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Report: Worker safety program cuts employee injuries, saves town money

Smithtown hired a full-time health and safety assistant

Smithtown hired a full-time health and safety assistant and instituted townwide employee safety and injury reporting training in 2017. Credit: Ed Betz

Smithtown will expand a worker safety program the comptroller’s office says has saved the town $601,717 on workers’ compensation premiums in two years while cutting the number and severity of injuries to employees.

The program was created to curtail spiraling workers’ compensation premium costs that reached $2.7 million in 2017, a 68 percent increase from 2012. Premiums dropped to $2.4 million for 2018 and $2.1 million for 2019.

The town hired a full-time health and safety assistant, and instituted townwide employee safety and injury reporting training in 2017. Officials also instituted a centralized injury reporting system and set a mandate to contact employees within 24 hours of an injury to coordinate medical care and workers’ compensation filings. That helped cut the number of workers’ compensation claims from an average of 78 per year from 2014 to 2016 to an average of 65 for 2017 and 2018, Paul Rubano, the comptroller’s risk management and budget manager, said.

From 2012 to 2017, according to a comptroller’s office report, “the Town had no comprehensive processes . . . in place to reduce or prevent workers' compensation claims or reduce the cost of claims.”

To expand the program, Rubano recommended at a town council work session on Tuesday that Smithtown form a safety committee to review workplace injuries. It will include representatives from manual-labor departments like Parks and Highway, whose 200 or so workers are among those most at risk for workplace injuries, and officials from the labor union that represents town workers.  

Town officials should also compile a comprehensive safety manual for employees, and increase training and accountability for supervisors in the field, Rubano said.

“When we lose personnel, there’s a loss of services that we can provide, and when these employees are out for an extended period of time, there’s cost analysis that goes with that,” Councilman Thomas Lohmann said.

Lohmann, a former NYPD detective and regional director for the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a nonprofit that fights insurance fraud, urged the comptroller’s office staff to investigate use of the bureau’s workers' compensation databases, tools he said can help ensure there is “no abuse and no fraud associated with the workers’ compensation claims.”

Lohmann, a Republican, said there were a number of town employees with multiple workers' comp claims, though that is not necessarily an indication of abuse of the system. 

Comptroller Donald Musgnug said that “while there may have been some abuses in the past, our focus is on moving forward by educating our employees in best practices for safety and resolving their medical issues in an expeditious manner to get them back to work.”

Christopher Downer, Smithtown unit president for CSEA, the union that represents many town employees, said in an email he had no comment “until I further investigate the claims and findings made to the Town Board at yesterday's Board meeting.” Former Smithtown unit president Kelly Brown had said in a 2017 statement that the union supported the program.

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