Mid-flight I decided to bust open the most recent issue of Motorcyclist Magazine - one of my favorite publications about one of my favorite things to do.
Motorcyclist has nothing to do with workers' compensation but I'm so obsessed with our industry and what we do that for some reason I find something about work comp in nearly everything I read, hear, see or do - you might say I have a case of Industrial Disease (apologies to Mark Knopfler).
Joe Gresh is a columnist for Motorcyclist. I find his satire very entertaining and love his understated prose.
In this issue Gresh writes about going on a tour of the Harley Davidson engine plant, and of course being required to don safety glasses and steel toe boots.
He makes the observation that so much of the plant is automated that it seems nearly deserted: "The most amazing thing to me is how few people are needed to run the plant. The place looks empty. About the only handwork I can identify is installing cylinders and heads. The guys and gals doing that work are blazingly fast; if you blink you miss it."
In an earlier paragraph he says that a human could set bolts faster than the machine doing it but "could he do it without complaining about the coffee?"
Perhaps tongue in cheek, but Gresh made a key observation about the modern economy and workers' compensation: the nature of work today is much different than the nature of work that was done when workers' compensation was first invented.
I flipped the page and read the column by regular Keith Code.
Code is a motorcycle tutor. He teaches people how to go faster more safely and has been doing that for about 30 years. While there are physical skills involved, Code always goes back to the mental aspect of riding - it's what's in your head that is the most important motorcycle skill (or more importantly, makes riding more safe).
His column this issue was about risk, or how different people perceive risk differently.
"Often, the simple threat of danger generates images of dread and fear. Some might see themselves at risk only because another is willing to expose himself to risk, and therefore they themselves could someday yield to that same urge. Still, others see motorcycling as a potentially dangerous trend that might catch on..."
Code writes about the folks who see risk as an educational opportunity - for without acknowledging and confronting risk one can not learn what the limitations are nor the knowledge and skills to manage that risk.
He didn't know it (and may still not - I don't think he reads this blog) but Code was writing about workers' compensation. A lot of people see work comp as a dangerous trend and it can generate dread and fear. Many employers and workers face work comp with dread and fear. Those of us who have made work comp our profession embraced the risk and have learned how to manage it.
An old flight instructor I know counsels his students seeking recurring or advanced training about the three Cs: Confidence, Competency and Currency, in that order.
Confidence to take on an unfamiliar situation, to feel that one has the skills and training to handle the situation at hand or what may come of a flight.
Competency to actually be able to execute; actually having the skills, knowledge and training to take on the task or challenge facing you.
Currency - meeting the legal requirements of flight.
I look at the three Cs and I see where the work comp industry, or more accurately the work injury management system, does not in general have a good feeling of Confidence. Confidence to do "the right thing" as opposed to just going through the motions.
Though improving I don't see wholesale embracing of education to acquire new skills or polish up old ones - i.e. Competency.
I do see a whole lot of Currency though - perhaps too stringently - in everyone's efforts to make sure that they, themselves, don't run afoul of the law.
My friend the flight instructor emphasizes the order of the three Cs because without Confidence and Competence, Currency is irrelevant; just because one is legally current does not mean that one is capable of piloting an aircraft. In this metaphor, just because one complies with the law does not mean one is doing the right thing; there may be Competency lacking which inhibits the Confidence to know what IS the right thing...
Because work comp is so old, so engrained with its own infrastructure of different interests each pursuing separate agendas, we are slow to deal with the new economy. We as a society are risk averse, so we don't learn a whole lot of new things that may help us come up with better ways to manage the risk of work injury (as either professionals in the industry, employers or workers).
All is not lost. There is hope. That's why folks congregate at conferences like WCRI's - opportunity to learn something new, something that may challenge convention so that we have the Confidence to challenge the danger, improve our Competency and then face our Currency.
Folks have taken bold steps towards meeting the challenges of the new economy - Texas non-subscribers with universal care and disability plans; new Oklahoma opt-out participants who are challenging convention; other employer option participants, like California carve-out employers, seeking to improve their outcomes and those of their employees.
Sometimes things work, sometimes they don't. At least there's some who, with good intent, take on the challenge of meeting Currency through different channels to meet the risk challenges with different mind-sets. It can't all work all the time - but at least some are willing to innovate.
That's how all of us learn.