ROCKINGHAM — Six city departments being given the Gold Award for safety in 2017 by the Department of Labor is no fluke, but the result of a concerted effort by Rockingham officials to overhaul the city’s safety measures following a 2015 accident that saw an employee airlifted to a hospital.
In March 2015, the Daily Journal reported that a Rockingham Public Works employee was airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte after suffering injuries while “working around a backhoe.” The employee was part of a crew that was installing irrigation grates along city sidewalks to plant crepe myrtle trees throughout downtown. City Manager Monty Crump said at the time that the equipment involved was taken out of service.
“As a result of that accident I thought it was necessary to bring in an outside third party to perform a thorough review of the city’s safety and risk management program,” Crump said in an email. “Based on the findings of that assessment and confidential management recommendations as result of that assessment, the city has completely restructured it’s safety and risk management program over the last two years.”
That third-party was Debbie Rogers-Lowery, a safety consultant and owner of Compliance Training Associates, Inc., who brought 25-years of experience coaching municipalities on complying with safety regulations. As part of her responsibilities, Rogers-Lowery did walk-throughs with each department and held annual department-specific training.
While there is no requirement for the number of hours staff must spend in training, she said that staff could spend between 12 and 20 hours per year in safety training. The training addresses any hazards they could be exposed to on the job, from lifting heavy objects to blood-borne pathogens.
In the first year of her work with the city, Rogers-Lowery said there was a 75 percent reduction in violations of safety regulations laid out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. There has also been a 50 percent reduction in injuries in the city since 2015, with four total across all city employees in 2017.
“When folks aren’t aware of the hazards around them, they just don’t know,” she said. “When you point it out to them and explain why it’s a hazard they will stop doing them.”
In addition to walk-throughs and classroom training, Rogers-Lowery reviewed and updated the city’s safety programs when required, was on-call for consultations, coordinated and tracked training, attended monthly safety meetings and handled reports to OSHA.
She said the Rockingham Public Works Department saw the largest decline in injuries, from four in 2015 to one in 2017. An injury is only recorded if it “requires more than first aid” to care for the individual, she said.
In addition to bringing in Rogers-Lowery, Crump created the position of director of safety and risk management, and hired Mike Deprizio to fill the role. Deprizio said he’s rarely in an office, instead he’s out personally overseeing work sites in a hands-on approach to holding employees accountable.
“(City staff) all know Mike and they respect him, they value his opinion and call him to ask if he can take a look at things,” Rogers-Lowery said. “Not every city does that — having a person whose dedicated job is safety.”
The six winning departments were Administration, Building and Grounds, Recreation, Waste Water, Water Treatment and the Fire Department. Rockingham Police and Public Works were close to getting the award as well. The Gold Award is the highest honor that the NCDL gives for safety. A department must have no fatalities at the “site or location for which the award was given” and have maintained an incidence rate at least 50 percent below the average for its industry group, according to the North Carolina Department of Labor’s website.
The winning departments will receive their awards at a banquet on May 21 in Wadesboro.
“City employees have really embraced the revised safety and risk management initiatives and programs. I am proud of their efforts and renewed commitment to safety,” Crump said. “The dividends are preventing loss of life, injuries, lost time accidents and savings to the taxpayer in terms of insurance cost.”
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]