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'Shock and awe' training program cuts comp rates 70%

'Shock and awe' training program cuts comp rates 70%

Safety presentations that appeal to the heart of restaurant operators and managers, as well as an “aggressive” return-to-work program for injured workers, have helped Texas Roadhouse Inc. keep workers compensation costs in check.

Patrick Sterling, senior director of risk and legendary people, developed a “shock and awe” safety presentation in 2011 that shows the graphic outcomes of accidents that can occur if restaurants don't use proper safety protocols and tells the stories of the employees that suffered those injuries. The presentation is part of training seminars for restaurant managers and operators who have invested in each restaurant's opening.

“It's centered around telling stories of times when our people were hurt, and what that meant and who they are as a person,” Mr. Sterling said.

The 15-minute presentation, which can include photos of severed fingers and other severe injuries, was created to grab the attention of restaurant bosses who are responsible for building a safe working environment for their employees, Mr. Sterling said. Rather than create a boring safety talk, Mr. Sterling said he wanted to make sure that Texas Roadhouse employees would remember the presentation long after they leave training sessions at the Louisville, Kentucky, support center.

“A particular store may go a year without an accident or maybe just a couple (accidents), and so how do you get them to think every day about something that's not happening a lot?” Mr. Sterling said.

Mr. Sterling said he wants the presentation to show restaurant managers and operators that they always should be on guard to protect workers on their premises.

“You kind of get into their heart and their conscience,” he said.

The “shock and awe” presentations are part of an overall effort to promote safety culture for Texas Roadhouse employees. Other initiatives include promoting the use of gloves that protect employees from cutting their hands while doing kitchen prep and creating financial incentives for restaurant workers to wear slip-resistant shoes to prevent falls.

“Our folks are going to do the right thing if they have the right education and the right support,” Mr. Sterling said.

It's difficult to quantify how much any one initiative has contributed to Texas Roadhouse's workers comp savings, Mr. Sterling said. But company data appears to show that the efforts are working: Workers comp claim losses have dropped to $7.28 per $1,000 of payroll in 2011 from $11.58 per $1,000 in 2004.

The company buys workers comp coverage for most of its restaurants through Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., and self-insures in Ohio rather than buying coverage for restaurants there through the state's monopoly workers comp fund.

Mr. Sterling estimates that Texas Roadhouse's safety efforts have saved the company $4.91 million in workers comp costs between 2004 and 2014. And Texas Roadhouse's workers comp premium rates have fallen 70% since 2004.

About 16% of Texas Roadhouse workers comp claims include indemnity payments, compared with an industry average of 20%, Mr. Sterling said.

When employees are hurt on the job, he said Texas Roadhouse treats the injured workers like family and help them return to work as soon as possible.

“This whole thing is never about the money. We don't want people to be hurt in the first place,” Mr. Sterling said.

Texas Roadhouse's workers comp program is headed by Kit Summers, who started at the company when she was 16 as a host and waitress for the restaurant just outside the company's Louisville support center.

After about seven years in the restaurant, Ms. Summers took a receptionist job at Texas Roadhouse's corporate offices, where she worked her way up and was recruited by Mr. Sterling to take charge of workers comp claims.

Ms. Summers' professional background helps her advocate for injured workers when Texas Roadhouse's third-party administrator, Irvine, California-based CorVel Corp., has questions about whether a claim is compensable.

“I can sort of be a voice for the employee and say, "I can see how that could have happened,'” said Ms. Summers, who added that her experience has helped her identify potentially fraudulent claims.

Ms. Summers' restaurant experience has been a model for other members of the Texas Roadhouse risk management team. Mr. Sterling requires all risk management staff to spend at least one week working in various positions in the restaurant by the support center to better understand the conditions for employees.

Ms. Summers said Texas Roadhouse runs an “aggressive” return to work program that aims to accommodate nearly any type of injury. For instance, a worker with a hand injury may be given duties such as seating guests or divvying up pats of butter in the kitchen.

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