Public Works Audit Emphasizes Safety, Manager Changes

by Phillip M. Bailey on July 14, 2011

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer spoke to hundreds of Metro Public Works and Assets employees Thursday morning to announce the results of the agency’s long-awaited audit. The report emphasizes employee safety and shuffling managers to help improve efficiency and city services.

“Public Works is a quality organization with dedicated employees who keep our city running,” Fischer said in a news release. “The review will help us fine-tune the agency, increase efficiency and make employee-safety a top priority.”

The six month study was commissioned by Fischer in December 2010 and was conducted by a five member group led by Dave Vogel, vice president of the Louisville Water Company. It focused heavily on worker safety and listed several ways to reduce workplace accidents.

Among those recommendations is the safety organization reporting directly to the head of the agency and that the agency perform injury investigations with all employees.

From the audit:

One of the core missions of Public Works is to provide services that support community safety… It appears that the focus and delivery of this mission is being met as it relates to the public and external agencies.

There is significant opportunity however, to improve the safety performance within Public Works when it comes to employees. Over the past five years the organization has experienced the loss of two employees in fatal accidents. While there have been some positive changes on the safety front such as the development of a consolidated safety group and the required use of high visibility vests in the garbage collection area, much more can be done. Safety professionals within the group, as well as those in Metro OSHA do a nice job of holding employee safety meetings and performing required OSHA training.

However, it appears that significantly more support for safety from all levels of management, along with additional buy-in and commitment from front line employees, is needed.

Union leaders are grateful the audit focused so heavily on keeping workers safe and pledged to help the administration develop an improved process to ensure their well-being.

“Thank God for that,” says Teamsters Local 783 spokesman Todd Thomason, which represents nearly 600 employees in the department. “We’ve got to focus on safety. Public Works is an essential department and a lot of people don’t think that. And one of the things the mayor said this morning, which I think really stands out, is nobody deems public works essential until the services aren’t done. And our guys are out their risking life and limb everyday too.”

Calling for a more streamlined approach to management, the audit also recommends 150 managers and supervisors reapply for their jobs, indicating many will not keep their positions. The Fischer administration touts the reorganization plan as a necessary tool to ensure that the right manager are in the right positions. It had been speculated that Public Works Director Ted Pullen would be let go depending on the audit’s results, but the mayor says Pullen will remain in his position.

The findings indicate morale is high overall in the department, but there is mistrust between workers and management due to its emphasis on disciplinary matters. The audit says whether the issue is real or perceived, management should communicate performance results to employees and emphasize productivity over punishments.

Thomason says morale is beginning to improve at the agency and the rank-and-file employees are looking forward to forging a partnership with Fischer, but there are lingering questions about the reorganization plan.

“We’re looking forward to this,” he says. “I think employees see good things from this mayor, but we’re cautiously optimistic that this mayor is going to do what he said he was going to do.”

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