I am headed to Washington State today to speak at the annual conference of the Washington Self-Insurers Association. The theme for this years event is “WSIA’s Wild World of Workers’ Compensation”, and the fittingly named session I am presenting is “The Wild and Wacky World of Workers’ Compensation”. I enjoy giving this particular presentation, as it gives us a candid opportunity to openly discuss the quirky confusion that seems to continually reign supreme in our industry. Plus, we get to hurl t-shirts at the audience at high rates of speed.

Ok, we’ve changed our method of delivery after we clocked a New Mexico woman in the face with a t-shirt traveling at about 90 mph, but the thought is still there.

When you think about the nature and mission of the industry, it really is unique, and is in fact “wild & wacky”. No one needs us until someone is hurt. No one is ever happy (for obvious reasons) when we are called into action. No one outside our industry has a clue of who we are, what we do or how we operate. Yet thousands of times a day we are called into action, and with some very notable Propublica worthy exceptions, we do our job.

Last year I was out with friends at a conference, and we struck up a conversation with a person standing by us. He asked what we did and what type of conference we were attending, and when we told him “workers’ comp” (closing our eyes and clenching our teeth for the inevitable) he completely surprised us by saying, “Wow, you guys are heroes”. He went on to tell us how he had been injured several years before, and how appreciative he was that the system was there to assist him and provide medical care. It was a positive story about a proper outcome – and it happens thousands of times a day.

But Propublica, NPR and other media outlets will never report on that. No one wants to read a story without a dramatic and compelling plot. With workers’ comp the old press adage also holds true, “If it bleeds, it leads”.

Yesterday, in the industry’s second “Twitterchat”, this topic was brought up. We all generally agreed that those of us now considered “media” need to help lead with positive news about what our industry does right. I am trying to do that with my “Walking the Walk” series, and Mark Walls and Kimberly George are doing something similar with their “Out Front” program. Still, the challenge to overcome the power of negative news remains. And of course, we cannot overlook the fact that highlighting the negative within our ranks should also be viewed as a positive attempt to fix it.

And so it continues in our wild and wacky universe of comp. No news is good news, and bad news travels fast. We should strive to emphasize the positive and eliminate the negative. After all, if we can’t get people to say good things about us, we should do everything possible to make sure they have nothing bad to say, either.

It is a challenging call to action, because as I mentioned, they won’t be in a happy state the first time we pick up the phone. That is our wild and wacky world.

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