City launching safety effort
BY RANDY KREHBIEL World Staff Writer
Thursday, October 25, 2012
12/10/12 at 11:23 AM
A comprehensive safety program prompted by unusually high workers compensation costs will be launched Thursday by the city of Tulsa.
"We want to save some money," said Mayor Dewey Bartlett, "but we also want to be able to assure the family of every city employee (that the employee) comes home at the end of the day in the same shape they were in when they left."
The initiative includes several parts, including an increased emphasis on safety, data-gathering and accountability for workplace safety and injury costs.
Bartlett said the city decided to implement the program itself rather than spend more than $1 million on a consultant. The city is receiving assistance from Covanta, which operates what is commonly called Tulsa's trash-to-energy plant and also has been a safety "mentor" to other corporations.
Two Covanta executives, Vice President for Safety and Health Beth Hurley and Director of Business Management Matt Newman, will address department directors Thursday morning.
"The city raised a series of questions it wanted us to address," Hurley said. "What we will do is show some approaches and techniques that have worked for us."
Bartlett and state Labor Commissioner Mark Costello also will address the department directors.
Costello said one of the things he will talk about is the importance of gathering accurate data on worker injuries and compensation costs.
"The public sector is learning that statistics can help drive safety, and safety can help drive down costs," he said.
High workers compensation costs have "obviously been a problem" for the city of Tulsa, "and it's a problem when someone has to pay for it," Costello said.
But it isn't all about money.
"At the end of the day, we want workers to get home safely," he said.
The safety initiative grew out of concerns about annual city of Tulsa workers compensation costs that hovered around $10 million in recent years. A study by a division of DuPont last spring pointed to a lack of attention to workplace safety.
Bartlett said he has made it clear to department heads that safety is a high priority to him and that he is implementing changes to make sure they care, too.
Going forward, safety records will be part of annual job evaluations, and each department will be responsible for its own workers compensation costs beginning with the next budget year.
Kelly Brader of the city's Management Review Office said: "We've looked at the last three years of workers compensation costs, and each department will be charged for its actual work comp costs. We've got to make it so that we have greater accountability."
At present, workers compensation costs are averaged out over all departments.
The most difficult part of the initiative, city officials said, will be instilling a culture that places a high value on safety.
"The most important thing is the training we're going to have to provide to make safety a part of everyday life," Brader said.
Hurley and Newman said a comprehensive safety program can result in more than monetary savings and greater productivity.
Because of the communication required to develop the programs, they also tend to improve worker morale and cohesiveness.
"Some of our companies say safety has an unlimited contagiousness," Hurley said.
Randy Krehbiel 918-581-8365
Mayor Dewey Bartlett: He wants every city employee to go home "at the end of the day in the same shape they were in when they left."
State Labor Commissioner Mark Costello: "Safety can help drive down costs."