Oldham County Board of Education has more than 850 certified and 830 classified employees in 19 different schools, so they understand the challenge of consistently encouraging and maintaining a strong safety culture in the workplace. Despite the obstacles they face with employees spread across several locations, the School Board has made workplace safety education a top priority and has seen positive results from its efforts.
We asked Dorenda Neihof, Chief Operations Officer for Oldham County Board of Education, to share her perspective and experience in helping the school district transform its safety culture.
KEMI: What is your role and how are you involved with the safety efforts in Oldham County schools?
Dorenda: I am Chief Operations Officer for the Oldham County Board of Education. The areas of the district that I manage are Personnel, Transportation, Food Service, Student Services and Technology and this is my third year in the role. I manage the safety committees in the individual schools and ensure that the message of safety is reaching all of our employees.
KEMI: Tell me a little bit more about the process of implementing safety when you started as COO.
Dorenda: When I started in this position, Oldham County had recently experienced a couple of bad years in terms of workplace safety, so the superintendent asked me to address the issues. Our premium had just increased by approximately $125,000 which is the equivalent of having a couple of additional teachers and we were facing budget cuts, so we decided to take action since safety is something over which we have some control.
I started by evaluating what we were already doing and realized that my first task needed to be safety awareness. I decided that we needed to provide more training and make sure that it was on our employees’ minds more regularly. I addressed safety issues during our district meetings since there was a representative from each school’s safety committee. Slips, trips and falls injuries were our biggest issue so that is where I focused our awareness and training efforts initially.
KEMI: How are you able to control safety at such a large number of locations?
Dorenda: Each school location has its own five-person safety committee with one administrator (usually an assistant principal), two certified employees (teachers), the plant operator, and a secretarial staff member. For each committee, the administrator is responsible for representing the school at our district meetings.
We review performance annually with each administrator at the district meetings and I try to challenge the committees in different ways. For example, this past year I passed out a spreadsheet of all incidents listed by school level and incident type. We reviewed and completed an analysis of the incident report. My hope was that the committee members would reach conclusions that align with our safety goals, and after evaluating the reports I had the administrators go back to their schools and do the same thing with their staff. This helped ensure that our most prevalent incidents were on everyone’s radar.
KEMI: You mentioned slips, trips and falls were an issue. Can you elaborate on how your committees helped address this issue?
Dorenda: Slips, trips, and falls were without question our biggest issue so our safety committees addressed this issue head-on. The safety committee at each school is responsible for a monthly meeting agenda item and I assigned a monthly task to communicate to the other faculty members. The goal was (and still is) to encourage safety knowledge and awareness on a regular basis. Last year I used nearly every safety resource on the KEMI website for these tasks.
In addition, that committee is charged with identifying unsafe conditions in their school. For example, if they see a pencil on the floor, we encourage the committee members to take the initiative to correct the problem by picking up the pencil.
Overall, their job is to try to bring that same awareness to their co-workers, and when incidents happen the safety committee is the first group to review them. The safety committee reviews the circumstances immediately following every incident before the employee meets with his/her supervisor to discuss the incident. The committee seeks to understand the circumstances that led to the incident so they can make changes if necessary. For example, if someone slips on an icy day, they may come to realize that it wasn’t the ice but rather a sidewalk that needs repair.
One of the monthly exercises that the committee has led with the staff includes reviewing district incidents (with no names of building or employees attached). During this exercise, the staff are asked questions such as: “Was it an avoidable accident? Was it preventable? If it was preventable, should this person be reprimanded? This process encourages input from the entire committee, holds the staff at each location accountable, and encourages a team approach.
KEMI: From your perspective, what is the most effective aspect of your safety program?
Dorenda: I think anything we do that keeps safety in the forefront of our employees’ minds is very effective. Because of our focus on safety, last year one school put up a bulletin board in its hallway that highlighted unsafe practices. People started picking up more debris around the building or objects found in the hallways. The bulletin board helped to make everyone more aware and when people are more aware, they are more cautious.
Another effective aspect of our program is our annual contest to help encourage safe work habits. Everyone in the district who remains incident-free for a year has their name entered into a drawing. Last year we drew 10 names and they received $100 each. For schools that remained incident-free, we provided them with breakfast one morning to recognize their accomplishment.
KEMI: What do you see as your biggest obstacles to workplace safety?
Dorenda: The biggest obstacle is trying to constantly remind employees that these injuries and accidents can happen to anyone. Many think, “I can text and walk up the steps because I’m fairly agile.” It’s difficult to constantly remind people to be aware of their surroundings.
KEMI: What would you say is the most important benefit in working with KEMI?
Dorenda: We’ve utilized the physical visits from the KEMI Loss Education team often and either KEMI representatives or our insurance agency has attended all of our district meetings. When KEMI representatives give updates on where we stand as a district, it really helps get the message across to our employees rather than it just coming from me.
KEMI has also been instrumental in our safety walk-throughs. Jeff Floyd came here three years ago and showed our principals how to conduct an effective safety walk-through. Now administrators conduct regular walk-throughs in their schools and look for potential safety hazards. We really appreciate that training from KEMI.
To learn more about Oldham County Schools, visit www.oldham.kyschools.us.