Issue 130 – December 2022
From Jonathan Shull, Chief Executive Officer
As 2022 draws to a close and we begin to look ahead to the new year, I want to thank our members for trusting the Authority to be your risk management partner.
Whether reviewing a contract, developing a training plan, or consulting on employee relations, the Authority is here to support you. I want to recognize the California JPIA staff who work hard to anticipate member needs and propel our business practices forward. We take the privilege of serving you seriously, and this collaboration and partnership have established the California JPIA as a leader in the pooling industry.
To increase their skills and the ability to serve the members, several staff members earned certificates and designations in 2022. Management Analyst Abraham Han earned his Associate in Risk Management designation, Senior Risk Manager Maria Galvan received her Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter designation, and Senior Risk Manager Alex Mellor is now a Certified Ergonomic Assessment Specialist. Each of them now has more tools in their toolkit to serve members.
A California JPIA core value is excellence, and with that in mind, we added three new business partners to the team to assist with risk management and loss control services. Intrinsic Environment, Health, & Safety, Sedgwick Risk Control Services, and BSI will work with Authority risk managers to conduct risk management evaluations, develop written safety programs conduct safety training, perform health and safety exposure assessments, and provide solutions for unique loss exposures specific to members.
Our training program also had a big year in 2022. The reintroduction of in-person training and the increased use of web-based training content available through our website amplified our need to expand our ability to create best-in-class safety and risk management video content. To address this need, we purchased the property adjacent to our campus to build additional offices and a production studio to produce training programs catering to member staff and their specific needs. We look forward to having this resource available in 2023.
As a risk management advocate, the California JPIA continually looks for ways to help public agencies develop risk management cultures within their organizations. For example, this year, the Authority presented risk management best practices at several key events, including the California Society of Municipal Finance Officers Annual Conference, the Public Agency Risk Management Association Conference, the League of California Cities Annual Conference, the California Public Employers Labor Relations Association Annual Training Conference, the California Contract Cities Association Fall Educational Summit, and the Municipal Management Association of Southern California Annual Conference.
We are deeply grateful for the opportunity to serve your agency and provide you with services that reduce risk, avoid litigation, and limit exposure. We offer our warm thanks for your continued engagement with the California JPIA and share our best wishes for a very happy holiday season.Print Article
By Jeff Rush, Workers’ Compensation Program Manager
Each year the Authority measures the claims handling performance of its workers’ compensation third-party administrator, Sedgwick, against performance standards set by the Authority with the assistance of its auditor, Northern Claims Management LLC.
Auditor Jim Bankson recently completed the annual audit. Bankson is the president and founder of Northern Claims Management, based in Santa Rosa, California. He has worked extensively with public agency clients and has a comprehensive understanding of the complex workers’ compensation environment in California.
This year’s audit included a review of a random selection of 150 claims emphasizing key performance indicators established by the Authority, compliance with statutory requirements, and industry best practices.
Bankson presented his findings to the Authority’s Executive Committee at its meeting on October 26, 2022. He shared that the team’s overall score of 90.05 percent marked the 13th consecutive year the claims team scored 90 percent or higher.
“The ability of our claims team to reach the 90 percent threshold during a year marked by turnover and a pending change of claims administrator is a testament to the team’s commitment to the Authority and its members,” said Jeff Rush, workers’ compensation program manager.
Although the Authority is moving third-party administrators from Sedgwick to Athens Administrators, most of the claims team will remain together as employees of Athens. Those joining Athens include former Sedgwick claims manager Kevin Fritzsche, all three current claims supervisors, 10 of the 13 claims examiners, four of the six support staff, two former support staff team members, and a former claims examiner.
“We are excited to have so many people that know our members, understand our program, and share our culture and values join us at Athens in 2023,” said Rush. “This will help make for a smooth transition and an opportunity to continue to provide the service our members and their employees have come to expect.”
By Paul Zeglovitch, Liability Program Manager
Each year, the California JPIA engages the services of an independent auditor to review and grade the level of service our third-party liability claims administrator, Carl Warren & Company, is providing. For the past ten years, the Authority has utilized Independent Consulting and Risk Management Services (ICRMS) to fill this role. ICRMS provides a detailed analysis of the quality of the claims handling and completes an overview of the program as a whole, and provides recommendations to facilitate improvement.
This year’s audit took place virtually, from October 24 to November 9, 2022, with more than 100 files examined. The audit evaluates investigation, reporting, litigation management, reserving, technology, and several other areas.
“The audit provides a comprehensive look at the Authority’s claims management process, and it offers insights into any areas we may need to improve,” said Paul Zeglovitch, liability program manager. “It’s a good indication of how our claims were handled during the year.”
The Authority is pleased to advise that Carl Warren & Company (CWC) obtained an overall score of 98.2 percent on this year’s audit. During the ten years that ICRMS has provided auditing services, CWC has consistently achieved scores above 90 percent and above 95 percent for the past five years.
ICRMS continues to be very complimentary of the fine work that CWC performs on behalf of the Authority. Mark Nestor is the President of ICRMS and conducts claims audits nationwide. He indicated that the dedicated group of CWC staff that handles Authority claims—adjusters, supervisors, and an account manager—is the best he evaluates.
We hope your experience with our dedicated CWC unit has been as successful as the audits we have conducted. For any issues relative to liability claims handling, please feel free to contact our Liability Program Manager, Paul Zeglovitch.Print Article
Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), adopted in November 2020, is set to expire on December 31, 2022. The Standards Board plans to vote on the permanent standard at its December 15, 2022, meeting, and the Textproposed permanent standard will remain in effect through December 31, 2024.
Changes from the current ETS include the end-of-exclusion pay for employees excluded from the workplace due to COVID-19. In addition, the definition of “exposed group” will continue to have a “momentary pass-through” exception; however, the exception will be expanded to include individuals who are not masked. Regarding outbreaks, employers will no longer be required to report to their local health department. Moreover, a COVID-19 outbreak is considered over when “one or fewer” new cases are detected in the exposed group for a 14-day period. Following an outbreak, an investigation, review, and correction of hazards will no longer be required to be “immediate.”
Provisions that will continue from the ETS include testing and notice requirements, recordkeeping requirements of employee infection, and the “close contact” definition that aligns with the updated California Department of Public Health definition.
Employers should continue to comply with the obligations under the current ETS through December 31, 2022. For up-to-date information and resources, members are advised to visit Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 Prevention webpage. If you have questions, contact your regional risk manager.Print Article
On December 8, 2022, the City of Agoura Hills turned 40.
First occupied by Native Americans and later populated by Spanish and American settlers, Agoura Hills was incorporated in 1982, making it the 83rd city in Los Angeles County. Over the past 40 years, the city has maintained its commitment to honoring its history, supporting the quality of life of its residents, and protecting and preserving its local environment.
The city, currently home to around 20,000 residents, is known for its beautiful locale, vibrant business community, live music scene, and high quality of life. Located in the heart of the Conejo Valley, Agoura Hills also is known as the Gateway to the scenic Santa Monica Mountains. The Agoura Hills city council and residents have preserved their small-town charm with intentional zoning and protection of the environment. For example, when completed, the monumental Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing project will restore and maintain sensitive habitats for local wildlife—including mountain lions, bobcats, deer, coyotes, and reptiles.
On October 23, 2022, the city celebrated with a 40th-anniversary community party, which paid tribute to the past, present, and future of Agoura Hills by featuring live musical performances, a historical display, guest speakers, a children’s play area, a book signing by a local author, and an art show. This fun-filled celebratory event captured Agoura Hills’ dedication to its residents and its commitment to preserving and showcasing the community’s unique character.
Mayor Deborah Klein Lopez shared “40 Fun Facts” at each city council meeting throughout the year. Facts ranged from recognizing the city’s first 14 council members and looking back on its original city seal to crowdsourcing historical photos and sharing local anecdotes highlighting the residents, businesses, and events that make Agoura Hills unique.
“Agoura Hills is a beautiful city that offers incredible opportunities and value to its residents,” said Senior Risk Manager Toni Consolo, who has supported the city’s risk management efforts. “The city and city staff think ahead and look for ways to protect and enhance the aspects of Agoura Hills that make it a tight-knit, charming community.”
“Each day, I am so honored to work for such an amazing city and to serve the Agoura Hills community,” said Assistant City Manager Ramiro Adeva. “It’s truly remarkable to think about how far the city has come in 40 years and how progress has never compromised the ideals and values upon which the city was founded.”
Congratulations to Agoura Hills for successfully serving its residents for 40 years!Print Article
By Abraham Han, Management Analyst
The Authority’s sidewalk program consists of a master services agreement for sidewalk inspection and maintenance services negotiated with Precision Concrete Cutting. This master services agreement provides Authority members with favorable pricing for sidewalk inspection and repair services which can translate to significant cost savings compared to members seeking the services individually.
To date, 35 members have removed 96,964 trip hazards since the Authority established the sidewalk program in 2015. This averages to roughly 12,120 trip hazards removed across the membership annually. Over the same period, the Authority’s members have invested approximately $7.4 million into sidewalk inspection and maintenance efforts, lowering sidewalk-related risk exposures by reducing trip hazards. Members continue to be interested and participate in these efforts.
With the rising costs of services, the Authority anticipates a pricing increase in the master services agreement effective February 1, 2023. Members considering sidewalk inspection and maintenance services but want to utilize them at the current pricing are encouraged to immediately coordinate a timeline and strategy with their regional risk manager.
In addition to the current program, Authority staff is researching potential avenues to expand the sidewalk program effectively. As various elements are analyzed and determined to be viable, staff will present those ideas to the appropriate advisory committees for further review and discussion.Print Article
The Authority reports about additions and revisions to the resource library each quarter, including newly developed and updated existing resources. Following are some updates for this quarter.
Hot Work Procedures and Permits
Hot work is a temporary operation involving an open flame or that produces heat, sparks, or hot slag. The purpose of these procedures is to protect persons from injury, to protect property from damage by fire resulting from flame, spark, or other ignition sources, and to provide general requirements for hot work procedures and permits.
This program provides guidance for minimizing the risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorders and injuries. An ergonomics program is a collaborative effort that includes employees at all levels throughout the organization and is a part of the Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP).
Policy Prohibiting Workplace Violence and Workplace Violence Prevention Plan
These templates set forth a sample policy prohibiting workplace violence with a separate plan addressing workplace violence prevention. Cal/OSHA requires the workplace violence prevention plan to be in writing and always available to employees and authorized employee representatives. The written plan may be incorporated into an agency’s written IIPP or maintained as a separate document. Members should confirm that the policy is consistent with the plan.
Drug and Alcohol-Free Workplace Policy
The purpose of this policy template is to promote and maintain safe and efficient working conditions free of drugs and alcohol and to discourage substance abuse by employees. A supplemental resource discussing legal concerns surrounding drug and alcohol testing in the public sector is Drug and Alcohol Testing by Public Sector Employers.
Vehicle Use Policy and Documents
The Vehicle Use Policy establishes procedures for using agency-owned and privately-owned vehicles while on agency business. Vehicle Use Documents include files that should be kept within agency vehicles and used as needed.
The purpose of this resource is to outline earthquake preparation and procedures to be followed in the event of an earthquake.
Dog Park Guidelines
This resource provides guidelines associated with the design, construction, and operation of dog parks, including a maintenance checklist in a fillable format.
Resources can be accessed and downloaded via the online “library” in the “resources” section of the Authority’s website. Resources are available in Microsoft Word for members to customize for agency-specific purposes.
If you have questions, please contact your regional risk manager.Print Article
California JPIA Recognizes Milestone Anniversary for Workers’ Compensation Program Manager Jeff Rush
The California JPIA congratulates Workers’ Compensation Program Manager Jeff Rush, who celebrates his 10th anniversary with the Authority this December.
Rush manages the Authority’s workers’ compensation program, including the third-party administrator and defense panel attorneys, and cost containment programs, such as the medical provider network.
He attributes his longevity with the California JPIA to several factors, including the cohesiveness of the Authority’s staff and the support of the Authority’s Executive Committee.
“One of the best things about working for the California JPIA is the camaraderie among the staff, which feels unique compared to other organizations where I’ve worked,” he said. “I also love that the Executive Committee supports initiatives that add value to the members’ experience.”
The Authority’s tailored training program also ranks high: “Before I came on board, I did not realize how robust and comprehensive our training program was,” said Rush. “Different members come to the table with different challenges; the Authority is responsive and nimble, ready to develop a unique plan to help members when challenging situations arise.”
In partnership with the California JPIA’s training team, Rush will present a series of webinars that will provide member-focused workers’ compensation education. This programming—the next two are scheduled for February and May—will complement the Authority’s in-person Workers’ Compensation Symposium, which takes place in August.
At the first webinar series session in November, Rush covered SB 1127, signed into law in September. The new statute reduces an employer’s decision timeframe to accept or deny a workers’ compensation claim and increases the penalty placed on an employer for unreasonably rejecting specific claims of injury. Rush also hosted a webinar for the Public Agency Risk Management Association (PARMA).
“SB 1127 represents a fundamental shift in how presumptive claims are handled,” said Rush. “It’s now up to the California JPIA to educate our members and to adjust how we handle these claims.”
Rush is currently working with members as the Authority transitions to a new third-party claims administrator. Athens Administrators will begin providing claims administration services for the California JPIA effective January 1, 2023.
“Jeff has done an excellent job working with Athens and our current claims team as we move forward with this transition. I have enjoyed working with him on the move to ensure it is as smooth and seamless as possible for our members,” said Deputy Executive Officer Alex Smith.
“I look forward to navigating that transition—while retaining most of our current claims team members,” Rush said. “Cultivating the Authority’s relationship with Athens will add value for our members, who will be able to give the employees the best workers’ compensation system experience they can.”
Rush joined the California JPIA in December 2012 from CSAC Excess Insurance Authority, where he was a supervising claims specialist. He began his risk management career in 1993 when, after responding to a newspaper ad from a national third-party administrator, he was hired as a claims examiner just one month after graduating from college.
Rush holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in criminal justice from California State University, Sacramento, as well as certifications as a Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter and an Associate in General Insurance, Insurance Data Analytics, Claims, Risk Management for Public Entities, and Risk Management from The Institutes Risk & Insurance Knowledge Group; a Workers’ Compensation Claims Professional and California Workers’ Compensation Claims Administrator from the Insurance Education Association; and a Certified Professional Disability Manager from the Disability Management Employer Coalition.
“The insurance industry is constantly changing, and workers’ compensation is no exception, both legislatively and in terms of case law,” said Rush, who sits on the California Association of Joint Powers Authorities’ legislative committee. “Learning about trending topics through publications and event attendance helps me share current and relevant information with the California JPIA’s members.”
Currently serving as vice president of the PARMA, Rush will assume a new role as PARMA’s president in February 2023. PARMA is an association dedicated to the professional development of California public agency risk managers and other staff who support risk management in their organizations.
“Jeff’s leadership of organizations that support enrichment and professional development for public agency risk managers demonstrates his dedication to risk management,” said Chief Executive Officer Jon Shull. “We are proud to support him as he moves into this important role.”
Congratulations, Jeff, on your 10th anniversary!Print Article
The California JPIA congratulates Senior Risk Manager Alex Mellor, who celebrates his 10th anniversary with the Authority this December.
Mellor has successfully and creatively helped member agencies prepare for and respond to the unique risks faced by Authority members in San Diego, Imperial, and Riverside counties throughout his tenure. His responsibilities involve assisting California JPIA public agency members with risk management efforts in public safety, contractual risk transfer, regulatory compliance, and employment practices liability.
“Alex Mellor has added incredible value to the Authority and the members he serves,” said Chief Executive Officer Jon Shull. “His tenacity, responsiveness, and valuable experience managing and mitigating risk make Alex an exemplary risk manager and leader within the Authority.”
Mellor joined the Authority as a regional risk manager in 2012 after working with the Authority as a consultant for various services. His former employer, Rehab West, Inc., a workers’ compensation managed care company, introduced Mellor to public agency risk management. Before his consulting role, Mellor received a Bachelor of Arts degree in law and society from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
“The Authority has an outstanding reputation as a great place to work,” said Mellor. “I was looking for an organization that valued work-life balance while providing an opportunity to sharpen my technical and soft skills. The Authority has delivered on both fronts.”
According to Mellor, the California JPIA’s emphasis on creating and maintaining relationships with its members sets it apart from many other municipal insurance pools.
“When we treat others with kindness and take the time to understand their unique situation,” he said, “we are more successful at contributing to solving challenges and helping others reach their goals.”
Mellor believes being responsive and proactive has been the key to his success with the Authority. Serving as risk manager to member agencies who experience a wide array of risks, the role often requires creativity when developing solutions that are unique to each member.
“In my opinion, the success of an Authority risk manager is measured by helping members understand their risk tolerance and creatively managing the exposures presented,” said Mellor. “Risk management should never be about saying no.”
Congratulations, Alex, on your 10th anniversary!Print Article
By Eileen Ollivier, Post-Bar Law Clerk, Burke, Williams & Sorensen, LLP
Originally published on November 23, 2022. Reprinted with permission from Burke, Williams & Sorensen, LLP.
This year Governor Gavin Newsom signed two bills, SB 896 and AB 211, to increase State and local government efforts to combat wildfires.
SB 896 protects communities from future wildfires by incentivizing the creation of defensible space, and improving assessment data collection and reporting. SB 896 will amend existing defensible space laws by requiring:
- Any local government entity qualified to conduct defensible space assessments in very high and high fire hazard severity zones to use the common reporting platform to report the assessment to CAL FIRE;
- CAL FIRE to annually report all defensible space data compiled from the common reporting platform to the legislature; and
- The Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to give priority to any local government entity that uses the common reporting platform when reviewing applications for the local assistance grant program.
Local government entities qualified to conduct defensible space assessments, include the following entities that have completed the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s local assistance grant program for fire prevention and home hardening education activities: counties, state conservancies, special districts, and other political subdivisions of the state; members of the California Conservation Corps, the Board of Commissioners under California Volunteers described in Section 8411 of the Government Code, local conservation corps, resource conservation districts, fire safe councils, and Firewise USA organizations; University of California fire advisors; registered Professional Foresters; and other entities or individuals deemed appropriate by the Director of Forestry and Fire Protection.
An important method to minimize the risk that a home will ignite from a wildfire is the creation and maintenance of defensible space. Existing law requires property owners to maintain a defensible space of 100 feet between a structure and its surrounding grass, trees, shrubs, and/or any wildland area. (Government Code § 51182). This space is needed to slow or stop the spread of wildfire and protects a home from catching fire—either from embers, direct flame contact or radiant heat.
In a report last fall, the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) emphasized the creation of defensible space around homes as a valuable tool to reduce destructive wildfires. However, the LAO report noted that there was a lack of consistent statewide data on defensible space compliance and inspections. As such, the LAO recommended improving data collection, and the sharing and quality of the collected data. The LAO also recommended that both state and local agencies report inspection data to a centralized system.
SB 896 responds to the agency’s recommendation for increased compliance and data collection, by requiring coordinated state and local data collection to improve defensible space research and guide future policy decisions.
AB 211, amongst other things, expands the responsibility of local governments by requiring them to designate, by ordinance, certain areas as moderate and high fire hazard severity zones within 120 days of receiving a recommendation from the State Fire Marshal. Further, once the Fire Marshal has identified areas of a local jurisdiction as a moderate, high, or very high fire hazard severity zone, local governments are prohibited from decreasing the level of fire hazard severity zone as identified by the State Fire Marshal.
AB 211 also extends indefinitely the authority of the Director of Forestry and Fire Protection to provide grants to various entities for the implementation and administration of projects and programs to improve forest health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Further, under existing law, prescribed fire, thinning, and fuel reduction projects, including the issuance of permits or other approvals for those projects, undertaken on federal lands to reduce the risk of high-severity wildfire, are exempt from the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) until January 1, 2023. AB 211 extends the operation of this CEQA exemption to January 1, 2028, expands the exemption to include reforestation and habitat restoration projects, as well as related activities included in the project description, and expands the exemption to include projects undertaken in part on federal lands.
Lastly, the bill will allocate $30,000,000 from the General Fund, as provided, to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection for projects and programs that support wildfire and forest resilience, as specified.Print Article