Our perception from working with many municipal leaders and staff personnel is that they often distinguish the problems with employee injury rates as too complex for them to resolve, or they do not see the significance of the problem because the costs of injuries have been appropriately financed or transferred. There seems to be a level of acceptance that municipal worker injury rates are reflective of the reality of the job.
We came to realize the difficulty of overcoming this status quo thinking when we compared BLS data with data from the California Department of Industrial Relations showing how the incidence rates for the broad spectrum of employers compared to those of California municipalities. The reaction from the audience was alarm when they realized that working for a city is one of America's more hazardous occupations based on incidence rates. Municipalities have unique occupational exposures that are difficult to control, and cities have special social expectations relative to benefits that further complicate the problem, but we found evidence that there are opportunities to reduce the injury experience using traditional, structure based safety management practices focused not on the unique exposures to public safety employees, but on the more mundane exposures these employees face.
We are calling on the safety profession to help address the perception that the current rates of injury are normal. The current (2006) three year average incidence rate of reportable injuries for California self-insured cities is 14.2 injuries per 100 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees, down from 15.2 in 2004.1 This presentation is intended to help safety professionals and municipal audiences see that while the exposures to city employees are significant, the injury rate can be arrested using leadership driven safety management practices.
To help establish credibility for this presentation the assistance of Mark Priven and Jim Mason was solicited to ensure the data was accurate and effectively presented. Mark is a Fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society (FCAS) with Bickmore Risk Services, and Jim is the Safety Manager for the City of Berkeley, California. While there are few cities that can hire an actuary of Mark's stature to complete their loss analysis, or a Ph.D. such as Jim as their safety manager, we can learn from their findings and successes with the City of Berkeley and the data they have to share with us.
The genesis for the presentation title came from a review of the April 2001 City of Austin, Texas, City Counsel minutes. In the city auditor's report on safety, the auditors state the positions dedicated to safety had been eliminated and that the City "has not placed emphasis at the corporate level on employee safety. For example, no citywide safety goals or performance measures have been developed nor have methods of performance accountability been established."2 The city manager took exception to the audit findings and stated, "Safety continues to be a top priority. Our employees are our most valuable resource."3