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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

Elizabeth Ruff, 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: Lexington Insurance

The Re-Invention of American Healthcare

Healthcare industry changes bring risks and opportunities.
By: | September 15, 2014 • 5 min read

Consolidation among healthcare providers continues at a torrid pace.

A multitude of factors are driving this consolidation, including the Affordable Care Act compliance, growing costs and the ever-greater complexity of health insurance reimbursements. After several years of purchasing individual practices and regional hospital systems, the emergence of the mega-hospital system is now clear.

“Every month, one of our clients is either being bought or buying someone — and the M&A activity shows no signs of slowing down,” said Brenda Osborne, executive vice president at Lexington Insurance Co.

This dramatic change in the landscape of healthcare providers is soon to be matched by equally significant changes in patient behavior. Motivated by growing out-of-pocket costs and empowered with new sources of information, the emergence of a “healthcare consumer” is on the horizon.

Price, service, reputation and, ultimately, value are soon to be important factors for patients making healthcare decisions.

Such significant changes bring with them new and challenging risks.

Physician integration

Although physicians traditionally started their own practices or joined medical groups, the current climate is quite the opposite. Doctors are now seeking out employment by health systems. Wages are guaranteed, hours are more stable, vacations are easier to take, and the burdens of running a business are gone.

“It’s a lot more of a desirable lifestyle, particularly for the younger generation,” said Osborne.

Brenda Osborne discusses the changing healthcare environment and the risks and opportunities to come.

Given the strategic importance of successfully integrating acquired practices into a larger healthcare system, hospitals are rightfully focused on how best to keep doctors happy, motivated and focused on patient safety.

A key issue that many hospitals struggle with is how to provide effective liability insurance for their doctors. Physicians who previously owned their practice are accustomed to a certain type of coverage and they expect that coverage to continue.

Even when operators find comparable liability insurance solutions for their doctors, getting buy-in from their staff is often an additional hurdle to overcome.

“Physicians listen to two things — physician leaders and data,” said Osborne. “That’s why Lexington provides assessments that utilize deep data analysis, combined with providing insights from leading doctors to help explain trends and best practices.

“In addition, utilizing benchmarks against peers helps to identify gaps in best practices. It’s a very powerful approach that speaks to doctors in a way that will help them improve their risk.”

Focusing on the “continuum of care”

There’s been a fundamental shift in how healthcare providers care for patients: Treatment is becoming more focused on a patient’s overall health status and related needs.

SponsoredContent_LexA cancer patient, for example, should have doctors in a number of specialties communicating and working together toward a positive patient outcome. But that means a change in thinking: Physicians need to work collaboratively with one another — not easy for individuals or groups that are used to being independent. Healthcare is a team sport.

“If there isn’t strong communication, strong leadership, and the recognition of proper treatment procedures between physicians, healthcare providers can increase the risk of error,” said Osborne. “The provider has got to treat the whole patient rather than each individual condition.”

That coordination must extend from inpatient to outpatient, especially since the ACA has led to a rapid increase in patients being treated at outpatient clinics, or via home health or telehealth to reduce the cost of inpatient care

“Home health is going be a growing area in the future,” Osborne continued. “Telehealth will become an effective and efficient way of managing and treating patients in their home. A patient might have a nurse come in and help the healthcare provider communicate with a physician through an iPad or computer. The nurse can also convey assessment findings to the physician.”

Metrics matter more than ever

Patients have not always thought of themselves as healthcare consumers, but that’s changing dramatically as they pay more out of pocket for their own healthcare. At the same time, there’s an increase in metrics and data available to the public — and healthcare consumers are drawing upon those metrics more and more when making choices that affect their health.

SponsoredContent_Lexington“Consumers are going to start measuring physicians against physicians, healthcare systems against healthcare systems. That competition will force everyone to improve the quality of care.”
– Brenda Osborne, Executive Vice President, Lexington Insurance

Think about all the research a consumer does before buying a car. Which dealership has the best price? Who provides the best service? Who’s offering the best financing deal?

“Do patients do that with physicians? No,” said Osborne. “Patients choose physicians through referrals from friends or health plans with minimal information. Patients may be putting their lives in the physicians’ hands and not know their track record.

That’s all going to change as patients’ use of data becomes more widespread. There are many web based resources to find information on physicians.

“Consumers are going to start measuring physicians against physicians, healthcare systems against healthcare systems,” said Osborne. “That competition will force everyone to improve the quality of care.”

Effective solutions are driven by expertise and vision

The rapidly evolving healthcare space requires all healthcare providers to find ways to cut costs and focus on patient safety. Lexington Insurance, long known as the leading innovative and nimble specialty insurer, is at the forefront in providing clients cutting-edge tools to help reduce costs and healthcare exposures.

These tools include:

  • Office Practice Risk Assessment: To support clients as they acquire physician practices, Lexington developed an office practice assessment tool which provides a broad, comprehensive evaluation of operational practices that may impact risk. The resulting report, complete with charts, graphs and insights, includes recommendations that can help physicians reduce risk related to such issues as telephone triage, lab results follow-up and medication management. .
  • Best Practice Assessments: High risk clinical areas such as emergency departments (ED) and obstetrics (OB) can benefit significantly from external, objective, evidence-based assessments to identify gaps and assure compliance with best practices. In addition to ED and OB, Lexington can provide a BPA for peri-operative care, prevention of healthcare-acquired infections, and nursing homes. All assessments result in a comprehensive report with recommendations for improvement and resources along with consultative assistance and support. .
  • Continuing Education: In an effort to improve knowledge, decrease potential risk and support healthcare providers in the use the most current tools and techniques, Lexington provides Continuing Medical Education credits at no cost to hospitals or their physicians.
  • Targeting the Healthcare Consumer: With Medicare reimbursement impacted by patient-satisfaction surveys, assuring a positive patient experience is more critical than ever. Lexington helps hospitals understand and improve the patient experience so they can continue to earn the trust of healthcare consumers while preserving their good reputation. .

To learn more about Lexington Insurance’s scope and depth of the patient safety consulting products and services healthcare solutions, interested brokers may visit their website.

This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Lexington Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.

Lexington Insurance Company, an AIG Company, is the leading U.S.-based surplus lines insurer.
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