Ailing department seeks workers comp change

One out of every five employees in the Recreation and Park Department reported an injury for workers’ compensation last year — and that was considered one of the better years.

Compensation and residual costs such as paying overtime to make up for absences took $3.5 million out of Rec and Park’s budget for the 2008-09 fiscal year, General Manager Phil Ginsburg said. He’s aiming to reduce the number of injured workers in order to save money.

The department is responsible for about 3.4 percent of The City’s work force, but last year it accounted for about 7 percent of the money spent on workers’ compensation.

After working as director of the Human Resources Department and having experience with the reports, Ginsburg is keeping a close eye on Rec and Park and has made it a personal goal to decrease new injuries by 50 percent.

“What I’m proposing is a reduction in new claims, which would be somewhere between $300,000 and $400,000,” he said. “I think it’s a challenge … but essentially that translates to five extra gardeners.”

The most common injuries are from lifting or body mechanics, Environmental Health and Safety Manager Jeffrey Bramlett said. On average, anywhere from seven to 10 of the approximately 850 Rec and Park employees are staying home every month because of work-related injuries, he said.

But Ginsburg’s grand plan is to reduce workers’ compensation costs across the board, and he admits it all sounds ambitious.

In January, the department will have a Safety Advisory Committee. It will hold awareness meetings and enforce a rule that supervisors have to teach staff the lessons learned after an injury, Ginsburg said.

Furthermore, about 70 percent of employees who have an injury but are able to work have not been offered temporary assignments, but they are still compensated full-time wages.

“We want people to become healthy and whole again as soon possible. If they’re sitting at home, they’re more likely to continue,” Ginsburg said. “In my mind, we should have nobody just sitting at home [unless they have medical restrictions].”

Price of pain

The City is required to pay for injured and sick workers.

25,000 Estimate of employees covered under workers’ compensation
$41,857,370 Money spent on workers who were compensated for both medical bills and time off or just medical bills
1,771 Employees who were compensated for both medical bills and time off
1,635 Employees who were compensated for medical bills only
850 Estimate of Rec and Park employees
$3.5 million Amount Rec and Park spent on workers’ comp in fiscal year 2008-09, related costs such as overtime for employees making up for absences
1 in 3 Ratio of employees who filed for workers’ comp 10 years ago
1 in 4 Ratio who filed for workers’ comp five years ago
1 in 5 Ratio who filed for workers’ comp last year

Sources: Recreation and Park Department, Human Resources Department

kkelkar@sfexaminer.com

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