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Columbia County Highway Department sees drop in employee injuries

August 3, 2018

Despite a busy construction season for Columbia County highway crews on area roads, reported workplace injuries are way down for the department.

Highway Commissioner Chris Hardy told the Columbia County Highway Committee on Thursday the department has gone 300 days with out a lost-time injury.

Committee member Andy Ross said he suspected that in 17 years there hadn’t been such a streak of nearly a year without lost time.

“For about the last seven years, the department would have a lost-time accident about once every two weeks,” Hardy said.

He added the department’s insurance generally paid between $16,000-$18,000 per incident.

Ross said the achievement has been part of a long-time goal.

“The county has made attempts over the last couple years to get a plan in place, and I don’t want this to cast a shadow over the employees or the leadership or anything like that, but safety is one of those tough nuts to crack every once in a while,” Ross said.

Hardy took over as highway commissioner in 2015.

“When I started we began a real long-term discussion about safety around the department and talking with the employees,” Hardy said. “Large groups, small groups, one-on-one, talking about how we work, the way we work, and let’s worry about ourselves, let’s worry about the guy working next to us, and let’s worry about the traveling public.”

As those conversations happened, “a lot of guys picked it up and ran with it.”

An example of a new policy includes in the winter when a highway department vehicle goes into a ditch. In the past, the driver would call another county vehicle to come pull them out.

“Things can get damaged and guys would get hurt,” Hardy said. “We changed that so now they call the supervisor and the supervisor comes down and figures out the safest method to use and we go the safest route, whether that is calling a tow truck or getting a grader or a dump truck.”

In the summer months, Hardy said there had been incidents with projects using chainsaws and wood chippers. He said the department implemented a “radius of safety” around an employee using such equipment. The goal is to ensure that anyone entering the radius receives confirmation from the person operating the equipment that they know where each other are before moving forward.

“(Hardy) has got 80-some employees out there working under what can be some, at times, pretty strenuous and unusual circumstances,” Ross said.

Part of the initiative also involved the purchases of new road work signs and tools. A new skid loader limits how much employees have to use their backs for strenuous work.

The new signs may take some extra time to set up at a site where maybe one had not been used in the past, but Ross said the goal is for everyone to get home safely.

“Maybe it adds a little bit of time to the day, perhaps,” Hardy said. “It probably makes it easier because you are slowing down, and thinking and talking, before just doing. When we take that approach, we come up with better ideas and different ideas and better ways of doing something.”

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