Stretch Goals: Louisville Learns from Data to Reduce Injuries Among City Employees


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Every morning, sanitation workers across Louisville start their day with a regimen of stretching. In the offices of the city’s Public Works department, even those who spend most of their days behind a desk and computer monitor begin their day with the same routine. Stretching is nothing new. But this is, of course, an integral part of Louisville’s innovation agenda.

Public works is a strenuous job. Tippers, those who ride along on back of garbage and recycling trucks, must tote unwieldy cans and bins while minding curbs, potholes, traffic, and other obstacles. Strains and sprains of backs, knees, and ankles come with the territory.

As Keith Hackett, Louisville’s Assistant Director of Public Works, said, “We don’t have the luxury of working in a controlled environment. Our responsibility is to reduce the possibility of injury.”

To that end, in January 2012, Public Works began benchmarking its rate of OSHA recordable injuries – significant injuries that cause employees to miss time, limit their duties, or worse. Finding a rate of over 30 percent in the first month, officials in Public Works and Performance Improvement suspected they had significant room to improve. But they did not know how much improvement to reasonably expect. This made Public Works an ideal pilot case for performance improvement.

Louisville’s Office of Performance Improvement (OPI) builds on Mayor Greg Fischer’s philosophy that the center of the government is not (and should not be) a dispensary of departmental data, giving affirmations to departments for their good behavior or handing down orders to change.

Rather, the central office aims to empower departments to better interpret their own data, diffusing analytical capacities to the various departments. To that end, each of 20 departments has identified a dedicated data analyst to act as a liaison with the central office. As part of the LouieStat program, OPI supports participating departments with coaching and consulting, and regularly gathers working groups of counterparts across departments. There are some enterprise Key Performance Indicators (KPI) that are tracked across the city, but analysts within each department are also responsible for creating and tracking their own KPIs and drafting supporting documents for regular data forums.

Stephen Goldsmith has written on how OPI has linked performance reporting to strategy to transform Louisville’s operational culture. Initiatives in Public Works and Louisville Metro Emergency Medical Services (LMEMS) provide compelling evidence of this transformation.

Public Works

In 2012, to help set benchmarks for itself, a team within Public Works surveyed the landscape of comparable public works departments and private solid waste management companies. They were shocked to discover Louisville’s injury rates were an order of magnitude higher than the cohort of comparable providers, and some of the providers had zero OSHA recordable injuries.

The department identified several KPIs, including OSHA Recordable Injury Rate, Lost Time Injury Rate, Hours Not Worked, and Overtime Hours Paid. By the summer of 2012, the department implemented a toolbox of recommendations to help Public Works hit its ambitious improvement goals in these KPIs.

The most visible change recommended from that toolbox is the regular stretching regimen, but other changes have also focused on injury prevention and mitigation as well as institutionalizing a culture of safety.

Perhaps the most effective policy change was a modified duty policy. Before July 2012, employees who suffered an injury severe enough to prevent them from doing their normal field work – a trash picker spraining an ankle, for example – would not be allowed to return to work in any capacity until he or she was well enough to return to normal duty. Under the modified duty policy, someone with a twisted ankle who is unable to work in the field can return to work in an administrative capacity, doing clerical work during his or her convalescence (or even completing additional safety training).

The response from employees has been positive, too. Employees want to get back to work; they would rather be out in the field than laid up at home in bed. Getting back to work quickly gives workers the benefit of drawing their full pay, rather than a lower sick pay. This policy change has the added benefit of encouraging returning workers to remain active during their healing process, rather than staying on their couch at home, sedentary, speeding their recoveries.

This anecdotal evidence is backed up by the numbers. OSHA recordable injuries have fallen steeply,from a pre-program high of 31 percent in January 2012 to a recent low of 15 percent, where the rate has held steady since November. Hours lost to work related injuries and illness have also fallen, from a 2011 peak of 4,000 hours per month (about five percent of working hours) to a low in February 2014 of 608 hours (about one percent). The overall lost time to injury rate is falling, too, with the latest month meeting the goal of 6 percent or better. The next task is to maintain this gain over the 12-month running average.

Since the successful pilot period, the performance improvement measures taken by Public Works have spread to many other city departments and agencies.

This article is an excerpt of a post by Matthew McClellan that originally appeared on Data-Smart City Solutions

Image via Brendan Adkins