(Photo by Scott Welton, Staff)
According to Missouri Association of Counties claim records dating back to 1987, Scott County's highway department has never had an accident-free year -- until now.
"Our highway department had no lost time (due to accidents) in 2008," said Norman Brant, highway superintendent for Scott County. "We had an accident-free year."
Last year was also the first time the county had ever budgeted money to address safety issues. "It's the first year Scott County has had a safety program," Brant said.
The county's worker compensation insurance premiums had gone from $46,000 in 2000 to $98,000 in 2007.
"Our workers comp carrier put us on a watch list," Jamie Burger, presiding county commissioner, recalled. "It brought to light how many accidents we've had in the past and how much it was costing us along with the pain and suffering for our employees."
The County Commission decided to take action by not only budgeting money and but also holding regular safety meetings for all county employees.
"As elected officials and department heads got together and we implemented these policies and procedures everyone got better," Burger said. "I think it was just a matter of our educating our employees. We don't expect anyone to perform an unsafe act. There will always be perils associated with tasks but as we analyze these tasks we can always find a safer way to do them."
"The guys are more conscientious of their surroundings -- they're taking more pride in their work," Brant said. "I'm really proud of the men we have working here."
As they are working with heavy equipment and are often working near traffic, county highway department workers have a much more dangerous job than other county employees.
Accordingly, a good part of the money budgeted for county safety went to the highway department.
"We bought high visibility T-shirts and reflective vests," Brant said. "Also I purchased all new 'men working' and 'slow and stop' signs so that people in vehicles will be able to see them better."
Other safety equipment purchases included LED strobe lights for the county's trucks and a bucket truck to elevate workers when they are trimming trees. "That's something that has really helped a lot," Brant said.
A large part of the safety program was focused on the employees themselves.
"One thing we've done is we hold monthly safety meetings. This is something that the commission has asked us to do," Brant said. "We remind (highway department employees) to be careful -- that we want them to go home to their families."
Brant said they have also done extensive training with new employees, require them to comply with state seat belt laws and require drug testing for new employees and those who are injured on the job.
Having an accident-free year was even more significant as 2008 was a particularly dangerous year for his department, according to Brant.
"We had really hazardous duty this year with the ice storms," he said. "They were using chainsaws and standing on ice -- it's really a dangerous job."
Efforts to make working conditions safer in the county are continuing and even expanding this year.
Brant said he is now working on scheduling a countywide safety meeting with AmerenUE and will invite street divisions from cities within the county.