Keeping workers safe in any industry is a challenge. But doing it in a city with diverse jobs — and hazards — is beyond complex. From law enforcement and landscaping to road maintenance and recreation, Commerce City sees it all.
Recent history illustrates how tough it can be. In 2016, Commerce City filed more than 80 workers’ comp claims and paid a premium of $650,000.
But change was on the horizon, said Risk Manager Brennan Mendus. “We saw the numbers and made education, accountability and transparency the priority.”
Building a safety culture
Mendus has spent the past five years creating an environment in which a safety culture can flourish. Educating city leadership is key, but all employees need to buy in.
One way he’s ensured everyone in the city is thinking about safety is by distributing monthly safety puzzles. Employees who participate can earn points that translate into dollars. “We gave out $10,000 in safety incentives last year,” Mendus noted.
Mendus is a team of one, so having everyone pitch in on safety is huge. Pinnacol Senior Safety Consultant Jason McFarland attends the city’s safety meetings, answers questions, shares data and provides resources.
The city safety team is composed of employees from each city department. The team meets monthly to enjoy homemade biscotti (courtesy of Mendus’ wife) and talk about city claims. Because claims are declining, every month is a celebration of their efforts.
“It’s a big city with a lot of employees, and I can’t be everywhere. But I can be a cheerleader for safety.” said Mendus.
Sharing the Rewards
It’s easy to hold people accountable when things go wrong. But for Mendus, accountability includes making sure people see the rewards of their work.
Case in point: In 2018, the city decreased employee injuries, helped injured workers recover and facilitated workers’ return to work, resulting in a $91,000 dividend check from Pinnacol.
Instead of funneling that money back into the city’s general fund, Mendus persuaded leadership that the funds should be reinvested in the departments responsible for the turnaround.
Part of that dividend went to the parks department, which invested in a new snow blower for a popular city trail. A job that used to take six employees two days with shovels and snow blowers now requires only a half day for two employees, saving time, money and risk of injury.
Commerce City offers its injured employees five medical providers to choose from in Pinnacol’s SelectNet network of occupational medicine providers. With help from Pinnacol Senior Claims Representative Shannon McGinnis, the city stays in constant contact with the provider and the injured worker to ensure the worker progresses to recovery.
As an employee recovers, Commerce City departments are prepared to welcome them back, even when they aren’t ready for prime time. “Nearly every time I call a department and ask if they can accommodate an employee with modified duty, they’re on board,” Mendus said.
There’s always room for improvement, and Mendus knows new challenges lie ahead. But with a growing safety culture and buy-in from leaders and employees alike, Commerce City is well equipped to handle what’s coming.
“We’ll continue to lock arms with each other to make a positive difference.”
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