Price proves safety pays - big time
Premiums plunge as 'change in workplace culture' takes city to highest safety ranking
In 2004 Price City stood at the edge of a precipice - a cost precipice. While average cities with similar sized employee bases were paying about $100,000 per year for their yearly premiums, the Carbon county seat was paying almost $147,000.
The difference was that a regular safety program was almost non-existent, which not only allowed things to go very wrong at times with employee safety, but also the lack of which also added a higher premium.
Today, Price City is happy to say that, in terms of safety, they have one of the best municipal employee safety programs in the state. In 2011 the city only paid a premium of $25,633.31.
Best of all, the safety program the city has constantly improved in the last six years is not the draconian "you wear those safety goggles or else" program, but one the employees have bought into and have pride in.
"In 2004 you almost couldn't find a hard hat around the city shops," said human resources director John Daniels in an interview last Thursday. "Now all the PPE (personal protective equipment) is in place and people use it."
The change has come as a result of support from the city administration for a good program and the fact that employees have seen the purpose in it. Experts say that safety in any organization is really up to the individual employees, who must make decisions to stay safe a number of times a day.
Any program must have buy in by those affected by it or it will not work.
A few years ago, word was going around that Price had the worst safety record of any municipality in the state.
"Well that isn't exactly true," said Daniels. "But it is mostly true."
He says there is nothing to prove the first contention because it is hard to judge one city against another, or one organization compared to another. But the record shows that the injury experience data insurance companies use to evaluate the city was pretty bad. Monetarily that is important because insurance companies don't only give a discount for good experiential records, they also give money off premiums for having a viable safety program.
So the city had incentive to both get a real safety program going and to also have one that works. The five year aggregated premium the city paid for workers compensation insurance from 2000-2005 was $484,800. For the last five years the cost has been $236,100. It is important to remember that premiums are also tied to payroll and as payroll goes up it means that costs will increase.
"In our case we have been able to do just the opposite in the last five years," stated Daniels. "Our premiums have gone down while our payroll increased."
In fact it has gone so well that in 2009, Price City got the Utah's Safest Companies award from the Workers Compensation Fund for being one of the safest organizations in Utah. The award pointed out that the city uses practices that were established by using work groups that are based on team and individual safety risks. In fact, the safety program now begins even before someone is hired.
"When the interview committees from the departments talk with potential employees they ask questions about safety to see what the persons attitude toward safety is and whether it is important to them or not," said Daniels. "It's interesting that the increase in safety has also led to better a better wellness program as well. They actually go hand in hand."
Once an employee is hired safety is emphasized in orientation sessions and then the attitude is strengthened through newsletters, recognition programs and through the safety committees. Reports are made of all accidents, no matter how small. The employees are trained to look for near misses too. Sometimes committees will do reenactments of accidents or near misses just to see what could have been done to prevent them.
Records set daily
Safety records in many city departments are now being set every day. Sam White, the supervisor of the sewer and water department at the city told the Price City Council on Dec. 14 that his department had just passed the 1,000 day mark for no injuries on the job. The Price Fire Department has not had an injury in five years. And the parks and cemetery department is nearing the 600 day mark.
The city has added small incentives for people to be safe at work by putting in department competitions with rewards for having the best safety records and individual incentive programs with small monetary rewards. Each department has safety meetings and there is also a city wide safety committee. Daniels said that it has been amazing to watch what has happened. Employees have actually been taking safety so seriously that when they see private citizens or businesses doing things unsafely or they see a safety problem outside their duties they get involved.
"We had a call for a citizens who said they saw some lumber fall off a truck into the road and that one of the city's employees saw it and picked it up so no one would hit it," said Daniels. "In another instance, two city employees were driving by a business that was using two ladders strapped together to work on something on their building. They stopped and talked with the business about the safety problem that poses."
Rules apply to contractors, as well
Any contractors who get bids to do city work must comply with certain safety procedures too. They are watched by employees and are asked to change work practices if something is not in line with what the city wants.
Safety in any organization begins with a realization that there is a problem, with training and with practices that prevent injuries. Price City has been able to institute a successful program because of all of these things. In the beginning, employees realized there was a problem and the city provided training (and continued training). Then best practices were instituted, with a lot of preventative measures taken.
"We now have two departments that do stretching and exercises in the morning just before they set out to do work," said Daniels. "These people work hard physically. This practice has prevented a lot of muscle strain problems. When people ask me about its worth, I just remind them that we wouldn't expect athletes to start playing a game without doing some kind of warmups to prevent injuries. Why shouldn't we want workers who will be out there doing physical labor to get prepared as well?"
Safety at the city is a top-down priority. Mayor Joe Piccolo has played an active role in meetings and Councilman Rick Davis has been a key leading the safety program and working with employees on improving it.
"This program has just benefited everyone," stated Daniels.
The program will continue with the goal being absolutely no injuries to employees at any time. A lofty goal, but six years ago what is going to today would have seemed impossible too.