A focus on safety and risk management is saving Aiken taxpayers real dollars, according to a recent presentation to City department heads.
According to presentation figures, the City’s general liability costs averaged more than $194,000 between 2011-15, compared to costs of just $16,165 in 2016.
“This is a huge improvement, and our Engineering and Utilities division of the Public Works department deserves the majority of the credit,” said City of Aiken Risk Manager Lex Kirkland.
Also, the City lowered its workers’ comp claims by more than 50 percent in 2016 due to an increased awareness of proper safety techniques and employee awareness, the presentation said.
When Kirkland came back to the City of Aiken in 2015 to spearhead its risk management program, City insurance premiums were rising when they should have been falling.
Kirkland’s first order of business was to get to work on changing the City’s mindset on safety.
“One person cannot make a risk management program work,” he said. “It takes everybody – management, staff, and employees – to make a program work. It’s not something one person can do alone.”
According to Kirkland, auto liability was trending the wrong way and costing Aiken significantly. In 2016, the City incurred $114,060 in auto claims, down more than 50 percent from the more than $246,000 total claims average between 2011-15.
City staff discovered what amazing things teamwork can accomplish during presentation by the Municipal Association of South Carolina regarding Aiken’s insurance premiums, and the City’s collective effort to focus on making Aiken a safer place to work.
“Improving the way we conduct our business is a total team effort with everyone buying into what we were trying to do,” Kirkland said. “It involves everyone being aware of practicing sound safety standards… from the managers implementing and monitoring the new policies and procedures to the staff and employees carrying them out during their daily work.”
Kirkland added, the process is ongoing and staff is dedicated to continuous improvement. Improving the City’s focus on safety is a total team effort.
“The attitude and mindset are more important than the policies and procedures, he said. “We made some policy and procedure improvements, and there are more to come, but heightened awareness, accountability, and mindfulness have been more instrumental in our improvements than policy changes.”
The results are easy to see, with filed workers’ comp claims dropping by nearly 50 percent in 2016 over the previous four year. A total of 20 claims were filed in 2016 against 39 claims each in 2015 and 2014, and down 33 percent over the average of workers’ comp claims since 2011.
“Just being aware of being safe sometimes is all it takes,” Kirkland said. “Thinking about what you’re doing and being aware of your surroundings goes a long way in practicing good safety standards. A little bit makes a big difference.”
Where the City sees the benefit is in less down time due to injury with its workers and a significant drop in premium rates charged.
“Safety and practicing sound safety results in fewer incidents, which result in fewer claims, which ultimately result in fewer premiums we have to pay,” Kirkland said. “It’s not something we can accomplish overnight. Retaining our employees impacts our safety practices because of the experience factor.”
Where the City has experienced significant success is behind the wheel.
“Policies and programs are important, but it always comes down to supervisors and employees,” Kirkland said. “Ultimately, they determine our success. They’re making safety a priority and deserve the credit for our improvements.”
Kirkland said his role is to provide city employees with the tools to be successful and to help them keep on track.
“When we all recognize our role in risk management we’ll continue to have results we can be proud of.”