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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.

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“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.”

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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.”

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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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2014 Risk All Star: Michael Gross

Ending Unnecessary Accidents

With accidents piling up at a rate of nearly one per week, Convergint Technologies suspected its drivers were distracted, possibly by their cell phones.

Michael Gross, national safety director, Convergint Technologies

Michael Gross, national safety director, Convergint Technologies

One clue was the proportion of accidents in which Convergint drivers rear-ended other vehicles, said Michael Gross, national safety director for the Illinois-based company, which installs and services safety and security systems for commercial, industrial and institutional customers.

In 2012, the company recorded 44 claims for such accidents, representing 75 percent of total accident claims and a cost of $214,550.

Backed by senior and local management, Gross unveiled a cell-phone ban in November 2012 that got drivers’ attention — and slashed company losses.

In 2013, Convergint faced 12 claims for rear-end accidents in which its drivers were at fault. The number is even lower in 2014, with only one or two rear-end accidents in the first six months, Gross said. The company has 555 vehicles, mostly small vans, on track to cover 10 million miles this year.

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“I never in a million years would have dreamed that you could reduce the accident rate at the rate that they did,” said Fred LeSage, senior risk engineer with XL’s North American construction business.

“Personally, I rarely talk on the phone while I’m driving any more, and it’s more a result of this than anything else.”

But it wasn’t just a ban that made Convergint’s policy effective, said Gross, who is based in Houston. It also required buy-in from company managers and an effective enforcement mechanism.

And by trusting employees to do the right thing, rather than install devices that blocked calls, the policy stayed true to Convergint’s principles, Gross said.

“Everybody understood that it would be based on our [core] value and belief, that we expect you to have integrity and you’re going to follow the policy when nobody’s looking,” Gross said, noting there is verification alongside the trust.

If a Convergint driver is at fault in an accident, the company pulls phone records from 60 minutes before to 30 minutes after to see if a phone was in use, Gross said. If it was, the driver faces disciplinary action. The first offense draws a written reprimand and a day off without pay. A second offense could lead to termination.

Drivers don’t have to worry about ignoring a call from a supervisor or vendor. Under the policy, they recorded new voicemail greetings indicating they were away from the phone or behind the wheel. In meetings to introduce the policy, managers emphasized the importance of safety over instant communication.

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“A big part of the policy’s success is that leaders and managers supported it, and our drivers understood that,” Gross said.

After Convergint’s drivers put down their phones, they began noticing all the other drivers who had not. Now, Gross is exploring training opportunities that will keep the company’s drivers from falling victim to other people’s distractions.

“We’re actually the ones getting rear-ended a lot because, I guess, everybody else is texting and not paying attention to what they’re doing,” he said.

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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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Sponsored Content by Riskonnect

A Dreaming Team

Chris Thorn of Southwest Airlines got creative with his risk management program. Now, the sky's the limit.
By: | September 15, 2014 • 4 min read
SponsoredContent_Riskonnect

Chris Thorn is known as one of the most creative risk managers in the business. After all, his risk management program hit the cover of Risk & Insurance® in March, 2012.

Now the senior manager, payments and risk, for Southwest Airlines is working with Riskonnect, a technology partner that he thinks can take his program to new heights.

“For us, it’s a platform that gives you so many different tools that if you can dream it, you can build it,” said Thorn.

Claims administration

Thorn ditched his legacy risk management information system in 2012 and started working with Riskonnect, initially using the platform solely for liability claims management.

But the system’s “do-it-yourself” accessibility almost immediately caught the eye of Thorn’s colleagues managing safety risk and workers’ compensation.

“They were seeking a software solution at the time and said, ‘Hey, we want to join the party,” Thorn recalls of his friends in safety and workers’ compensation.

SponsoredContent_Riskonnect“For us, it’s a platform that gives you so many different tools that if you can dream it, you can build it.”

–Chris Thorn, senior manager, payments and risk, Southwest Airlines

What was making Thorn’s colleagues so jealous was the system’s “smart question” process which allows any supervisor in the company to enter a claim, while at the same time freeing those supervisors from being claims adjusters.

The Riskonnect platform asks questions that direct the claim to the appropriate category without the supervisor having to take on the burden of performing that triage.

“They love it because all of the redundant questions are gone,” Thorn said.

The added beauty of the system, Thorn said, is that allows carriers and TPAs to work right alongside the Southwest team in claims files while maintaining rock-solid cyber security.

“This has sped up the process,” Thorn said.

“Any time you can speed up the process, the more success you’re going to have when you make offers to settle claims,” he said.

Policy management

Since that initial splash in claims management, the Riskonnect platform has gone on to become a rock star at Southwest in a number of other areas. And as Thorn suggests, the possibilities of the system are limited only by the user’s imagination.

SponsoredContent_RiskonnectWith a little creativity and help from Riskonnect as needed, a risk manager can add on system capabilities without having to go on bended knee to his own information technology department.

In the area of insurance policy management, for example, the Riskonnect platform as built by Thorn now holds data on all property values and exposures that can in turn be downloaded for use by underwriters.

Every time Southwest buys a new airplane, the enterprise platform sends out a notice to the airlines insurance broker, who in turn notifies the 16 or 17 carriers that are on the hull program.

Again, in that “anything’s possible” vein, the system has the capability of notifying the carriers, directly, a tool Thorn said he’s flirting with.

“It is capable of doing that,” he said.

“We’re testing out this functionality before we turn on it loose directly to the insurance companies.”

Carrier ratings

In alignment with the platform’s muscle in documenting, storing and reporting liability and property exposures, the system monitors and reports on insurance carrier financial strength.

If a rating agency downgrades a Southwest program carrier’s financial strength, for example, the system “pings” Thorn and his colleagues.

“Not only will we know about it, but we will also know all programs, present and past that they participated on, what the open reserves are for those policy years and policies,” Thorn said.

“That gives us even more comfort that we have good, solid financial backing of the insurance policies that are protecting us,” Thorn said.

Accounting interface

Like many of us, Chris Thorn didn’t set out to work in risk management and insurance. Thorn is a Certified Public Accountant, and it’s that background that allows him to take creative advantage of the Riskonnect platform’s malleability in yet another way.

With the help of the Riskonnect customer service team, Thorn added a function to the platform that allows him to calculate the cost of insurance policies on a monthly basis, enter them into a general ledger and send them over to his colleagues in accounting.

SponsoredContent_Riskonnect

“It’s very robust on handling financial information, date information, or anything with that much granularity,” Thorn said.

The sky is the limit

Thorn and Southwest are only two years into their relationship with Riskonnect and there are a number of places Thorn thinks the platform can take him that have yet to be explored, but certainly will be.

“It’s basically a repository of anything that’s risk-related, it continues to grow,” Thorn said.

SponsoredContent_Riskonnect“This has sped up the process. Any time you can speed up the process, the more success you’re going to have when you make offers to settle claims.”
–Chris Thorn, senior manager, payments and risk, Southwest Airlines

Not only have Southwest’s safety and workers’ compensation managers joined Thorn in his work with Riskonnect, business continuity has come knocking as well.

Thorn met in July with members of Southwest Airline’s business continuity team, which has a whole host of concerns, ranging from pandemics to cyber-attacks that it needs help in documenting the exposures and resiliency options for.

That Enterprise Risk Management approach will in the future also involve the system’s capability to provide risk alerts, telling Thorn and his team for example, that a hurricane or fast moving wildfire is threatening one of the company’s facilities.

Supply chain resiliency and managing certificates of insurance for foreign vendors are other areas where Thorn and his team plan to put the Riskonnect platform to good use.

“That’s all stuff that’s being worked on by us,” Thorn said.

“They’ve given us the tools, but we’re trying to develop how we’re going to use it,” he said.

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


Riskonnect is the provider of a premier, enterprise-class technology platform for the risk management industry.
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