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DJC OP-ED: Safety is critical, and SAIF Corporation matters

DJC OP-ED: Safety is critical, and SAIF Corporation matters

By: Mike Salsgiver
Executive Director, AGC Oregon-Columbia Chapter

This article was published by the DJC on November 14 and can be viewed here.

For the construction industry, safety is a part of everything we do.

Success in construction starts with our employees. We cannot be successful without great workers, and they cannot build great things without a safe environment in which to work.

Commercial construction thrives on professionalism and a foundation of safety.

Safety is not just a catchphrase or a throwaway line. It’s in our DNA. Employees become family and our employers treat them as such. Construction companies strive to operate safe workplaces so that employees can get their work done and go home to their families each night.

In an industry that is anything but uniform, where no two companies look the same, safety is the one constant – and a continuing priority.

One of the most important pieces of the safety puzzle is a system that not only trains workers and companies to be safer, but also helps workers heal and return to work if they are injured. SAIF Corporation does these things with excellence, and has a 25-year track record of success to show for it. And because of its importance to our workers and our industry, anything that detracts from SAIF’s ability to keep rates low, provide smooth and efficient claims processing, and excel in injury worker recovery, is not acceptable to us.

SAIF has exceeded expectations in performance and has a proven track record to get workers back to work. SAIF was reformed in 1990 and has since performed at a world-class level. It sets the standard for every other workers’ compensation program in the nation.

It’s easy to talk about programs and rates, but consider a real company with real people: T. Gerding Construction. When Tom Gerding joined the company in 1994, under the guidance of an alternative workers’ compensation group, its experience modification rate was on the upper end of the industry average. In 2002, T. Gerding – through its AGC membership – began working directly with SAIF and its loss control team; safety record improvements were immediate. SAIF and its team, together with AGC’s safety management team, worked alongside T. Gerding’s employees to improve their safety practices. Over the course of several years the company developed a solid safety plan and fundamentally changed its safety culture. Today, T. Gerding Construction has an excellent experience mod rate that is in the top percentile of the industry, and has been recognized statewide and nationally for safety excellence.

As I noted in my previous column, a state task force has been evaluating ways to reduce Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) unfunded accrued liability (UAL). The UAL is a major reason the state is facing a fiscal crisis in the middle of a strong economic recovery.

As a way to address the $25 billion unfunded liability, the PERS UAL Task Force released its final report on Nov. 1 with a wide range of suggestions. Some look to SAIF and propose transferring money from SAIF’s operating capital surplus, changing its operational structure, converting it to a mutual company or selling the insurer, or directing future dividends to PERS.

The proposals involving SAIF would suggest it is sitting on an excess of money. It is not. As a single-line insurer, it faces restrictions fully privatized insurers do not face. In fact, its surplus is working capital. This allows financial flexibility in situations involving regulatory changes, economic dips and natural disasters.

Exploring any of the four proposals would undermine the program’s foundation and erode SAIF’s ability to do its job. Workers’ compensation is an essential element to the industry; it cannot be pushed aside and its value cannot be disregarded.

As an insurer, as a safety trainer and as an agency that helps heal injured workers and return them to their jobs, SAIF is doing its job with excellence. It has a 25-year track record of continuous improvement in safety performance.

Oregon needs to find other ways to address its fiscal challenges.

Mike Salsgiver is the executive director of Associated General Contractors’ Oregon-Columbia chapter. Contact him at 503-685-8305 or mikes@agc-oregon.org.

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