That memorable slogan from American Express, “Membership has its privileges,” also applies to GMTA, which is now offering member companies a proven resource to create a safer working environment and reduce their premiums for workers’ compensation insurance.
Last summer, GMTA launched its partnership with Alliance Interstate Risk Service, a Montgomery, Ala.-based company created by and for the trucking industry. The AIR program was established in 2021 by the ATA Comp Fund, an Alabama-based self-insured workers’ compensation fund. It took the place of the group’s Cross Border program, which provided coverage to members with operations outside of Alabama.
Since 1993, the ATA Comp Fund has provided stable, low-cost workers’ compensation coverage to the transportation, distribution, supply-chain logistics and allied industries.
Over the years, the ATA Comp Fund – and now AIR – has grown into one of the largest transportation-related groups in the nation, serving more than 530 companies operating in 46 states. The group also provides risk-management and claims-management services, helping companies reduce their rates of workplace injury and their insurance costs.
Ed Crowell, president and chief executive officer of GMTA, said the partnership with AIR provides a real benefit to members, and he hopes they’ll readily take advantage of it. While workers’ compensation coverage accounts for only a slice of trucking company’s insurance costs, rising premiums eat into profits and make it more difficult to budget for the future, he said.
“Workers’ comp programs that work well are extremely valuable to companies, and there really isn’t one that works better than what AIR does, so we’re very excited to offer this to our members,” Crowell said. “This is a solid operation with a track record of almost three decades.”
The AIR program benefits companies in three main ways: risk management, claims management and its dividend program.
AIR’s risk managers take a behavior-based, data-driven approach to developing a safer working environment for drivers and other employees of trucking companies. Risk managers visit clients’ locations to evaluate their safety programs and offer recommendations to eliminate or reduce the potential for losses.
Additionally, AIR uses data analysis to identify trends and problem areas in a trucking company’s operations. By taking into account a range of factors, including employee demographics such as age, injury type and the day and time of each injury, risk managers can determine whether specific business practices contribute to workplace injuries. Armed with that data, risk managers help trucking executives create an action plan to lower the risk of workplace injuries.
Kimble Coaker, CEO of AIR, pointed to a recent example of a trucking company that experienced a rash of injuries at a single facility located on a mountainside. The topography created a wind-tunnel effect, so when drivers of flatbed trucks attempted to cover their loads with protective tarps, strong winds would blow the tarps this way and that with great force.
As a result, drivers sustained a spate of shoulder and back injuries while struggling to hold onto tarps, and several were blown off their flatbeds, suffering injuries when they fell. After identifying the cause of the problem, AIR’s risk managers worked with the company’s executives to relocate the area where drivers were expected to tie down tarps, and injury rates plummeted.
Similarly, risk managers noticed that many clients were losing drivers to shoulder and back injuries because they were positioned awkwardly under trailers to pull the fifth-wheel pin and release the truck from the trailer. That single movement put drivers in an awkward physical position that often resulted in injury.
To address that issue, risk managers began carrying the Yanker Tool, a fifth-wheel pin puller, and encouraging clients to use it. The long metal rod has a handle at one end and a hook on the other, allowing drivers to pull the fifth-wheel pin without getting onto the ground. In addition, an ergonomic survey was conducted and instructional videos were produced from this data.
AIR’s clients get free safety posters, stickers and customized training videos to educate workers about the safest ways to perform their job duties.
“A good safety program is a retention tool for companies,” said Mike Zucco, AIR’s director of business development. “Our risk managers have found that companies that care about their employees and have established this culture of safety don’t have the retention problems that many other companies have.”
Risk managers conduct mock inspections similar to those performed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Crowell said trucking companies that have passed these mock inspections and corrected any deficiencies can feel confident that they’ll withstand scrutiny from government regulators.
Zucco said AIR works hard to provide injured workers with the best medical treatment available to get them back to work and back to living a full, unencumbered life. Adjusters working in the AIR program have limited claims counts so they can better take care of injured workers, communicate with employers and investigate every claim, he said.
Adjusters use field-case-management nurses to attend medical appointments with injured workers, assist in directing medical treatment and explain the process, leading to better treatment and outcomes, Zucco said.
AIR adjusters aggressively use investigative services to ensure that each claim is legitimate and to reduce the cost of fraudulent claims, Zucco said. Adjusters review lost-time claims and pending litigation with clients on a regular basis. All medical bills are reviewed for accuracy and run through a PPO network for cost savings.
Nurses audit large hospital bills to ensure treatment and charges were reasonable and legitimate. Third-party negotiators also engage with hospital administrators to get the lowest possible price for medical treatment. Through these services and more, large hospital bills are significantly reduced, which drives down the cost of workplace injury claims, according to Todd Hager, chief operating officer of AIR.
“That’s direct savings passed on to the trucking companies,” Hager said. “We’re very aggressive in that arena to make sure we’re getting all the discounts that are due to us.”
AIR’s clients receive access to a telemedicine program through MedCall Advisors, giving injured employees immediate attention from physicians who are board-certified in emergency medicine. These doctors can quickly assess injured employees’ symptoms wherever they are to determine whether they need to visit a hospital or urgent-care clinic or can simply address their symptoms through rest or other remedies.
Since AIR operates as a nonprofit, any money left over after the group has paid out claims and provided services to clients is returned to eligible clients through its Retrospective Dividend Credit Program. Since its inception, the ATA Comp Fund and AIR programs have paid out more than $200 million to clients. Dividend credits are applied to the following year’s premium. This year, the programs handed out just shy of $20 million in credits.
“We’re focused on strengthening the industry by enhancing workplace safety and growing
the program for the benefit of the industry,” Coaker said.
Crowell said some insurers may offer trucking companies a discounted introductory rate to gain their business, but after the first year, premiums rise substantially, either because of injury claims at those individual businesses or because the insurer has sustained losses through other clients. Conversely, AIR and its dividend program give trucking companies greater stability in their insurance costs since the profit motive is eliminated, he said.
“Insurance costs can make or break a company,” said Crowell. “This program provides cost savings and cost stability so that companies can do a better job of planning for the future. It really takes one potential headache off the table.
“AIR exists to benefit the trucking industry, so it’s not taking money out of the industry. It’s providing required coverage to clients at the best possible cost, and it’s offering top-flight safety programs to clients for free to improve operations, which also results in lower costs. AIR offers a much greater depth of support than the normal workers’ compensation insurer and brings a much higher level of expertise.”