BMA pushes for better safety culture among city employees

Matthew Lane • Apr 21, 2013 at 11:24 AM

KINGSPORT — The Board of Mayor and Aldermen wants to see more accountability for employees who fail to follow property safety procedures -or common sense for that matter — when it comes to performing certain tasks while on the job.

In other words, don’t be standing on desks and pay attention when walking through recently mopped areas.

The issue of safety on the job has been on the radar screen for a couple of members of the BMA in recent months, particularly when the BMA was briefed on the matter earlier this year and was told the city had nearly $1.2 million in worker’s compensation claims in 2012.

As a result, the BMA now receives monthly reports on the number of worker’s compensation claims filed each month, which department the employee works in and a brief description of the claim.

Kingsport has a self-funded worker’s compensation program that covers the approximately 1,640 full-time and 450 part-time employees of the city, including the school system.

City officials blame many of the injuries on employees hurrying to accomplish a task or not paying enough attention and during a January meeting City Manager John Campbell and Risk Manager Terri Evans said the city is putting a greater emphasis on safety, through audits and inspections of facilities, mandatory safety training and claim investigations.

However, some BMA members believe school system employees need to be better educated on work place safety and be reminded to keep safety in the forefront of their minds while on the job. BMA members have noted the culture of safety is more prevalent in the police, fire and public safety departments.

Kingsport City Schools had the most worker’s compensation expenditures in 2012 with 41 percent of the claims classified as slips, trips and falls.

Minor accidents reported over the past four months include a number of slips and falls, injured shoulders, a possible hernia, a couple of popped knees and a severe reaction to poison ivy. One employee walked through a signed recently mopped area, slipped and fell and fractured an ankle.

No claims were reported in February and less than half of the claims filed in the last four months have resulted in restricted duty or lost time. But what drew the attention of the BMA last week was the March report which showed four injuries in the school system — two involved employees standing on desks and hitting their head while another while another suffered a torn tendon in their shoulder after breaking up a fight between two girls.

“Three or four (of these claims) should never have happened,” said Alderman Mike McIntire. “We’re spending $1.25 million a year on worker’s comp claims and it’s just a matter of people having the right mind-set. You’ve got to work at it.”

Campbell said the recently injured employees have been counseled on their actions.

Alderman Tom Segelhorst, the human resources director at Domtar, said there needs to be some accountability in these instances.

Mayor Dennis Phillips suggested there should be a penalty for those employees who don’t follow proper safety protocols, maybe a two- or three-day suspension. A short time later, however, he said a penalty probably should not be incurred the first time an accident happens.

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