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Winner's circle: Serious fun

At Cedar Fair, employees are thoroughly indoctrinated in a top-notch workers’ comp program highlighting safety and risk management.

Kathy Hawkinson, Cedar Fair Entertainment Co.'s corporate director of safety.
Kathy Hawkinson, Cedar Fair Entertainment Co.'s corporate director of safety.

Each year millions of people head to Cedar Point, situated on Ohio's beautiful Lake Erie shores, to take in the “Roller Coaster Capital of the World” and experience the park's world-record 72 rides—which also include 17 award-winning roller coasters.

Located on 365 acres in Sandusky, Ohio, Cedar Point is the flagship park in the lineup offered from Cedar Fair Entertainment Co., which owns and operates 11 amusement parks, three outdoor water parks and one indoor water park throughout the U.S. and Canada. Its other parks include Knott's Berry Farm (Buena Park, Calif.) and Canada's Wonderland (Vaughan, Ontario). All told, Cedar Fair's parks serve more than 23 million visitors each year.

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Operating these family-fun parks is quite a task, and the efforts of its risk management department are essential to preventing injuries and claims—especially among employees. “Safety is at the heart of everything we do,” says Kathy Hawkinson, Cedar Fair's corporate director of safety.

Cedar Fair uses the slogan, “We take fun seriously,” and Hawkinson means what she says: Safety, risk management and workers’ compensation are given utmost importance at the amusement park company. Choosing to be self-insured, Cedar Fair works with its third-party administrator, Sedgwick, and its broker, Marsh, and in the past three years implemented a robust return-to-work program for injured employees, closed claims more quickly and reduced average claim costs.

“We are unique because we operate across eight different states and in Canada,” Hawkinson says. That means carefully studying and carrying out OSHA and health department regulations, and working with the state government agencies that oversee the theme parks, “so the challenge is to make every effort to ensure consistency, park to park.”

It's a tall order, especially considering that during its peak season Cedar Fair employs 45,000 associates, of which 200 to 300 per park are year-round, full-time employees. It's imperative to secure buy-in from each of these employees regarding safety measures and risk management.

Upon hire, a new employee's orientation includes extensive instruction on primary safety protocols. Each employee is hired into a certain division of the park, which include merchandise, food, operations, park services, admissions, finance, accommodations, general services and maintenance. New hires receive additional safety training at their division and department levels. For example, within the foods division, a department would be a specific picnic area or a cluster of food locations. In the operations division, departments include ride operations, park-services sweepers, traffic and security.

Maintenance is a unique division, says Hawkinson, because its risk exposure is typically higher than the others: A ride maintenance employee could climb a vertical ladder—while wearing a fall-protection harness—higher than 100 feet to check on gears or other maintenance equipment. These employees, who are responsible for repair and welding, walk the tracks of roller coasters every morning to ensure that they are in top working condition.

Controlling injuries

Hawkinson notes that sprains and strains are the No. 1 injury to the Cedar Fair workforce, where injuries occur to the knees, ankles and backs due to the nature of how thrill rides are built and how they must be serviced.

Cuts and burns—generally sustained in the foods facilities—also are on the list of typical injuries. Personal protective equipment such as thermal gloves are provided in each food shop. Corrective action was built into the safety program—for example, an associate will not empty a fryer until it is less than 105 degrees Fahrenheit. An external thermometer is placed next to the fryer as well as the appropriate fryer dump bucket, Hawkinson says.

“You can't build out for employee error,” she adds. “But we can certainly minimize it.”

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Returning to Work

If a staff member becomes sick or hurt on the job, Cedar Fair employees are required to immediately visit the first aid division, where emergency medical technicians, firefighters or registered nurses evaluate the injury and recommend whether an employee should seek further medical treatment. If so, employees receive an evaluation and treatment from the company's established medical provider network.

One of Cedar Fair's most important goals for an injured employee is to return that staff member to the workforce as soon as possible. If the physician gives the employee the green light to return to work with restrictions, each park's safety management team finds a job that is suitable—for both full- and part-time employees. “We have taken a maintenance associate with a leg injury and placed him at the main gate, with a stool, so he could greet guests and take tickets,” Hawkinson recalls, “and he enjoyed the heck out of it. And it was fun because the maintenance staff typically don't get to interact with our guests.”

Working with its TPA and broker, Cedar Fair conducts quarterly claims reviews for all park locations to develop return-to-work strategies and closures. Over the past three years, the company reduced average claim costs from $3,258 to $2,653, although frequency remained flat. In addition, the average number of days that a claim remains open dropped from 192 to 163.

“Being that we are in such a diverse business, there is a lot of uniqueness to our claims—and an opportunity to learn from each one,” Hawkinson adds.

Related: Best of the best: The winners of NU's Excellence in Workers’ Comp Risk Management Award

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