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Grace Crickette reduces workers comp claims with prevention

Posted On: Apr. 15, 2012 12:00 AM CST

After an analysis of the University of California's workers compensation claims experience showed that 32,593 of the university's 187,201 faculty and staff had filed repeat claims, Chief Risk Officer Grace Crickette decided it was time to focus on prevention.

Of those employees, 7,149 had five or more injuries, and 1,401 had 10 or more injuries, the data revealed. Moreover, the cost of treating these subsequent injuries often was significantly higher than that of the first injury, further driving up the university's workers compensation costs.

Before Ms. Crickette came on board, environmental health and safety managers on the university's 10 campuses and five medical centers were focused on compliance, with the primary objective being to meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, according to Erike Young, director of environmental health and safety in the Office of the President.

“Most EH&S folks see themselves as compliance-focused, to make sure they don't have OSHA fines. Unless your title was "injury reduction specialist,' that wasn't part of your job,” he said.

In fact, even though musculoskeletal injuries accounted for 50% of all claims, responsible for $40 million in annual workers compensation costs, the university only employed two ergonomists systemwide, Mr. Young said.

Two programs were introduced to address these high-cost areas: Be Smart About Safety and WorkStrong.

Under the BSAS program, 10% of the work comp premiums paid by each campus and medical center is allocated to injury prevention programs, including ergonomics and Shoes for Crews, a program that equips food service workers with nonslip footwear. According to the university's workers comp claims analysis, approximately 4,000 employees file claims for slips and falls each year, costing the university $7 million annually.

WorkStrong is a post-rehabilitation wellness program to which workers who have had two or more work-related injury claims are referred. Usually beginning after the claimant has completed medical treatment and physical therapy, it comprises three main components—nutrition, fitness and mental well-being—said Kevin Confetti, risk manager, workers compensation.

Investments in both programs have paid back in spades. “If you looked at how much we were spending, ultimate losses were $90 million a year in workers compensation vs. $40 million today. We've basically cut it in half,” said Mr. Young. “We used to have 10,000 injuries a year, now we're under 4,000 in 2011.”

In addition, slip-and-fall injury costs in the university's food service operations are down 40% after a mere $8,000 investment in new shoes, he added.

A study of the cost-effectiveness of ergonomics showed returns on investment averaging between 3:1 and 5:1, depending on the intervention. And the Office of Risk Services created a Web-based tool that workers can use to conduct ergonomic self-assessments of a variety of work functions, ranging from using a computer to driving a forklift.

Of the more than 70 injured workers who have completed the WorkStrong program, only one has had another workers comp claim in four years, and that was for a different body part, according to Ms. Crickette. Not only that, “supervisors say the person's attitude has changed toward work” and is more productive, she said.

Peter Taylor, the university's executive vp and chief financial officer, said although the programs originated out of workers comp, they also have reduced the university's third-party liability costs.

“It's not just a workers compensation program. It's a program designed to have a safety-aware culture,” he said.

“It has borne fruit not only in lower work comp costs, but also fewer claims against the university, whether it be for slips and falls or for other types of claims.”