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Let's Talk: Safety First—Review Helps City Reduce Risk

A discussion with Adam Nafstad, city administrator, public works director, and city engineer with Albertville

Learn more, public works safety, LCW 2014 The League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT) offers a free public works ergonomics survey and equipment inventory for its members. The city’s LMCIT loss control field consultant can complete the review in about an hour during a city visit, and then provides recommendations for improving safety. The City of Albertville (population 7,100) went through this process in 2012, and Minnesota Cities talked with City Administrator Adam Nafstad about the experience and results.

Minnesota Cities: Can you describe the kinds of tasks your Public Works Department performs?
Adam Nafstad of AlbertvilleAdam Nafstad: Albertville’s Public Works Department is responsible for the maintenance of the city’s streets, trails, storm sewers, water, and sanitary sewer systems. The department also maintains the city’s open spaces, buildings, parks, ice arena, vehicles, and equipment.

MC: What are the biggest ergonomic hazards your public works employees face?
AN: The most apparent ergonomic hazards our crews face are the more labor-intensive tasks, especially those tasks that involve heavy lifting. Working above the head, or from an awkward position, can also create a hazard for our crews. Examples of such tasks include manual handling of truck tires, working on equipment from a crouched position, and manually loading and unloading trucks and trailers. A lengthy period of time in equipment is also hard on the body.

MC: How did you hear about LMCIT’s public works ergonomics survey and equipment inventory, and when did you go through it?
AN: We learned of the ergonomics survey and equipment inventory from our LMCIT loss control consultant, and completed the review in 2012.

MC: What recommendations did you receive from the loss control consultant regarding ergonomics?
AN: The ergonomics survey and equipment review ledAlbertville hoist to several valuable recommendations from our loss control consultant. For the most part, the ergonomic improvement recommendations we received were not intended to change the way we are doing things, but rather to suggest tools or equipment to assist us in doing our jobs.

Suggested equipment included a new vehicle lift, also capable of lifting mowers and smaller utility vehicles. The loss control consultant also recommended a number of smaller items to reduce strain-related injuries. These items included a wheel mounting/lift dolly and double harness systems for our line trimmers. Other suggestions included anti-vibration grip wrap for air tools, wheel spinners for select valves at our wastewater treatment plant, and inexpensive pads for kneeling on hard surfaces. _______________________________________________________________________

Right: The city’s shop hoist makes it much easier and safer for public works employees to load and unload heavy equipment.
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MC: Which ergonomic recommendations did you choose to implement?
AN: The city implemented all of the recommendations. It took almost a year for some of the items, but all suggested tools have been purchased and are being put to use. For whatever reason, the anti-vibration tape, which costs about seven bucks, took the longest to cross off our list.

MC: What means of financing did you use to implement the recommendations?
AN: Other than the new vehicle lift for the shop, we were able to fund all the suggested purchases with budgeted funds for public works operations. We did, however, apply for and receive an OSHA Safety Grant to help pay for the vehicle lift.

MC: Can you describe your experience applying for the OSHA Safety Grant? What was the process like?
AN: To our surprise, the application process was very simple and, fortunately, our application was approved. The total cost for the vehicle lift and its installation was $16,200. The OSHA grant covered 50 percent of that cost.

The application required an on-site hazard survey, but for us, this was as simple as attaching the LMCIT ergonomics survey. Other components of the grant application included providing some basic information on the project, quotes for the equipment, and proof that the city had sufficient funds to cover its share of the project. The program required a fairly straightforward agreement with OSHA and, once the project was complete, all we needed to submit was proof of payment, and we received the OSHA funds in short order.

MC: Did you encounter any barriers in trying to implement the recommendations (e.g., Council or employee objections, etc.)? If so, how did you overcome those barriers?
AN: Having LMCIT’s safety recommendations in hand really eliminated a lot of the questions and discussion Albertville vehicle liftwe generally have prior to purchasing items. Our Public Works Committee and Council have been very supportive of equipment upgrades, especially when it comes to safety-related improvements for our crews. __________________________________________________

Left: Mechanic Ryan Zachman uses the city’s new vehicle lift.
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Regardless of cost, funding can always be a challenge. However, the LMCIT recommendations were supported by statistics that showed the benefits and value of investing in safety equipment. Too often certain equipment/tool purchases are viewed as luxury items and not necessities. The LMCIT statistics proved otherwise for many of these types of purchases. In fact, the numbers show that the safety investments greatly reduce risk and the cost associated with occupational injuries.

MC: What feedback have you received from your staff regarding these changes?
AN: The new or improved equipment has been well-received. Generally, the suggestions we received from the loss control consultant were ideas we already had, but were too budget-conscious to act on. One of the more eye-opening aspects of the ergonomics survey for us was not so much the risk of on-the-job injuries, but the later-in-life effects due to improper techniques or lack of necessary equipment.

MC: Do you feel the ergonomics survey has helped your city? If so, how?
AN: The ergonomics survey benefitted the city in several ways, and it was a no-cost service! The survey led to the purchase of tools and equipment to improve employee safety and efficiency. Financially, the city will also benefit by implementing injury-prevention methods and reducing its exposure to risk. The survey also led us to apply for the OSHA grant. Without going through the survey, we would not have known that we had an eligible project that would ultimately receive grant funding.

MC: What are the biggest safety and productivity improvements you see with these changes?
AN: The ergonomics review and subsequent consultations with our loss control consultant have greatly improved our view on the value of risk prevention. It was very clear to us that small safety investments have the potential to pay dividends. Whether it’s through healthy employees, efficiencies in the shop, or an improved experience modification, safety investments will pay for themselves. For us, the greatest benefit is not through any single improvement, but more so the new thought process we learned and developed for evaluating methods of performing work and purchasing equipment.

MC: What would your advice be to other cities in regards to implementing ergonomic controls and equipment, and applying for OSHA safety grants?
AN: At first we were somewhat reluctant to take the time to go through the ergonomics survey and spend the time evaluating operations, not because we weren’t safety conscious or didn’t want to improve safety, but because “ergonomics” really wasn’t part of our vocabulary. This changed for us in a hurry once we learned of the potential savings—both monetary and physical.

Similarly with the OSHA grant, we were somewhat hesitant at first. We thought that funding would be so limited and the grant process would be so competitive, it wouldn’t be worth the effort. In reality, the OSHA consultants were very accommodating and supportive, and the application process was rather effortless. Our advice to others would be that, if they haven’t already done so, they should not only complete the public works ergonomics review with a loss control consultant, but they should do so without hesitation. Likewise with the OSHA grant application. Given the little time needed to apply, it is worth the effort.

Read the March-April 2014 issue of Minnesota Cities magazine

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