It is getting increasingly difficult to write workers’ compensation insurance for agricultural firms in both California and Arizona as there are fewer carriers operating in that market. The risk is high and agriculture has not been a highly profitable arena so we have seen several companies exit the marketplace and those that are still in are less aggressive than ever before. With fewer companies competing for your business, that means you have fewer options.
California and Arizona have similar but different issues. Both states once had a public State Fund that operated as the workers’ compensation insurance carrier of last resort. Traditionally, agricultural employers knew that they could always get State Fund insurance if nothing else was available or competitive.
In California, that safety net disappeared under a sea of red ink. State Fund was losing so much money that in recent years it raised premiums and laid off a huge number of employees, tightened its belt and cut way back on the policies it wrote. It has begun to right the ship and it appears that it may once again be a viable option. But with higher rates and a reduced customer service staff careful consideration must be made.
In Arizona, the State Compensation Fund was privatized and now operates as CopperPoint Mutual Insurance Company. Since it is no longer a government entity, it is no longer required to offer workers’ compensation insurance as liberally as it had in the past. Rather than the insurer of last resort, it has been refusing to renew policies it deems unprofitable. We have seen agricultural operations directly in the cross hairs.
So what’s an employer to do?
Loss control and aggressive claims management are your saving grace. The most important thing to do is take a proactive approach to create a safer environment for your workers. The best and easiest way to avoid problems with getting insurance is to be a company that operates better than the norm rather than at the other end of the spectrum.
Western Growers can help. We have a tremendous loss control team that is available to any member that has a workers’ compensation insurance policy through Western Growers Insurance Services (WGIS). If the policy is large enough, the service is free of charge; otherwise there is a nominal fee. Even Western Growers-member companies that have workers’ compensation through others can utilize our loss control team for a fee, which is still a bargain.
Our loss control team can work with you to create a safer workplace. We can train your supervisors to be better safety stewards — your eyes and ears out in the field. A good example of this was seen recently at a grower operation. There was a tragic accident when a very sick tractor driver came to work with pneumonia, fell off his tractor and was run over by it. It is a good bet that a trained supervisor who knew what to look for would have sent that worker home before the accident could have occurred.
The loss control team also includes a claims manager that can work with you on claims to make sure they are handled correctly and aggressively. This component cannot be underestimated in its significance relative to a successful claims history. When claims go unattended they can cause a ripple effect that will haunt you for years. There are steps to take to guide any claim, be it legitimate or fraudulent, through a process that minimizes its damage. WGIS claims management staff have proven methods that save our members money and help put their businesses in better buying positions for worker's compensation insurance. That is a very important part of the process.
To put yourself in a good buying position, consult with a WGIS agent at least 90 days out from your policy renewal date. This is the threshold at which underwriting carriers will accept data and consider it credible. It’s never too soon to start to create a safer workplace. It’s good for your workers and good for your bottom line. Give us a call.
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