Over the past two or three years, we have seen a sharp increase in work-related injuries at the City of Albany. Some of the problem could be attributed to a heavier workload and aging employees, but I think there may also be an issue with the adequacy of our safety efforts.
Several years ago, I made a recommendation to the Budget Committee to eliminate a position in the Human Resources (HR) Department in response to serious financial challenges. Losing one position might not seem like a significant problem in a department with a hundred employees, but it represented a 20 percent reduction to HR. More importantly, we lost the one person in the organization who was responsible for monitoring overall safety.
All of us have some responsibility for observing best safety practices, but it helps when we receive regular education and reminders. State law requires us to have safety committees, and I greatly appreciate the good work they do. Our recent record, however, suggests that committees alone are not enough. There will be some changes in administrative responsibility for safety citywide, and there needs to be some changes in how we approach our jobs.
I am guilty of believing myself to be immune from injuries, especially those that come from lifting heavy things. My impulse is to grab whatever needs moving without giving much thought to my age and diminishing abilities. The unfortunately poor picture below shows a much younger and skinnier me standing next to a car that had gone off a steep embankment. My job as a volunteer first responder was to carry a heavy generator down the slope so that extrication tools could be put to work. It was really a two-person job, but there was only one person available to do it. I got it done without injuring myself or the generator despite the fact that it wasn’t a smart thing to do. The sheriff’s deputy at the scene was so impressed that after the patients were transported he took a picture of me wearing a dress shirt and tie.
We are working on a plan to have an individual responsible for coordinating safety efforts, and I hope to see that person in place by the start of the new fiscal year. In the meantime, I encourage all employees to stop for a moment before lifting a heavy load or jumping off a retaining wall or playing basketball on duty and consider an alternative. Usually we have time to get help before lifting something, and there are many safe ways to get exercise while minimizing the chance of an injury. Some accidents can’t be foreseen and prevented, even with the best of precautions. We can do better than our current record, and everyone will benefit when we do.