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Data analysis helps employers cut costs, reduce risks

Data analysis helps employers cut costs, reduce risks

NEW YORK—Debra L. Rodgers has figured out how data can help ARAMARK Corp. improve its safety and performance.

In a presentation at the Business Insurance Risk Management Summit in New York this month, she described how new technology that her team developed came to be.

When Ms. Rodgers, vp-global risk management, joined the Philadelphia professional services company in 2003, she faced the task of assessing a sprawling business. Today, it has 10,000 locations worldwide. Its workforce, which included many part-time workers such as school cafeteria helpers, suffered more than 10,000 injuries in 2004, and its workers compensation costs were increasing enough to affect profits.

To solve the problem, Ms. Rodgers enlisted statistics expert Andrew Pelcin, director of decision support at ARAMARK in Philadelphia, in December 2005 and asked him to help her identify the most dangerous job at the company. When he asked for historical information, he was directed to a file cabinet.

Mr. Pelcin said he'd need a software program to collect data about what was happening at ARAMARK and, once the software was devised, the resulting analysis found ways to make improvements. For example, many workers' injuries resulted from slipping, tripping or falling. One reason for this was a cleaning agent that made the floors slippery, so the company switched cleaning agents, Ms. Rodgers said.

Injuries weren't the only problem she faced. When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, ARAMARK's headquarters struggled to determine which of its operations were affected.

But Ms. Rodgers and her team were ready for Hurricane Ike in 2008. They had gathered data from government agencies predicting where the storm would go and notified ARAMARK locations in those areas, explaining what staff should do to mitigate the risks and handle a loss if one should happen.

When Ike did hit, ARAMARK headquarters had enough information to identify which people were affected and to send help where it was needed.

Ms. Rodgers' software tool monitors other situations as well, such as U.S. earthquakes. Her staff also can monitor new situations on the fly.

When a water main broke in Massachusetts and contaminated the water supply last year, ARAMARK sent emails to potentially affected staffers and notified those that were affected about precautions they should take to ensure the safety of the food they served.

“If there's a concern, we know which operations will sustain the shock and communicate with them quickly,” Ms. Rodgers said.

She also used available data to better collaborate with her co-workers. For example, ARAMARK employees often used to call her risk management department for help on an insurance contract the same day it was supposed to be signed.

But then Ms. Rodgers said that if they would send in their contracts earlier and populate them with the data needed for making an assessment, she would give them data about what was happening in their area on things such as the local average hourly salaries or turnover rates. Now she gets every contract when it first arrives.

“It was a total paradigm change,” Ms. Rodgers said.

The software system, the Decisions Metrics & Monitoring system, allows Ms. Rodgers to do other things as well. It includes a dashboard that users can manipulate to see how different variables affect company performance.

The intellectual property for the tool belongs to ARAMARK, but an unnamed service provider devised the program. “I can only tell you that there's somebody looking at licensing it,” Ms. Rodgers said.

Donald J. Sullivan, vp risk management at Baxter International Inc., moderated the session.