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Inking an industrial advantage partnership: a risk manager applies the most overlooked of innovations: common sense.

There are two things we need to get out of the way when talking about the work of Susan Shemanski, director of risk management for Spherion. She has an amazingly tough job and she is very good at it.

Spherion, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is in the tricky business of providing temporary help to manufacturing facilities, warehouses and other injury-prone environments across the country. Before her head hits the pillow at night, Shemanski has to worry about the health and welfare of more than 300,000 employees spread out over 700 offices who are working for as many as 7,000 clients.

When you factor in that the vast majority of those employees are temporary, who just because of the nature of their employment terms might not have the greatest loyalty to their employer, the task Shemanski faces in trying to cut workers' comp claims and losses is steep.

"Starting right off it is a tricky industry and costs, specifically claims cost in the workers' compensation area, can mean the difference in making a profit on a particular client or not," said Doug Harvill, an account executive and assistant vice president with the Memphis-based third-party administrator Sedgwick CMS.

Part of what's scary about what Spherion does is that when a staffing company sends out temporary help, it is very hard for them to maintain control over the work environment of their client.

"What we are trying to do is make our workers safer and control their behavior by giving them the tools to understand what would put them at risk for an injury so that they are able to avoid the injury," Shemanski said.

That's where Shemanski's award-winning innovation comes in. Drawing on her years of claims management experience, Shemanski has created Industrial Advantage, a Spherion program designed to give temporary workers the tools and training to keep themselves safe, even in situations where they might only be working at a particular company for a week or so.

"We are telling our clients we are going to come in and work your riskier business but at the same time try to reduce the injuries by looking at the mechanics of the job and training our workers on the proper way to do a position," said Shemanski.

That also means that Shemanski wants her company to work in partnership with clients, taking the resources of both her firm and her client's, putting their heads together, so to speak, to cut down on injuries and lost time.

"We are trying to be a better partner to them from a risk management standpoint and change that mindset of focusing on giving the risk to someone else and us being more of a partner and saying we are going to make this particular area that we had problems with a safer area for you as a whole," said Shemanski.

That progressive thinking, being able to reach out across the country and into complicated work environments and make a difference is what sets Shemanski apart from the pack, according to an executive with a large insurance broker who has worked with Shemanski for years, first at CNA and now at Spherion.

"She is a thinker. She's constantly searching out new ideas for ways that she can reduce her total cost of risk," said Phyllis Alexander, an Atlanta-based senior vice president for claims with Marsh.

When that answer isn't readily apparent, Shemanski will go out to a worksite herself to figure out the answer. In one of her more memorable eases, she and her risk management crew figured out that employees in a warehouse were injuring their backs because they were stacking 35-pound boxes and lifting them in pairs instead of separately to get a jump on their workload before lunch time.

A load that was safe at 35 pounds became unsafe at 70 pounds.


"I looked through our logs and saw that we were having a lot of claims at lunch time," Shemanski recalls. The analysis was completed, safety warnings were issued and losses plummeted.

The safety tips in Shemanski's Industrial Advantage program aren't rocket science. But by the same token, the workers she is trying to protect aren't rocket scientists.

It's common sense stuff that's designed to keep as many of the hundreds of thousands of people Shemanski is trying to keep safe, safe.

And it's working for Spherion.

"They have seen huge reductions in the cost of risk," Sedgwick's Harvill said.

Responsibility Leader

Although it might be a bit out of the ordinary, Susan Shemanski has worked with a variety of nonprofit organizations to develop transition duty options for Spherion employees. This could be a tough issue for a temporary help company because the workplace can literally change from day to day. Employees say that they have found the option of returning to work at a nonprofit, like the Salvation Army often more attractive than returning initially to the site where the injury happened. And the nonprofit organization benefits because these organizations usually struggle under very tight budgets and can't afford additional staffing help. For her efforts meshing the community into the company's return-to-work program, she is also designated as a Responsibility Leader.
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Author:Reynolds, Dan
Publication:Risk & Insurance
Date:Sep 15, 2008
Previous Article:Planting a mole in the office of your own TPA: risk manager finds a way to manage his TPA and carrier, not the other way around.
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