Tulsa mayor says costs of safety problems go beyond dollars
BY RANDY KREHBIEL World Staff Writer
Monday, July 30, 2012
12/10/12 at 11:25 AM
Related Story: City of Tulsa's 'weak safety culture' costs millions in employee injuries, claims
The red flag was a dollar sign with a lot of zeros behind it.
That's what got the attention of Mayor Dewey Bartlett and former Chief of Staff Terry Simonson. The city was spending millions of dollars a year on workers compensation, and the total seemed to be going up every year, surpassing $10 million in the 2011 budget year.
By most measures, the city's injury rates and workers compensation costs far exceeded most other municipalities.
But Bartlett and other city officials say that as they delved into the problem, the money became secondary.
"The money saved is really secondary," Bartlett said. "If we have an unsafe situation ... it causes a lot of problems for that individual, but also causes some very serious problems for his or her family's future. Those, to me, are the paramount reasons we need to grab hold and have some drastic improvement in our workers' comp problem."
Earlier this year, the city hired DuPont Sustainable Solutions - a division of the international chemical company - at a cost of $71,000 to perform a safety assessment.
"When we started the project, it really was about cost," said Vickie Beyer, director of the management review office. "But as we got further into the project, we realized what those numbers really meant is that we have not paid attention to the safety aspects and taking care of our employees the way we need to."
The assessment addresses problems it found with the city's "safety culture," but not what some people believe is another problem - abuse of the workers' compensation system.
"I don't think we've gone down that path," Beyer said. "We've just been trying to understand what the numbers are what they mean.
"I don't think it's necessarily about fraud," Beyer said. "I think it's about what are we doing differently than other cities."
Bartlett disagreed with the notion that the greater emphasis on safety might deter questionable workers' compensation claims because it suggests greater attention to injuries.
"That really isn't part of the focus," Bartlett said. "It really is safety of the individual. The way we have to measure that is the cost involved.
"The conjecture that people are taking advantage of it ... everybody always hears that - that's not the focus. It cannot be because that would take a huge amount of time, and I really don't think it would accomplish anything. At the end of the day, we simply have a problem of our employees not having the right attitude ... that focuses on safety.
"If we can make that change ... well, then, that question of people taking advantage, that can be evaluated at that time. But to me that's much, much less of a priority."
Original Print Headline: Bartlett: Safety costs go beyond dollars
Randy Krehbiel 918-581-8365