By MATTHEW BRODSKY, senior editor/Web editor of Risk & Insurance®
Workers' compensation usually gets really interesting when you get into the high-stakes, high-danger industries--manufacturing, healthcare, mining, logging and such--where employees stare down the danger of debilitating or even fatal injuries on a daily basis, and where employers struggle to keep both injury frequency and severity down, all while sweating the ever-increasing costs of painkillers, medical and disability payments.
It stands to reason that many of the winners of our annual Theodore Roosevelet Workers' Comp and Disability Management Award come from these heavy-duty industries. The case holds for this year, where our for-profit winner was a car manufacturer and the nonprofit winner was a healthcare system.
Yet good ideas and good strategies for workers' comp and disability management--and the enthusiasm and moxie to pull them off--aren't limited to highly perilous workplaces. We came across a great illustration of this during the Teddy Award judging process in the application for Paychex Inc. of Rochester, N.Y.
Though the service company, whose employees for the most part are office-bound, didn't win top honors in the 2010 competition, we thought they deserved recognition for the impact its workers' comp and disability program has had in an environment where injuries aren't top of mind.
As one of our judges put it, "I just loved their enthusiasm and commitment."
This enthusiasm is invested, in part, in "maintaining awareness," as Michael Cooley and Mary Kay Wilson stressed, in bold, in their application materials. Cooley is the safety and security manager, Wilson the safety/workers' comp supervisor.
"An office environment feels inherently safe; after all, it's not a place where catastrophic injuries often happen," they wrote in the application.
Paychex has more than 100 office locations nationwide with more than 12,000 employees, so that tends to dilute the awareness as well.
MSDS AND ERGO
Yet they've made strides. One example: a pilot project involving ergonomic self-assessment software uncovered that 19 out of 20 respondents had already adjusted their workstations for comfort.
That's a huge deal for a company where ergonomic discomfort and resultant musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are the primary threat. The Paychex comp and safety staff attest to the years of work they've put into analyzing and improving office equipment and the attention they've brought to the need to address any issues promptly, without necessarily bringing in a doctor. They alert employees through safety volunteers they designate at every office, as well as an online training module.
Cooley and Wilson are seeing return on investment on these efforts. Early reporting has improved, with 43 percent more internal reports of ergonomic discomfort in 2008 than in 2004. Meanwhile, claims volume for MSDs decreased 56 percent over the four-year period and incurred dollars dropped by 72 percent.
Perhaps the greatest success can be found in the company's efforts in the not-so Golden State. About 10 percent to 15 percent of Paychex's employees work in California. Back in 2004, nearly one-third of the company's comp claims originated there and 59 percent of its incurred dollars. When you're talking MSD-related claims, 80 percent of incurred dollars were gobbled up there.
"Besides the extremely worker-friendly environment in that state, our data analysis revealed that there was very little proactive reporting happening there," Cooley and Wilson wrote.
To turn it around, Paychex leaned on its third-party administrator, Travelers, but the company also "made a push to get back to basics." Again, this involved raising awareness, first and foremost with the senior management. The safety and comp team was able to double the number of safety volunteers in the state on the ground, and that lead to some dramatic improvements. By 2008, California represented only 15 percent of total claims volume and 14 percent of incurred dollars.
The California and the overall MSD initiatives exemplify many of the essential ingredients to Paychex's success nationwide: the safety volunteers at each location, senior management buy-in, employee training and orientation, robust injury reporting systems, and an attention to details down to each desk, mouse pad, swivel chair and phone set.
The results go beyond just ergonomics, though, providing an example that perhaps should perk up the eyes and ears of other office-based enterprises. Over the past five years, workers' compensation claims have decreased 28 percent and average incurred dollars have decreased 30 percent--all while the employee levels went up by nearly a third.
That translates into dollar bills. The Paychex folks report that Travelers refunded more than $3 million to the company in two years based on claims valuations for prior policy years and those favorable reductions in claims frequency. What's more, the insurer also reduced Paychex's pay-in amount for the fiscal 2009 plan by more than $600,000, as company payroll increased by 15 percent.
Who says offices are hotspots for workplace injuries?
November 1, 2010
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