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June 7, 2004

Campus makes gains in cutting workers' compensation costs

But there's no 'silver bullet' for safety, warns Physical Plant's Ilse Kolbus

By Louise Donahue

With responsibility for employees handling everything from a power plant to PowerPoint, Ilse Kolbus has employee safety constantly on her mind.

Kolbus said there is often a tendency to think the problem of workers’ compensation can best be handled by sending all employees to safety training—once. “But it’s an ongoing effort and discussion."

“We have a diverse workforce with many high-risk occupations,” said the director of UCSC’s Physical Plant. Physical Plant accounts for about 17 percent of the claims for workers’ compensation on campus.

Kolbus said she puts a high priority on worker safety, and there are safety committees and frequent safety training sessions.

While Kolbus is pleased at the latest statistics on UCSC workers’ compensation, she hopes the campus will not let its guard down because of the better numbers. Preliminary figures highlighted at a June 2 Staff Advisory Board-sponsored forum showed that paid disability days dropped from a monthly average of 613 in 2003 to 412 in 2004. (See PowerPoint presentation)

Kolbus said there is often a tendency to think the problem of workers’ compensation can best be handled by sending all employees to safety training—once. “But it’s an ongoing effort and discussion. I don’t think there’s a silver bullet. There is a partnership between the employer and the employee," she said.

“In this partnership everyone, from the executive leadership to managers, to supervisors to the the employee, has responsibility and accountability for workplace safety.”

Kolbus said she and other Physical Plant managers and supervisors analyze each injury report to see what might be done differently in the future. A look at custodians’ back injuries, for instance, is prompting the installation this summer of “gliders” on residence hall furniture to make moving it safer.
Physical Plant has tried several approaches to stem worker injuries, including:

• Bringing in a dermatologist to talk to employees who work outside about skin cancer and providing sun hats and information on other outdoor hazards, such as ticks.

• Beginning the workday with stretching exercises for some employees who do heavy physical work.

• Encouraging a 15-minute “stretch break” for administrative staff, in which employees run through desk exercises suggested by Environmental Health and Safety.

• Utilizing the “transitional return to work” program, in which an employee who has been injured is given alternative work assignments as part of a gradual transition to returning to the original job. (See March 22 Currents story.

Kolbus also plans to add a suggestion box to encourage workers who prefer to offer safety ideas anonymously.

Other options are under consideration, but managers must be aware of unintended consequences, said Kolbus. Any incentive program, for instance, must be structured carefully. “You don’t want people hiding their injuries. With incentive programs, you run the risk of driving the injury underground,” she explained. “We’re really pushing people not to wait until it’s so severe that they have a long-term injury,” she said, adding, “I'm always looking for ways to promote and reward safe behaviors because that's what keeps people from getting hurt. It's about caring about the workers, not the workers' compensation numbers."

Related links:

First phase of Service Center consolidation expected by fall

Team offers preview of online payroll system

Human Resources Transformation team offers update for staff

Program takes new approach to preventing injuries, easing employees' return to work

Staff Human Resources expands 'transition services' to assist budget-related job changes

Newsletter provides information on IT transformation project

Budget impact candidly discussed at Chancellor's Staff Forum

Effort under way to consolidate information technology on campus

Campus team tackles UCSC’s workers’ comp crisis

Currents article: Changes will streamline purchasing on campus

Currents article: Panel fields questions about efforts to streamline HR and payroll

Currents article: Staff forum focuses on HR transformation project; second forum to take place November 17

Currents article: Forum on budget process November 5

Currents article: Chancellor says budget planning will yield strategic cost cutting

Currents article: Campus 'transformation' begins with info technology consolidation

Executive Budget Committee

UCSC Budget Update site

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