Work at Liberty Mutual’s
Research Institute for Safety (RIS) continues much as it has for the
past half century. Since its inception in 1954, the RIS, located
in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, has been studying the causes of work
injuries, workplace mishaps, job-related stress and overexertion—in
short, anything that might precipitate an insurance claim.
result of all the research, of course, is diverse discovery of the
usual causes behind the problems. In the end, Liberty Mutual
hopes to avoid the majority of these problems entirely by exploring how
they occur and discovering what causes them, which allows insurance companies
to resolve the causes. Such a resolution might include flattening
a small office step to avoid trips and falls, or ergonomic training to
reduce back pain for desk workers.
What the approach
represents, essentially, is a philosophy of attacking a problem at its
source, of treating the disease rather than the symptoms. In the
short run, it would be more efficient to simply deal with claims one at
a time, reviewing and paying out cases one by one. Liberty
Mutual, however, is quite apparently willing to drain millions of
dollars on research in the hope that client companies will take note of
the data, make appropriate changes to avoid accidents, and decrease
their own and Liberty Mutual’s expenses.
Much of the
research at the RIS is focused on reducing workers’ compensation
claims; thus, many projects deal with workplace hazards or job
risks. In 2005, for example, one project studied the causes of
“slips, trips, and falls” in the office; the study revealed that 64% of
falls occurred at a transitional area (whether dry to wet, one type of
floor to another, or one level to another). A second study showed
that restaurant workers were most often injured in tasks involving
carrying and handling, and that about 40% of these injuries were due to
overexertion, and 20% due to same-level falls.
the list is much too long to reproduce here; from the research projects
under way at the Institute, 96 peer-reviewed scientific papers were
published in reputable journals in the year 2005. The annual
budget at the RIS runs above $8 million—it is certainly a large-scale
It is larger, for example, than the research
labs of The Hartford and Travelers Insurance. These two
facilities are among a group of company-associated labs that work more
directly with the insurer’s client base. This participation
includes work in the indoor air quality field, and offers
fee-for-service arrangements to both individual and business clients
(e.g. specific risk analysis, or evaluation of an air contaminant).
Mutual itself has an Industrial Hygiene Lab located at the same site as
the RIS, which performs such work, but this entity is a separate entity
from their research area.
Some labs also offer rentals of air filtration, purification, and
analysis systems for businesses and individuals. A few
company-associated labs sell their work to other companies for their
own use in client advising or premium adjustment.
The research labs of the RIS do not conduct business with other
insurance companies. Rather, the RIS publishes data
publicly. The results of experiments, if they are conclusive or
useful, are submitted to scientific publications for public
consumption. The research is free to those who choose to use it,
including competing insurance companies.
The reason that
the RIS can give so much while seeming to ask so little is a triumph of
capitalism—simple capitalism, too; the RIS needs no drastic steps such
as raising premiums for client companies that fail to implement the RIS
recommendations. Companies simply make more money when their
workers are not injured. It is therefore usually in the best
interests of the company to heed the recommendations of the RIS.
In turn, this benefits Liberty Mutual, who will not have to pay out for
workers’ comp claims.
Liberty Mutual also gains in the public eye for spending so much on
worker safety. Because of helpful work that it does, the RIS
seems the philanthrope of the industry, which can only help attract
customers. However, both of these benefits are virtually impossible to
quantify. All we know is that Liberty Mutual, for monetary or
other reasons, deems the value greater than the cost.
The cyclic system makes it financially possible for Liberty Mutual
to spend vast amounts of time and money searching for a way to keep
people safer. It is truly a win-win situation. More
information is available at www.libertymutual.com/researchinstitute.