Workplace safety takes employee buy-in and constant vigilance. Here’s how the Public Services Department does it.
In Fiscal Year 2014-15, workplace injuries and accidents in Salt Lake City’s Public Services Department cost the city $334,000.
In FY 2015-16, those costs were cut to $74,000. Workplace accidents and injuries among Public Services employees were reduced by 25 percent, according to figures provided by the city’s Risk Management Division.
This dramatic 75 percent savings was a key element in the Utah Safety Council’s decision to honor Salt Lake City on August 19th with its annual “Achievement in Safety by and Organization” award. In addition, the Department of Airports and the divisions of Streets, Parks, and Sanitation each received the “Occupational Seat Belt Award” for reaching 100 percent compliance with seat belt usage in the workplace.
With nearly 900 Utah organizations under consideration for Safety Council awards each year, the city’s showing was substantial.
“Salt Lake City is a fantastic example of how an organization can incorporate the message of safety into daily activities,” said Council President Rod Hamson.
Workplace safety is a citywide priority for Mayor Biskupski. And Lowell Finney, Safety Program Manager for the Departments of Public Services and Sustainability, takes that message to heart. Successful injury prevention programs require constant attention to detail, a focus on both the present and future, and creating buy-in among employees.
“I protect people. This is my passion. I want to be a teacher, a mentor, and a coach, promoting safety every day,” said Lowell, shortly after wrapping up his monthly executive safety committee meeting with 12 Public Services and Sustainability employees who represent each division within the department.
Committee members are trained in federal, state, and city safety requirements and regularly monitor their work sites for compliance. They report positive and negative outcomes at the monthly meetings.
Lowell is a walking encyclopedia of statistics that support his energetic commitment to safety. He peppers his conversation with them:
“Every year 45,000 people die in a car crash. More than half weren’t wearing a seat belt.”
“Did you know that 70 percent of eye injuries could have been prevented by wearing safety glasses?”
“Most car accidents occur at low speeds, in 25 to 40 mile per hour zones.”
Lowell joined the city two years ago as Public Services Safety Manager after a long career in industrial engineering and work for the Army Corps of Engineers. His career had taken him all over the country for decades – far from his Utah roots and his family history in the coal mines of Carbon County.
Lowell’s maternal grandfather died in a mining accident in 1945, leaving a widow and a young family behind (including his then-12-year-old mother) a tragedy he grew up hearing about, and which still stirs his emotions.
“Did you know in the history of coal mining in this country that miners’ lives were simply figured into the cost of doing business? The owners calculated the cost of a human life per 100 feet,” he said, tapping his fingers on a table and his voice rising. “They paid the widow a flat $15,000 survivor’s benefit and sent her on her way.”
His family’s experience set him on a path to learn all he could about workplace injuries, and how to prevent them.
In Salt Lake City, more than 900 Public Services and Sustainability employees drive cars and trucks, operate heavy machinery, deal with hazardous chemicals, routinely lift heavy weight, and more.
From seat belt usage (the city requires all employees to wear seat belts when conducting official business), to disaster training, to forklift operation safety, to defensive driving courses, employee commitment is the key to successful compliance, Lowell said.
“I can’t just stand up and tell them what to do. Employees have to feel ownership, they have to buy in to these programs. And they do.”
Drawing on National and Utah Safety Council training materials, promoting healthy competition among divisions for safety improvements, and by “teaching, constantly teaching,” Lowell works to bring everyone the message.
Executive safety committee members conduct monthly site audits for job site hazards. Lowell audits each division quarterly.
The regular safety audits keep everyone on their toes, said Lisa Shaffer, Director of Public Services.
“Our department’s most valuable asset is our employees. It’s why we are committed to creating and maintaining the highest standards for workplace safety,” Lisa said.
“Everyone knows if you aren’t following safety protocols, Lowell is the last person you want to see. He will call you out, even embarrass you, if he sees you doing something unsafe. But he does this because he really cares. He wants every employee to go home safe and sound every night.”
Here are other Public Services accomplishments the Utah Safety Council honored:
- The addition of three new instructors increased the numbers of employees certified in forklift certification. All forklift operators attend yearly training.
- A four-hour defensive driving course became mandatory for all Public Services employees. The course is required every three years. Immediate retraining is required for employees who cause a motor vehicle accident on the job.
- More than 60 employees have been trained in first aid and CPR with the addition of two new instructors. More than 90 employees are registered for the training this fiscal year.
- The city secured a $9,000 grant from the Utah Industrial Commission to convert safety training orientations into Spanish for Latino workers.