Conference: California Workers’ Comp Should Embrace Innovation

By Don Jergler | September 16, 2019

The workers’ compensation market apparently needs to do some catching up where it concerns technology.

“Historically we’ve been really slow to adapt to technology and innovation,” said Shaun Jackson, executive director of risk management at Panda Restaurant Group.

Jackson was moderating a talk titled “Q&A Panel with Innovative Risk Management Experts” on Thursday during the annual CWC & Risk Conference in Dana Point, Calif.

The three-day conference included market forecasts, legal matters, claims, cannabis, auto and fraud.

The Innovative Risk Management panel included Jill Dulich, claims and operations manager at the California Self-Insurers Security Fund, Henry Cabaniss, director of risk management with Southern Glazers Wine and Spirits, and Orit Harrington, senior risk manager with International Coffee & Tea LLC.

Dulich said large insurers and third-party providers have been reluctant to spend money on innovation and have been relying too much instead on vendors to bring new technology and innovation.

Cabaniss talked about the massive amount of data being generated that can help workers’ comp industry.

“Now that we can get down deep in data, it’s how are we going to use it,” he said. “There’s so much available, but what’s meaningful is a completely different challenge.”

They also discussed telemedicine.

Dulich, who covered some of the pros and cons of using telemedicine to treat injured workers, said that while some people want to continue with doctor’s visits, many workers have embraced it.

“Convenience is key here,” she said.

Harrington said her company started a telemedicine program in January to treat certain injuries with telemedicine with the prior approval of a medical professional.

Nearly half of the 45 employees who were eligible for telemedicine treatment were fine with it, she said.

“The majority have one visit and are discharged,” she said, adding that the most a worker has needed have been two visits. “It turns out we’re going to save a lot of money.”

Workplace safety was another big topic at the conference.

“OSHA Updates – What’s Next on the Horizon,” was the title of a panel with Joel Sherman, vice president of safety and corporate affairs for Grimmway, and Robert Cartwright Jr., division manager for Bridgestone.

The pair covered new indoor heat regulations for California.

The regulations kick in when temperatures reach 82 degrees Fahrenheit, and they address certain clothing that may cause a worker to overheat.

In cases where workers are required to wear clothing that could make them too hot, the regulations could kick in at temperatures below 82 degrees, so companies will have to be mindful even at lower temperatures, Sherman said.

“It’s going to be interesting,” he said.

Wildfire smoke emergency regulations, adopted in July, were another topic of discussion, as were new rules for Valley Fever.

Valley Fever, also called coccidioidomycosis, comes from fungus that grows in the dirt in some areas of the Southwestern U.S., including California, and can cause flu-like symptoms, including fever, cough, chills, and chest pain.

The rules require companies to take numerous preventative measures to protect workers in areas considered to be endemic, including Madera, Fresno, Tulare, Kern, Kings, Monterey and San Louis Obispo counties.

Those who don’t adhere to the rules and are caught can be made to pay.

For example, six employers in one period during 2017 were issued more than $240,000 in fines, according to Cartwright and Sherman.

New workplace violence regulations was another topic the two addressed.

Employer requirements include: employee training; creating an emergency action plan; conducting mock training exercises with local law enforcement; and adopting a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence.

Sherman offered an example in which the husband of an employee reportedly had too much to drink and called the company’s main line and left threatening messages for his wife.

Even though it was clearly a domestic dispute that was occurring outside work, the company decided to go to law enforcement and treat it as an incident because it involved the company phone.

“A lot of them are driven by purely personal incidents,” Sherman said, referring to acts of workplace violence.

Cartwright said companies should also pay attention to what is being said in the workplace, because words could lead to acts of violence.

“Words matter,” he added.

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