Jun 04

Work-Zone Safety, Workers’ Comp Programs Help Governments Stay Within Budget

The City of Columbia, Mo.’s money-saving efforts include increasingly concentrated attempts to keep Workers’ Compensation costs down, says Sarah Perry, the city’s risk manager for more than 15 years and a member of NU’s Risk Managers Advisory Board.

Measures undertaken to that end include increased focus on work-zone safety measures for any public employee working on a roadway: police, firefighters, road crews, mowing crews from the parks and recreation department, and utilities workers. “Work-zone safety is [getting] a big push right now,” Perry says.

Columbia also is putting more emphasis on driver-safety measures among its public employees in order to prevent employee injuries and save lost work hours.

Perry also notes an increase in law-enforcement liability suits. It’s a trend she has come to recognize by the sheer number of claims that come across her desk and “how much time I have to spend with attorneys.”

Perry attributes the increase to both the slow economy—“people are looking for money from somewhere”—and changing public attitudes about law enforcement.

“There’s not that automatic level of respect anymore,” she says, “and because of that, we are seeing a lot more police cases filed.”

WC & THE ECONOMY

The economy has affected Workers’ Comp in two ways, according to Cindy Mallett, human-resources and risk manager for the city of Gainesville, Ga., who also currently serves as president of the Public Risk Management Association.

First, higher health-insurance premiums, deductibles and co-pays may encourage some employees who are “financially strapped and negatively motivated” to resort to filing frivolous claims, Mallet says.

And second, some city employees don’t want to draw attention or take sick leave for fear of jeopardizing their jobs, so they’re not reporting justifiable claims. “They’re fearful,” she notes. “Some of that might be easing a little bit, but it’s been a tough few years.”

On the pricing front in Workers’ Comp, Mallett says: “The market is starting to harden back up just a little bit. Pricing seems to be increasing, though I haven’t seen it in large percentages.”

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