Williamsburg safety committee going strong after five years

For four years the City of Williamsburg Safety Committee has been providing an annual report to the city manager.

The report lists the number of meetings the committee held, as well as highlights and major achievements. For Fiscal Year 2012, the report highlighted 11 major accomplishments.

“When we put together the safety manual in 2008 one of the requirements we made was to send the city manager’s office a report each year,” said Lori Rierson, safety committee chair and director of parks and recreation for the city. “It helps us stay accountable and on track, and shows the value of what the committee has done each year.”

The annual report shows that in fiscal year 2012 the committee:

  • Reviewed 52 incident reports;
  • Added an office self-inspection policy to the safety manual;
  • Recommended the posting of fire escape plans in the city’s municipal building;
  • Added a safety committee tab to the city’s intranet;
  • Sponsored training by Dominion Power on overhead and underground wiring safety;
  • Received $4,000 from the VML Insurance Programs (VMLIP) Risk Management Grant for safety purchases;
  • Updated the procedure for monthly departmental auto inspections;
  • Began participating in VMLIP’s Where the Rubber Meets the Road campaign;
  • Recommended a revision to the “House Check” form used by the police department;
  • Began reviewing VMLIP’s Risk Management Guidelines (RMG) assessment; and
  • Began developing a cell phone use policy for city drivers.

The city’s safety committee has been highly effective in implementing a safer workplace for city employees since it was established. Since the city’s safety committeee was initiated, the city’s workers’ compensation loss ratio has come down 76 percent.

(LtoR): Lori Rierson, director of parks and recreation; Jackie Herrmann, HR specialist, and Julie Phares, purchasing agent
(LtoR): Lori Rierson, director of parks and recreation; Jackie Herrmann, HR specialist, and Julie Phares, purchasing agent/risk manager

The committee meets monthly to review incidents and identify safety initiatives that they can work to implement. Representatives from each city department, who serve two-year terms, staff the committee. At each meeting, minutes are taken and those minutes are shared with department heads.

Rierson says meeting regularly, developing an agenda for each meeting, and following up have been the keys toward maintaining a functioning safety committee.

“Each month we look at the incident reports – regardless of if it is a workers’ compensation incident or property damage – we look at why did this happen and what can we do to prevent it from happening in the future,” said Rierson.

They are also guided by VMLIP’s RMG assessment. The committee took a year to review each element listed on the RMG and to verify that procedures were in place to support the requirements.  The committee then structured its goals to ensure the city continued to meet the RMG requirements.

“Every month we are pushing forward and identifying something we want to tackle,” said Julie Phares, purchasing agent and risk manager with the city. “And as a result, each year we tackle quite a few things.”

VMLIP Senior Safety Consultant Fonda Craig notes that one of the keys to Williamsburg’s success is that the committee took time to define their goals and responsibilities

“Sometimes safety committees fail because they don’t take the time to define their responsibilities,” said Craig. “They get off track and get frustrated, then they stop meeting.”

Fonda stresses that establishing the safety committee’s role in writing, setting a monthly agenda, and identifying the goals the group wants to accomplish are important steps toward keeping up momentum.

“One of our goals that we put into the city’s strategic plan was that we were going to reduce the number of automobile and property losses,” said Phares. To accomplish those goals the city began participating in VMLIP’s Where the Rubber Meets the Road (WTRMTR) campaign in October, 2011. Through WTRMTR the city has now provided defensive driving training to 90 percent of city drivers – and it shows. Their automobile loss ratios are beginning to come down.

Another accomplishment of the safety committee was the purchase of back-up sensors for city vehicles.

“We were having a consistent issue with damages from backing incidents,” said Phares. “We discovered through reviewing the incident reports and talking in the committee that it was a visual issue with some of the vehicles.”

The city applied for VMLIP grant funding and purchased back-up sensors for city vehicles.

Sometimes accidents can be prevented through simple solutions.

The committee noticed that many workers’ compensation claims were being reported by police officers after completing a house check for residents who were out of town. After reviewing incident reports in committee they recommended adding a field to the house check form for residents to list potential hazards.

“Now when a citizen requests a house check, they can tell us – well the porch gets slick when it rains or we have a loose board here,” said Phares. “It’s simple communication that we have at committee meetings to discover these issues that makes us [the committee] a success.”

Rierson noted that having a representative from each department is also important when reviewing incident reports.

“Sometimes someone from another department will be able to bring things to light that we didn’t catch – it helps change the way you view things, and you can learn a lot about processes that helps you make them safer,” says Rierson.

Both Rierson and Phares stress that not everything has been so easy.

“Some processes require baby steps,” said Rierson. “You aren’t going to get to your goal just like that, you have to work toward it.”

Having top management involved is crucial. Many times letting management know that implementing a policy that is in line with the RMG will earn the member a premium credit for VMLIP makes all the difference.

“Follow-up is also crucial,” says Rierson. “ One of our agenda items each month is follow-up; we go over each item and get an update on what is happening with it.”

They also rely on guidance from the safety staff at VMLIP.

“Every time we’ve ever called to ask a question, we are given an answer,” says Phares. “That’s huge. For us to do what we do, we need the support and guidance we receive from VML Insurance Programs.”

For more information on how to begin a safety committee in your entity, contact your VMLIP safety consultant at (800) 963-6800.