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Engaged Leadership Drives Safety

Employee safety requires engaged leadership. Cities and towns with leadership that cares about safety tend to have fewer employee injuries and losses, according to the Municipal Association's Risk Management Services staff. Cultivating a safety and wellness culture is key to establishing and sustaining long-term loss reduction and minimizing workplace injuries.

"A safety culture is the product of a proactive approach that identifies and addresses potential hazards and risks before an injury occurs. This type of safety environment begins with leaders who not only practice safety, but who also inspire others through a shared vision and thoughtful plan," said Bethany Pendley, loss control manager for the Municipal Association's Risk Management Services.

The South Carolina Municipal Insurance Trust is a member-owned program created by the Municipal Association to provide workers' compensation benefits to city employees injured on the job. SCMIT has 130 cities and towns in the program.

Members of Risk Management Services workers' compensation and property and liability programs issue an annual memo to their employees outlining their safety policy statement. This memo is signed by the administration and council, and it states the municipalities' commitment to the prevention and control of losses. An action as simple as distributing this memo is a foundational component in creating a safety culture. It emphasizes the town or city's commitment to safety and sets expectations for employees and leaders.

Collaboration is key
Risk management requires good communication.

"Effective risk management programs encourage employee engagement through safety committees and employee involvement," Pendley said. "This helps create an environment whereby employees are part of the solution when it comes to implementing safe working practices. Also, soliciting input and feedback from employees creates a sense of safety ownership in day to day work."

Know how things work
Taking the time to understand all of the city's activities is crucial to workplace safety because it's easy to focus on just one area. For example, a city manager who once served as a planning director may have a natural tendency to keep a closer eye on the city's planning activities.

"For a comprehensive view of operations, leaders should force themselves out of their comfort zone to learn the risk and safety challenges that exist throughout the entire city," said Heather Ricard, director of the Municipal Association's Risk Management Services.

Having the mindset that injuries are merely an acceptable cost of doing business can hurt morale and employee performance and result in additional claims costs.

Don't skimp on safety
It can be easy to cut training resources and funding for items like personal protective equipment. But strong organizations make funding these items a priority.

"They understand that city employees at any moment can be literally placed in the line of fire as a police officer or called to respond to a fire as a firefighter," said Ricard.

Leadership steps for sustaining safety

• Establish a vision. Set goals and effectively communicate within the organization.

• Allocate resources. People, tools, equipment and time are absolute necessities for safe work environments. Depending on the size of the organization, it may be necessary to hire a risk/safety manager who can work full-time to reduce losses.

• Follow the rules. Risk leadership requires management to follow the rules and set clear expectations.

• Organize and incentivize. Many cities establish safety committees with regular meetings to talk through potential hazards and solutions. Some create incentive programs for safety records, health and wellness or hazard reporting. Some even hold banquets or other recognition events to call attention to safety efforts.

For questions about risk management, contact Bethany Pendley, loss control manager, at bpendley@masc.sc or 803.933.1210.