Proactive business cuts workers comp costs
BY RANDY KREHBIEL World Staff Writer
Monday, January 14, 2013
1/14/13 at 7:29 AM
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Tulsa businessman Larry Mocha is all for workers compensation reform. He's served on several committees and task forces concerned with the evergreen issue and is on the board of directors of CompSource, the state-owned "insurer of last resort" for Oklahoma employers.
But Mocha also thinks businesses like his can lower their workers comp rates without waiting for the Legislature or the courts to act.
"I don't understand why business owners aren't more proactive," said Mocha, president and CEO of APSCO Inc., a manufacturer of pneumatic cylinders, controls and valves. "I happen to like my employees, but even if you have the meanest boss imaginable, the impact on the bottom line is tremendous."
Mocha's company currently employs 58 people, most of them engaged in fabricating and assembly. Although the components and finished products are relatively small, the work involves performing multiple tasks on multiple machines, including power lathes, mills and saws.
Nevertheless, by emphasizing safety, APSCO has been able to lower its workers compensation costs, Mocha said.
The biggest step, he said, was learning to trust and even embrace the small businessman's natural enemy - government bureaucracy.
It began, Mocha said, with then-Labor Commissioner Brenda Reneau.
"She said business and government ought to work together," he recalled. "I thought, 'Yeah, sure.' "
Mocha was skeptical and invited Reneau to his shop, not expecting her to accept. But she did.
"That began a relationship with the labor commissioner that's continued to this day," Mocha said.
In fact, it's continued through three labor commissioners - Reneau, Lloyd Fields and now Mark Costello. Perhaps more importantly for APSCO, it maintained a relationship with the state Labor Department's safety and workers compensation reduction programs.
"The biggest thing for me was when I quit fearing government and decided to work with it."
Mocha said he has also utilized the safety officer of his private insurer for training and consultations.
"When they find safety hazards - and they always do - we fix them," Mocha said.
It's not just a matter of protective eyewear and properly installed safety shields. APSCO's shops are clean, climate-controlled and well-lighted, all of which contributes to fewer injuries and illnesses.
That helps lower APSCO's workers compensation costs. It has also made APSCO a three-time winner of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Achievement - known as SHARP - award.
Ken Thompson, APSCO's vice president for manufacturing, said working with state and federal safety inspectors pays off in more ways than one.
"Once you've proven you're meeting those standards, OSHA would rather go see a company that's not," he said.
Personnel manager Susanne Braddy said Mocha "called OSHA out regularly" to inspect the shop, even before APSCO began winning SHARP awards.
As a business owner and CompSource director, Mocha said he has seen plenty of workers compensation fraud and court decisions that he thought were unfair to employers.
But he said he also has seen more than a few employers who were not doing as much as they should to keep their workers safe.
"We as business owners have a responsibility to provide a safe shop," Mocha said.
"It's hard for me, when I see what we've done, to sit quietly and say nothing. The biggest thing for me was when I quit fearing government and decided to work with it."
Workers Compensation Premium Reduction Program
For information or to enroll in the Oklahoma Department of Labor's Workers Compensation Premium Reduction program, call 888-269-5353 or go to tulsaworld.com/wcprprogram
Randy Krehbiel 918-581-8365
APSCO employees Stephen Williams and Johnny Drum assemble then test lever assemblies at the manufacturing plant in Tulsa. The company embraces a culture of workplace safety and works with government agencies to expand and facilitate safety practices in an effort to combat rising workers compensation costs. MICHAEL WYKE / Tulsa World
APSCO employee Brent Todd measures steel bar stock on a caliper under safety signs at the manufacturing plant in Tulsa. MICHAEL WYKE / Tulsa World