Insurance survey sheds light on industry’s most costly claims

 - June 1, 2011, 4:10 AM

Newly hired general aviation industry workers are most at risk for suffering on-the-job injuries, according to a study released recently by United States Aviation Underwriters (USAU). In an attempt to categorize the areas where most injuries and worker-compensation claims occur in the GA industry, USAU studied the last 10 years of insurance claims from its clients. USAU manages the pool of insurers that make up the United States Aircraft Insurance Group (USAIG), the nation’s largest aviation insurance organization, which has provided coverage to the National Air Transportation Association’s workers’ compensation plan since its inception in 1975. As a result, USAU was able to draw upon thousands of claims from participating NATA members in its study–ranging from FBOs and charter operators to airport authorities and MRO providers–and divide them into categories such as the overall most expensive and most frequent types of accidents from the viewpoint of workers’ compensation.

“We did it because we wanted to make NATA members aware of the types of claim that they are having,” said John Matthews, senior vice president at USAU. “All these customers are interested in controlling their losses and doing what’s best for their employees and their businesses. We want to draw attention to where the claims are coming from, and also to let them know that we are there to partner with them to find ways to control those losses.”

Compensation Claims

The overwhelming majority of claims and claim values come from newly hired workers. “What’s surprising here is that if you happened to be on the job for less than a year, you’re the person having all the claims,” Matthews told AIN. “When we took a look at some of the case studies it didn’t make a difference if somebody had worked someplace for 10 years; when they went to a new place and they were less than a year working for a new company they were having claims also.”

To combat this, Matthews, emphasized that all employers should make sure their new employees are properly trained in their duties and are assigned additional responsibilities only once they have demonstrated proficiency. “You just can’t treat people who have been there for two months in the same fashion as people who have been there five years just because they’ve performed well to that point,” he said. “You’re asking them to run before they can walk.” Industry programs such as NATA’s Safety 1st are aimed at identifying areas where new employees could falter. “It all comes back to training,” said Matthews, noting that many insurance providers will provide on-site risk assessment evaluations to identify potentially hazardous conditions or practices.

While the study includes dozens of accident types resulting in injury claims, the single most expensive category of loss for the 10 years of the study (approximately $20 million) came from airplane crashes. This was nearly 72 percent higher than the next closest category, injuries due to lifting. In 2007 alone, USAIG received 13 claims totaling more than $5 million due to crashes. Other categories in the overall top 10 included injuries caused by machinery, by pushing or pulling, by slipping on ice or snow, by repetitive motion, and by falls from ladders or scaffolding. Altogether, the top 10 accounted for approximately 70 percent of the most expensive claim types.

While aircraft crashes were clearly the most expensive, their cost was out of proportion to their frequency of occurrence, which ranked at 38th place on USAU’s list, between chemical injuries and those caused by animals or insects. In terms of the number of claims in the study, those resulting from more mundane tasks such as lifting were predictably the most common. Injuries due to improper lifting resulted in 1,338 claims over the 10-year span, with an average cost of $8,606 per claim. As an example, the study presented a case study of a flight attendant who injured herself loading boxes onto the aircraft. She suffered three compressed spinal discs, resulting in 670 lost days of work and claims totaling $729,482.

Of the areas in the country covered by USAIG, Alaska saw both the highest number of claims (1,923) and was the most costly region ($27,953,242) over the 10-year span of the study, with Florida, New York and Texas rounding out the next four spots. The study also categorized the claims by season. While summer saw the most claims during the 10-year window of the study, winter injuries were far more costly (by some 50 percent more). In one unexplained anomaly, the study found that Tuesday was the most dangerous day of the week for workers, with both the number of claims and their severity topping the charts.

In addition to protecting employee health and curbing lost productivity hours, USAIG customers have an additional incentive to promote on-the-job worker safety, according to Matthews. The NATA Safety 1st workers’ compensation program has grown from 76 members at its inception in 1975 to more than 800 today. The program was designed from the onset to provide NATA members with a stable long-term market for workers’ compensation insurance and was structured so that if the overall loss experience of the participating members was favorable, all program participants would receive a “good experience” premium at the end of the year. Since its start, the program has returned $75 million to its customers ($45 million of that has been since 2003).