NORWALK, Conn. – Success seems evident in one aspect of Norwalk’s garbage outsourcing, Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord indicated this week: Initial statistics for 2013 show a marked decrease in the number of light-duty hours and worker’s compensation claims in his department, Alvord told members of the Public Works Committee Tuesday.
Customer complaints are also down, he said.
Because of outsourcing, employees who used to work on the collection trucks have been moved to other tasks. The figures Alvord provided represent those workers and others in the DPW, but not City Carting’s crew.
“We watch our safety stuff fairly closely and we knew when we were planning on outsourcing the garbage collection that we could find significant savings not only in the financial arena, (but) in the injury and worker comp arena,” he said. “We took at look at the six-month point and, as we anticipated, we have some pretty significant adjustments.”
City Carting began picking up Norwalk’s garbage and recycling materials Oct. 1 in accordance with a 10-year contract authorized by the Common Council last July.
Alvord’s figures show a 60 percent decrease expected this year in the light-duty hours taken by his employees from 2012 to 2013. There’s a 32 percent decrease expected in hours lost to injury from 2012 to 2013.
The calculations are questionable, according to Councilman Matt Miklave (D-District A), who did not vote for outsourcing. The performance metrics compiled by Alvord’s staff to analyze the trends take the figures for the first six months of 2013 and double them to get a number that compares to the statistics for the entire years of 2011 and 2012.
There were 5,205 light-duty hours in 2012, the paperwork shows. There have been 1,436 light-duty hours through June 30. Double 1,436 and you get 2,872, a 60 percent decrease.
There were 4,397 light-duty hours in 2011, as reported by DPW.
“I currently have two guys on light duty,” Alvord said. “One of those is a former sanitation worker, the other is a back injury that’s been around for a while.”
Injury-related lost-time hours were 6,290 in 2011, 4,054 in 2012 and 850 so far this year. Double 850, you get 1,700, a 32 percent decrease from 2012.
Alvord said he agrees with Miklave, that you can’t simply double the figures because things change from month to month. He said he expects there to be far fewer hours lost in December.
“Light duty and worker’s comp always evaporates around Dec. 1 because that’s when snow plow season starts and heavy overtime starts,” he said. “… If someone maybe has been stretching it a little bit, they get back. Some people who have honest injuries try to talk their doctors into releasing them back to full duty because people who have light duty and worker’s comp can’t do overtime, by the contract.”
The worker’s compensation claim statistics were reported by the fiscal year. There were 98 claims in 2010-11, 70 in 2011-2012 and 39 in 2012-2013.
Sick leave claims have decreased, according to the paperwork done by DPW, although numbers are not provided. Overall, there has been a 16 percent decrease from (calendar year) 2012 to (calendar year) 2013, a figure that was also compiled by making a projection. There is a 28 percent decrease on Tuesdays and a 23 percent decrease on Mondays and Fridays.
Sick pay had been a “huge issue,” Alvord said.
“(For) our sanitation crews, Monday, Tuesday and Friday, is always the big sick day,” he said. “Monday and Friday because they’re in association with the weekend, and it may turn into a long weekend. Tuesday because that was our heaviest day. We’d have, especially guys on the back end of the truck, would call out on a Tuesday because they knew that was going to be a long, hard day.”
Alvord said customer complaints are down as well.
He expects a 48 percent decrease in general complaints (which includes recycling issues) from 2012 to 2013. There were 280 complaints recorded in 2010, 329 in 2011, 225 in 2012 and 67 thus far this year. Double 67, you get 134, the 48 percent decrease Alvord was talking about.
Missed garbage complaints are down significantly, according to the figures provided by Alvord. There were 131 complaints in 2010, 129 in 2011, 161 in 2012 and 43 so far this year. Double 43, you get 86, a 61 percent decrease from 2012.
The figures do not seem to reflect the cascade of complaints regarding the delayed trash pickup after Memorial Day weekend.
Miklave requested a month-by-month comparison.
“Six months will skew it,” he said. “Then you can go back and look at storms and look at the conditions. It’s now in the public record, it’s a point that has been made, and I think we have a responsibility to access the representations that have been made. … If that is accurate that should be noted and commended; if that is skewed by some statistical anomalies, I think we need to pay attention to that and get the right story.”
Alvord agreed to do that, but cautioned that it wouldn’t be a high priority as he is short staffed.
But, he said, “These are real numbers. These are out of our daily attendance numbers.”
He was careful to say that his employees work hard.
“These numbers are not intended to mean that anybody was playing games with the system,” he said. “It’s just that because of the stresses put on people chasing a garbage truck down the street in 100-degree weather, a large part of our challenges in worker’s comp injuries and light duty were in our sanitation staff, because of the nature of the work.”