Successful companies are those that embrace innovation and are willing to take risks. In today's tough economic times, most businesses are taking a hard look at streamlining their processes and improving their daily operations. It is only fitting that the Industrial Commission of Ohio (IC), the agency which handles the decision making in the Ohio workers' compensation system, should follow suit. Though not completely overhauled, the IC has taken significant strides in the last year or so to keep pace with the industries that it serves, aiming primarily to cut costs and to integrate technology into its daily operations in hopes of becoming more efficient.

It all began in late 2009 with a public forum on the deficiencies of the hearing process--specifically, continuance policies and the docketing system. At this forum, the IC gathered information to utilize a Kaizen--which is Japanese for "to break for the better"--process to solicit input from customers on how the IC’s docketing process could be improved to increase efficiency. With that information in hand, the IC made changes and implemented a new docketing policy, which was the result of the suggestions received from that Kaizen group.

The IC did not stop with procedural changes, though. With the closing and consolidation of some IC offices and the implementation of computer automation, IC officials report no reduction in service despite the reduction in IC employment levels. Per published reports, the IC dropped from 489 employees in July 2008 to 439 by the end of February 2011, resulting in a yearly payroll savings of $3.2 million.

As part of the plan to save money, the IC implemented telephone interpreting services in July 2010. The IC has contracted with a California-based company called Language Line to provide real time interpreting services over the phone. While this seems to have been favorably received by injured workers, employers and their representatives, the opposite seems to have occurred with the IC's ill-fated video hearing program. Video hearings were originally instituted so that hearing officers could avoid traveling to remote hearing offices in Ohio. However, due to public outcry over video hearings being impersonal, the IC discontinued the general use of video equipment for hearings and limited it to special circumstances (i.e., inclement weather, hearing officer illness, etc.). Even under these limited circumstances, however, the IC has stated that any party can opt not to proceed with a video hearing, and the matter will be continued and reset.

More recently, security and privacy issues have also driven changes at hearing offices. The IC launched an electronic sign-in system for all visitors. Regular visitors to the IC can choose to have security badges issued to them for expedited electronic check-in. Additionally, earlier this year, the IC began installing new security cameras in IC offices throughout the state.

From a workers’ compensation practitioner's perspective, the most significant change was the IC's launching of a new application that publishes IC Commissioners' orders on its website. This application enables individuals to quickly search for and view IC Commission member rulings online. It also allows users to search by hearing date, injured worker name, claim number, or by a word or phrase in the order. All IC member orders from hearings held since July 2009 are available for viewing. Before orders are published, the IC’s legal department reviews and redacts them of the following confidential information: injured worker or employer addresses; employer risk numbers; names and addresses of the parties that receive the information; and dates of birth and the names of minors in workplace death claims.