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Removing risk factors alone cannot prevent every workers compensation claim, and dealing with claimants in an effective and humane way is key to getting people back on the job, said Carol Arendall, senior director-risk management for OfficeMax Inc.
"We're no different than anybody else, and workers comp is certainly an issue for everyone," said Ms. Arendall. "The first thing in dealing with workers comp is: These are our associates. These are our co-workers, and we treat them that way. They understand that's the way they're going to be treated."
"I think it's just as much my job to protect their lives as an associate as it is to protect the company. We do it because it's the right thing to do. We took a very hard look from a safety perspective at what we can do to reduce the potential loss."
Ms. Arendall said OfficeMax, which largely self-funds its workers comp exposures, tries to "get into the metrics of what's driving our claims."
She noted that most claims at OfficeMax, like most companies, involve back injuries and back strain. As a result, OfficeMax seeks to identify exactly where the injuries occur, she said. "Is it happening unloading the truck? Is it happening when we're stocking the shelves?" Once the problem area is pinpointed, the company can take remedial action.
An exposure not faced by all companies but one that is of concern to OfficeMax is ladder safety, she said.
"We take ladder safety very seriously," said Ms. Arendall. Ladders that go to the top of stock areas must be maintained to prevent injury, and OfficeMax has a maintenance program to do so, she said.
"But you can only engineer out so much in terms of your risk factors. We're very focused on lost-time days," she said.
"One of the most important things I think you can do is to make sure you don't have any barriers to providing the appropriate medical treatment to associates. So let's make sure they get the best possible medical treatment, which we hope is going to bring then the best possible outcomes," she said.
The company is rolling out a new program with Itasca, Ill.-based Gallagher Bassett Services Inc., its third-party claims administrator.
Gallagher Bassett conducted an analysis of OfficeMax's loss and location information, said Ms. Arendall. "They were able to identify for us best-in-class medical providers for 74% of our locations within five miles of the workplace. It's our goal, if we can identify the best-in-class medical care for our associates, in hopes that when the accidents do happen, we're getting the best possible medical care and we're also implementing a new triage program. When we have an incident, we have nurses reviewing that information at the front end to decide what cases it makes sense to use nurse case management" in an effort to reduce lost work days, she said.
"But I still think the optimum solution is not to have the loss," she said.