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Safety programs cut workers comp cost, boost morale

Posted On: Oct. 29, 2015 12:00 AM CST

Behavior-based safety programs can help cut workers compensation costs while boosting productivity and morale, experts say.

Constructive feedback and positive reinforcement are the foundation of such programs, speakers from Lockton Cos. L.L.C. and Gilbane Federal said during a session on improving behavior-based safety programs during Business Insurance's 2015 Workers Comp & Safety Virtual Conference on Wednesday.

Ideally, employers would figure out what's causing accidents and near misses, and — when behavior is the issue — correct behaviors that led to them without blaming workers, said David A. Larson, risk services practice leader and senior vice president at Lockton in New York.

While some workers wear their personal protective equipment to avoid getting fined or being sent home for the day, Mr. Larson said the goal is to get them to do so because they want to work safely and contribute to the safety of the organization.

TJ Lyons, corporate director of health and safety at global construction and environmental services firm Gilbane Federal, a unit of Gilbane Inc., in New York, said feedback is crucial.

Both Messrs. Lyons and Larson agreed that a combination of specific positive and constructive communication works best.

Positive reinforcement causes workers to change their behavior – even if it's just “wearing their personal protective equipment when the boss isn't looking,” Mr. Larson said.

As opposed to saying, “Nice job,” Mr. Larson suggested giving workers “specific and genuine feedback” regarding the “behaviors you'd like them to repeat in the future.” Something along the lines of, “I like how you came up and down on that step ladder using three-point contact both ways. That's exactly how we trained you.”

While some opine that such programs cause underreporting of accidents, that's not the case when behavioral improvements are celebrated rather than celebrating fewer accidents, experts said.

In fact, allowing employees to report injuries, accidents and near misses without fearing retribution is part of successful behavior-based safety programs, they added.

“People will recognize you're not there to police what they're doing,” which is important because trust “is critical for this process,” Mr. Lyons said.

When done correctly, experts said such programs can lead to fewer lost-time injuries, lower workers comp costs and improved productivity.

Getting covered

In another webinar during the virtual conference, experts said employers can negotiate favorable comp insurance terms by looking for insurers that specialize in their specific industries or needs, as well as asking for cost savings.

While early data from the National Council on Compensation Insurance Inc. shows that the comp industry is profitable, that hasn't translated into profits for many individual workers comp insurers, said Elizabeth Haar, CEO of Lansing, Michigan-based workers comp insurer Accident Fund Holdings Inc. and a former chairman of NCCI.

Still, employers can negotiate with insurers on pricing and services to keep their workers comp insurance costs down, Ms. Haar said.

That includes seeking insurers that are well-versed in workers comp, and those that instill safety procedures to reduce claim frequency and severity, she said.

“Look for insurers that have multiple ways to help keep your workplace safe, from on-site safety reviews, to training programs for employees to online tools that you can use to customize a safety program right for your company,” she said.

Pam Ferrandino, New York-based executive vice president and casualty practice leader at Willis North America Inc., said employers should ask whether workers comp insurers can be flexible on collateral terms. This includes whether employers can use sureties as collateral, which cost less than letters of credit to secure comp policy deductibles.

She also noted that employers can seek paid loss credits for losses that would be paid by the employer in the first 12 to 24 months of workers comp policy coverage, which would help reduce an employer's upfront policy costs.

To view Business Insurance's 2015 Workers Comp & Safety Virtual Conference online, click here.