Merging Safety Cultures
At the 2016 Illinois Self Insurers’ Association 38th Annual Educational Seminar and Membership Meeting, Joan Vincenz, Managing Director Workers’ Compensation and Managed Care with United Airlines, talked about the process United went through to restructure their workers’ compensation program when they merged with Continental.
The vision statement of United Airlines is to return their employee to good health and to work as quickly, medically and operationally soon as possible. When United merged with Continental, their workers’ compensation departments were structured very differently, with one reporting through human resources and the other through operations. In their new structure, the Vice President of Safety reports directly to the COO, which gives safety and risk management a higher level of focus.
United has teams in human resources, legal affairs and finance who interact with their workers’ compensation team on a regular basis. They use a third-party administrator (TPA) to handle their claims. They are self-insured in 14 states and are on a deductible in other states. They work closely with their TPA, outside defense counsel, and an outside actuarial firm to monitor their workers’ compensation program.
Workers’ Compensation makes up more than 70% of United’s insurance risks, so it is a huge area of focus for the company. After the merger, they tried to focus on closing out tail claims and have succeeded in reducing their open claim count over 33% since 2011. United receives approximately 5,000 new claims almost every year, but that number is down 20% since 2011.
One of the keys to United’s program is the commitment from the CEO to their safety efforts. They take their workers’ compensation program into consideration when negotiating union contracts to ensure they allow for appropriate return-to-work options.
They perform regular audits of their TPA and grade them across 72 different categories. Their audits are done at the adjuster desk level. They expect the adjuster will speak to the injured worker within 24 hours of the accident. They also expect contact with the supervisor to get a better understanding of the accident, which can assist with preventing new claims in the future.
United has onsite medical facilities at several of their major United States hubs. Employees can use these facilities for both workers’ compensation and personal health care. They also have onsite nurse case managers at these facilities and these nurses help in management of claims nationwide through a telephonic program.
United emphasizes front-line and supervisor engagement in their safety program and they partner with their union in these efforts. Over 90% of their employees are unionized, so working closely with their labor unions is essential to the success of their safety programs. Their corporate communications department works with them to communicate their safety vision and lessons learned from past accidents so that future claims can be prevented.