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Frank X. Altiere III is president of PMA Management Corp., a Blue Bell, Pa.-based third-party administrator and unit of PMA Cos. He assumed his position in 1999. Mr. Altiere recently spoke with Business Insurance Senior Editor Roberto Ceniceros about a PMA survey that showed aging employees are the most pressing concern among risk managers whose workers compensation claims are managed by the TPA. Edited excerpts follow.
Q: How are aging workers affecting the workers comp claims you see?
A: Traditionally, when you looked at reports on the aging workforce, you found two things: Claims severity is greater for aging workers, but the frequency of claims filed by them is lower. Nine times out of 10, what the reports show is absolutely true — severity is higher for older workers.
But I would say risk managers need to study their particular organizations and see if it holds true for them that frequency is less of an issue for aging workers. If companies don't have a lot of turnover and baby boomer workers are holding on to their jobs in their company, they may also see a frequency issue. Some industries may have both a frequency and severity issue with an aging workforce. We see it in stewardship reports when we aggregate the data at the end of the year for clients. We study the aging workforce for them so they can see it. When you have data showing frequency may also be an issue among your aging workers, then you can ask what can be done to prevent claims from recurring and what can be done to address the severity of open claims.
Q: What measures can employers take to mitigate older worker claims issues?
A: Risk managers need to understand the company's demographics and the risk management concerns accompanying an aging workforce. As you get older, you are losing strength, range of motion, speed of movement, balance, vision, hearing and so forth. So listen carefully to your workforce and what they are saying to you about it and what they need. Then you are going to have to make accommodations.
For example, if you have maintenance workers preparing for winter by moving bags of salt, you may need to buy 40-pound bags of salt rather than 100-pound bags because they have lost some strength. Maybe you also need to rotate jobs so that someone driving at night can drive during daylight hours. Wellness programs can also help keep aging workers healthy.
Q: Wellness programs have been used mostly to reduce group health claims and non-occupational illnesses. Are you seeing them used more often to help address workers comp-related injuries?
A: I am. It's coming up more and more because people understand wellness. They know that if you combine wellness with workers comp claims treatment, you will boost employees' morale and their health, address their medical costs, increase productivity and reduce their injury severity. Our risk control consultants are seeing risk managers refer employees who experience a work injury to the wellness program coordinator to help them. Wellness programs can help, for example, if you have an employee who is overweight. There are two issues involved. One is health care, because we know they are going to be more expensive from a health care cost standpoint; and there are studies that say if an injured worker is obese, they experience more claims and more lost days than healthy-weight workers.
So it makes sense for human resources, or the wellness program coordinator, and the risk manager to work together and understand there is a work comp claims issue and a health issue in such cases. If you have an enterprise risk management and safety improvement culture — if you truly have that— wellness will be part of that.