

A New Dawn in Civil Construction Underwriting

Civil construction projects provide utility and also help define who we are. So when it comes to managing project risk, it's critical to get it right.
By: | September 15, 2014 • 5 min read

Pennsylvania school children know the tunnels on the Pennsylvania Turnpike by name — Blue Mountain, Kittatinny, Tuscarora, and Allegheny.

San Francisco owes much of its allure to the Golden Gate Bridge. The Delaware Memorial Bridge commemorates our fallen soldiers.

Our public sector infrastructure is much more than its function as a path for trucks and automobiles. It is part of our national and regional identity.

Yet it’s widely known that much of our infrastructure is inadequate. Given the number of structures designated as substandard, the task ahead is substantial.

The Civil Construction projects that can meet these challenges, however, carry a unique set of risks compared to other forms of construction.

SponsoredContent_LIU“The bottom line is that there is always risk in a Civil Construction project. If the parties involved don’t understand what risk they carry, then the chances are there are going to be some problems, and the insurers would ideally like to understand the potential for these problems in advance.”
– Paul Hampshire, Vice President – Civil Construction, LIU

The good news is that recent developments in construction standards and risk management techniques provide a solid foundation for the type and risk allocation of Civil Construction projects they are underwriting. Carriers need to be able to adequately assess the client and design and construction teams that are involved.

For Builder’s Risk Programs, a successful approach prioritizes a focus on four key factors. These factors are looked at not only during the underwriting phase of the project but also in the all-important site construction phase, under the umbrella of a Risk Management Program, or RMP.

Four key factors

Four key factors that LIU focuses on in underwriting and providing risk management services on a Civil Construction project include:

1. Resource knowledge and experience: When creating a coverage plan, carriers work to understand who is delivering the project and how well suited key staff members are to addressing the project’s technical and management challenges. Research has shown that the knowledge and experience of those key players, combined with their ability to communicate effectively, is a big factor in the project’s success.

“We look to understand who is delivering a project, their expertise and experience in delivering projects of similar technical complexity in similar working conditions, even down to looking at the resumés of people in key positions,” said Paul Hampshire, Houston-based Vice President with Liberty International Underwriters.

2. Ground conditions and water: Soil and rock composition, the influence of ground and surface water, and foundation stability are key additional considerations in the construction of bridges, tunnels, and transit systems. If a suitable level of relevant ground (geotechnical) investigation and study has not been undertaken, or the results of such work not clearly interpreted, then it’s a red flag to underwriters, who would then question whether the project risk profile has been adequately evaluated and risks clearly and transparently allocated via suitable contract conditions.

SponsoredContent_LIU“As we all know, ground is very rarely a homogenous element within Civil Construction projects,” LIU’s Hampshire said.

“It tends to vary from any proposed geotechnical baseline specification with the consequential potential for changes in behavior during construction. We need to understand who has assessed the condition of the ground, its behavior and design parameters when compared with a particular method of construction, and all importantly, who has been allocated the ground risk in a project and the upfront mechanisms for contractual ground risk sharing, if applicable,” he said.

Knowing how much water is associated with the in-situ ground conditions as well as the intensity, distribution and adequate accommodation (both in the temporary as well as in the permanent project configurations) of rainfall for a site location and topography are also key. Tunneling projects, for example, can be hampered by the presence of too much or unforeseen quantities of groundwater.

“In major tunneling infrastructure projects, the influence of in-situ groundwater pressures and /or water inflows is a major factor when considering the choice of excavation method and sequence as well as tunnel lining design requirements,” LIU’s Hampshire said.

According to a recent article in Risk & Insurance, tunneling under a body of water is one of the most challenging risk engineering feats. Adequate drainage layouts and their installation sequence for highway projects and, in particular, the protection of sub-grade works are also important. “But under all circumstances, we need to understand how the water conditions have been evaluated,” Hampshire said.

3. Technical Challenges: This risk factor encompasses the assessment of the technical novelty or prototypical nature of the project (or more often, specific elements of it) and how well the previously demonstrated experience of both the design and construction teams aligns with the project’s technical requirements and the form of contract determined for the project. The client can choose the team, but savvy underwriters will conduct their own assessment to see how well-suited the team is to technical demands of the project.

4. Evaluation of Time and Cost: With limited information generally provided, we need to be able to verify as best as possible the adequacy of both the time and cost elements of the project. Our belief is simply that projects that are insufficient in either one or both of these elements potentially pose an increased risk, as the construction consortium tries to compensate for these deficiencies during construction.

Small diameter Tunnel Boring Machine designed for mixed ground conditions and water pressures in excess of 2.5 bar.

New standards

In the 1990s and early years of this millennium, a series of high-profile tunnel failures across the globe resulted in major losses for Civil Construction underwriters and their insureds.

In the early 2000s, both the tunnel and insurance industries worked together to create new standards for high-risk tunneling projects.

A Code of Practice for the Risk Management of Tunnel Works (TCoP) is increasingly relied on by project managers and underwriters to define the best practices in tunnel construction projects. This process ideally starts at project inception (conceptual design stage or equivalent) and continues to the hand-over of the completed project.

LIU’s Hampshire said alongside TCoP, the project-specific Geotechnical Baseline Report and its interpretation and reference within the project contract conditions gives the underwriter greater clarity as to who recognizes and carries the ground risk and how it’s allocated.

“The bottom line is that there is always risk in a Civil Construction project,” Hampshire said. “Is the risk transparently allocated or is it buried? If the parties involved don’t understand what risk they carry, then the chances are there are going to be some problems, and the insurers would ideally like to understand the potential for these problems in advance,” Hampshire said.

Paul Hampshire can be reached at

To learn more about how Liberty International Underwriters can help you conduct a Civil Construction risk assessment before your next project, contact your broker.

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.

LIU is part of the Global Specialty Division of Liberty Mutual Insurance.
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