History Lesson: Don’t Let Yourself Fall Victim to the Dangers of the Past

History is full of stories about dangers that seem obvious in hindsight. No one is expected to see every stone in the road, even if it is the size of a dinosaur, but once you’ve tripped over one and managed to survive when it tried to make you its lunch, you’ll look pretty silly if you stumble over it again.

Avoiding those dangers, once identified, is really the responsibility of every employee, manager, supervisor and board member at every district. That being said, it falls on management as a whole to watch out for those dinosaur-sized pitfalls and plan accordingly. They, like dinosaurs, are big and scary. At the same time, however, they are known values. You can plan for them. You can be ready the next time you encounter one. You could call that foresight. You could also call it dinosaur repellent.

These ten history lessons highlight common sources for loss among special districts. The Pool has seen members suffer from these same problems time and again, and each and every one of these caveats foretell of very avoidable problems. These problems are ancient history, so don’t let your district and yourself fall prey to them.

Lesson One: Don’t Put Off Improvements and Repairs

One of the easiest ways to avoid workplace accidents is to review your buildings and grounds for no-brainer improvements that your district has been putting off. These aren’t necessarily big improvements; in fact, they probably aren’t. They may not seem like a big deal before an accident happens, but they will sure seem that way once one does. These might include new or replacement guardrails, anti-fatigue or anti-slip mats, fire extinguishers, or security systems and cameras.

This would also include building improvements like adding fencing and repairing flooring, electrical wiring fixes, and fixing broken stairs.

None of these things are terribly expensive–especially if the Pool reimburses your district for half of the cost through the Safety and Loss Prevention Grant program–but these are the types of projects that might be neglected for years until an unfortunate but preventable incident precipitates action.

Take a walk around your building and look for things that may need repair or improvement like sidewalks, railings, driveways and more. Doing so will help you avoid those dinosaur losses.

Lesson Two: Train Your Drivers

If your district has people who drive as a regular part of their duty, it is incumbent on you to ensure they get at least some regular driver training outside what is required for their driver’s license or commercial driver’s license.

Despite how it sounds, driver training has nothing to do with teaching your staff how to use their gear shift or how to parallel park.

Instead, it’s a way of reminding them about the proper use of flaggers and spotters when backing up, training them on the importance of avoiding distractions like using cell phones and eating while driving, and refreshing them on how to handle their car, truck or bus in inclement weather.

Since driving is something most people do so frequently, workers often forget about the small details of safely handling a vehicle as part of their job. That means this sort of training is absolutely vital, can actually save lives, and is offered to Pool members completely free of charge.

Lesson Three: Train Your Staff

One of the best ways to deal with ongoing disciplinary issues is to simply prevent them from happening to begin with. Several districts have seen repeated problems with sexual harassment, discrimination claims, or similar problems. Many people do not realize what constitutes “harassment,” or if they do, they may not understand the consequences.

Mandating that your staff is properly trained is a relatively painless and obvious first step in curtailing those behaviors. We offer such training to all Pool members at no cost, so there is no reason why every employee at every district doesn’t receive this invaluable training.

In fact, we give coverage discounts to districts that complete a minimum level of training on a broad range of topics. For more information, visit csdpool.com/training_credits.php.

Lesson Four: Train Your Board

Your board is comprised of citizens who care about their community and have volunteered their time to help improve it. Their job is complicated and comes with many caveats about how they can interact with your employees.

Their duties may not be obvious, and the same could be said regarding their obligations to transparency and fairness. The SDA offers training for board members to help them avoid getting themselves–and your district–into trouble.

Lesson Five: Follow Your Own Procedures

Does your staff follow their standard operating procedures or best practices every day? Do they observe proper machine guarding? Trenching and shoring safety? Are they always wearing every recommended piece of personal protective equipment? Goggles? Gloves? Harnesses? Hearing and eye protections?

The Pool has seen a large number of highly avoidable and very serious workplace accidents occur over the last few years. In some of these cases, the workers didn’t survive the accident.

The worst part of these tragic events is that they are often completely avoidable.

There is simply no good excuse for not reminding and requiring your workers to employ every last ounce of reasonable caution when working on your behalf.

Special districts in Colorado have higher rates of accidents than their private sector peers across the nation. Many of those accidents would not have taken place had the worker been following standard operating procedures or established best practices.

Lesson Six: Shake Down Your Processes

Many districts report the same types of claims over and over. A lot of the time these represent very minor injuries that seem easily disregarded. The frequency of those small injuries, however, could mean that there is a specific piece of equipment or a particular process that needs rethinking.

For example, if your staff are always following standard operating procedures but are still getting injured frequently, then perhaps the procedure needs updating. It could be that the process wasn’t updated even when new machinery was purchased, or that a revised best practice has since been made available.

If employees are frequently injured using the same piece of equipment, it could mean that the device is in need of replacement or repair. These injuries could start small, as in minor burns or lacerations, but could worsen into very serious issues later.

Lesson Seven: Report Claims on Time

It is important with any type of claim that they be reported as early as possible. While this is especially important with very severe claims, we have seen late reporting of very serious issues as well as minor ones.

Reporting quickly allows the Pool to help you reign in the loss so it doesn’t worsen and cost the district more money.

Numerous times, claims have been reported regarding an accident or a loss that occurred months or years earlier.

By that time, evidence is lost and a costly forensic analysis must be conducted. This just costs everyone more time and money and is completely avoidable by simply filing claims in a timely manner.

Lesson Eight: Watch Where You Step

The most common claim the Pool sees, among both district employees and guests, is people falling down. There are many reasons why.

The floor might be wet, the sidewalk might be icy. There might be slippery tiles, there might have been a cord left across a common pathway. There could be broken steps on a stairway, there could be no handrail where there should be one. With everyone now walking around with their eyes fixed on their phones, this is a perfect storm that happens hundreds of times a day.

No matter the cause of the peril, this is the easiest thing to avoid because it is so easy to identify the hazard. If something is on the ground, like a piece of paper or a spilled liquid, clean it up.

For other hazards like electrical cords, broken walkways, lack of handrailings and so on, there are other fixes that can be completed which greatly minimize the problem. Slips, trips and falls are very common, and most of the time, result in few injuries. That being said, injuries that do occur can be very serious. Workers and guests can suffer broken bones, cracked teeth, severe bruises, and complications from those injuries. This could represent a costly series of claims for the district if the hazard is not remedied.

This is perhaps the easiest problem of all to fix. You can salt icy sidewalks, put out wet floor signs and walk-off mats at doorways, and even put in anti-slip materials in locker rooms and by pools.

Lesson Nine: Make Informed Hiring Decisions

Much of your district’s exposure comes from your employees. Your district entrusts them to always make the right decisions. Sometimes, however, there are people who are simply a bad fit for your organization.

This could be because they are ill prepared for the job, they have something in their background that should raise questions about their fitness for the position’s duties, or their own personal integrity and work ethic doesn’t parallel with your own.

Hiring the wrong person can cause enormous problems later, and many of those could leave you open to any number of claims that could be severely damaging to your district and maybe even your own career.

Every district should screen potential employees. This could mean drug testing where appropriate, running background checks, calling references and conducting thoughtful interviews.

It is also important to ensure that hiring decisions are not prejudicial or otherwise biased. Failing to do so can expose the district to lawsuits under federal law, for which there is no sovereign immunity. Not every district has a dedicated human resources staff to oversee the hiring process, so the Pool provides resources that can help. If you need assistance with HR issues, visit https://csdpool.org/services/hr/hrhelpline.

Lesson Ten: Make Informed Firing Decisions

While being selective and fair in your hiring decisions is important, taking ill-conceived disciplinary actions can be a tremendous mistake. Many districts have run themselves into trouble by terminating employees without proper documentation or cause.

Many others have taken disciplinary action which seems reasonable and appropriate to management, but can seem vindictive or unfair to the employee and people outside of your organization.

Handling problem employees, or even good employees with bad habits, is very tricky. This is just one of the reasons why we offer our members free access to human resources attorneys.

Next time your district is considering taking a disciplinary action, especially one that leads to termination, run it by the attorneys at our HR Helpline first. Your consultation is free and confidential. It can’t possibly hurt, and it could save you from making an already bad situation even worse.

All of these examples are reimbursable up to 50% through the Pool’s Safety and Loss Prevention Grant program. For more information, visit https://csdpool.org/services/grants/safetygrant.

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