The City of Ashland faces unique challenges when it comes to maintaining a safe workplace. As a governmental entity with around 300 employees, the City of Ashland is responsible for the safety of all city employees, as well as ensuring the overall safety of their citizens.
The City of Ashland is committed to keeping its employees safe on the job, so we spoke with Risk Manager Mike Adkins to hear how the city achieves their safety goals.
KEMI: What was your safety background before taking on the role of risk manager for the City of Ashland?
Mike: I joined the City of Ashland in late 2014, but I first entered the field of risk management in 1996 to develop and deliver fee-based consulting and training engagement services for a commercial insurance agency. Most of these services centered on improving safety practices, reducing workers’ compensation costs and developing safety and employment practices programs. This is also when I completed most of my formal training and education in safety and achieved applicable industry designations.
A major portion of this time was as Director of Risk Management in charge of safety, loss control, workers’ compensation, and employment practices risk where, I dealt with various entities ranging from manufacturers, distributors, and construction to public entities, retail, and healthcare. This also included consulting and training work with captive and risk pool insurance programs.
Prior to this I was in senior management positions in manufacturing, initially as a quality manager and later as a manufacturing and distribution operations manager. During this period I was also responsible for the safety of the plant’s employees and the work I did there really formed the foundation for everything I have done since in safety and loss control.
KEMI: What are your responsibilities as the city’s risk manager?
Mike: My responsibility is to manage and serve as a subject matter expert for employee safety, medically restricted return to work, drug and alcohol testing and of course the property and casualty insurance program. This position is in the City’s Human Resources Department and covers approximately 300 employees, spanning 7 departments and 23 different divisions within those departments, including all public service and utility plant and field operations plus police and fire.
KEMI: From your perspective has safety always been a top priority for the City of Ashland?
Mike: Yes, from my perspective safety has always been a top priority, and it always will be. I believe it to be an expectation of the job, not simply an add on or slogan. All groups are supportive of our safety efforts including department and division heads, the city manager, and elected officials. Everyone understands the adverse impact that comes from unsafe practices, both to our employees and the citizens we serve.
I think all of our employees understand that as a governmental entity we have a commitment to provide the best quality of the service we can to the community, and in doing that safety has to be a top priority.
KEMI: What aspects of the safety program do you feel have been most effective in making sure that the cities employees stay safe?
Mike: Consistently pre-planning training is an important aspect. This includes specialized training and broad-based training, not only for policies and compliance but also for targeted hazards. Communication is also a key component and I always stress a sense of urgency in hazard identification, reporting accidents or other incidents and completing investigations.
We also established a 24-hour injury hotline that is dedicated to the City of Ashland employees, which is with a locally based medical center. It is staffed by registered nurses so unless it is a severe injury that requires a trip to the emergency room, employees may call this hotline and the nurse will give them basic advice and their available options for nearby quality treatment. This includes a summary report I received within a short time frame which helps me get the first report of injury turned in very quickly.
Additionally, our certified drug free workplace program has been crucial to our hiring process and ongoing monitoring. The Program is extremely valuable to our employee safety as well as the general safety of our city’s residents.
KEMI: What safety challenges do you feel you’ve had to overcome?
Mike: When I first joined the city, there had been a turnover of risk managers and a gap between managers. Initially, I had to gain the confidence of the employees and overcome a certain degree of hesitancy to get everyone on the same page on how we approached safety and in achieving a greater sense of urgency, which is critical to any safety initiative and in controlling costs.
Another area is in achieving the consistent use and application of personal protective equipment. Our current city manager has also championed this during the past year, which has helped drive consistency.
KEMI: What has been one of the greatest successes in safety that you have seen since joining the City of Ashland?
Mike: We have achieved a greater sense of urgency in reporting and overcoming delays when addressing hazards. That has been extremely important to let employees know that we consider this to be a priority. This has been done across all departments and has really instilled a sense of ownership. The time, commitment, and ownership that our supervisors exhibit has contributed directly to the improvements we’ve made in employee safety, and involvement. This is a driving force behind the improvements we have experienced in incurred costs and our experience mod. That strong sense of urgency to stay on top of things is critical to benefiting our employees and the City’s insurance costs.
KEMI: What are the most effective tools that you have when it comes to managing safety?
Mike: I really think it all starts with a consistent, but simple, approach. Our safety program has to be effective, it has to be informative, and I think it needs to be plainly spoken. Over the years I’ve learned that you need to try and eliminate the jargon and focus on making sure that everyone is on the same page. There also needs to be active listening. You have to listen to what is being asked or stated with sincere appreciation and respect for the experience and ideas of others.
KEMI: What KEMI services have you found to be most beneficial to you as the risk manager?
Mike: Everyone we work with at KEMI has been very responsive and professional, and the website platform is extremely helpful. I’m on the safety section or in the claims platform on a daily basis. One of the two key elements that have been most helpful for me is the assistance I get from your dedicated claims staff, and the commitment to respond to my inquiries, which I receive from the point person, Marisol Rose.
In addition, the assistance I have received from your Loss Education and Safety group, specifically our representative, Zach Boggs, who has been very active in all of our training efforts has been a great resource for information on a regular basis. Our employees like working with him and we all really appreciate his expertise. He has been a huge asset to improving safety across the board.
KEMI: What is coming next for the City of Ashland and your safety efforts?
Mike: We recognize that there is much room for improvement. There has to be. At the start of this calendar year, we initiated a plan to address selected areas that I considered to have room for improvement. We started working on these things with a long-term plan of action.
We want to continue to enhance employee awareness, training, monitoring, and improve communication to increase the visibility of safety. We also want to encourage more involved participation and communication at all levels.
I also want to utilize more of KEMI’s online tools, and work toward a greater use of leading indicators. While you have to walk before you can run, I feel like we are off to a great start.
To learn more about the City of Ashland, visit http://www.ashlandky.gov. For free workplace safety resources from KEMI, visit www.worksafeky.com.