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Norwalk DPW head: Garbage outsourcing means fewer worker’s claims

City Carting 100212 008

City Carting workers roll down Norwalk’s Soundview Avenue in October.

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.”

5 comments

LWitherspoon July 5, 2013 at 9:22 am

Nancy,
.
Thank you for this article.
.
I am unclear on meaning of a few terms. What are light-duty hours? What does a DPW employee who is taking light-duty hours do during that time? How does that differ from “injury-related lost-time hours”? What are the monetary implications of each for the City?

0ldtimer July 5, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Under Alvord’s management garbage was collected by three man crews manually emptying garbage into trucks from cans, boxes, plastic bags, etc., and there were back injuries. City Carting is switching to hydraulic attachments to pickup and dump larger standard containers and eliminating the most strenuous part of the job. Too bad Alvord didn’t think of that before deciding to outsource. Eliminating certain jobs eliminated certain injuries, as expected.

RKeyes July 6, 2013 at 10:01 am

LWitherspoon:

A worker is normally full duty with no work restrictions. Meaning they are hired in a position and that job has certain duties for which they are supposed to perform. If a worker is injured they may get better to the point of being able to return to work with some job restrictions usually while they are still treating and trying to get back to full duty. If the City can return that worker to a job within those restrictions they are considered light duty.

The City may put them back to work in the transfer station for example where they don’t have to lift a certain weight or stand for certain period of time. If the City has light duty work available for an injured worker then they try and place that worker back to work in a less strenuous job that fits within the doctor’s work restrictions for that individual.

I believe what they mean by lost time hours is a person who is temporarily total disabled and cannot work at all for a period of time.

I could not tell you the monetary loss but the net effect is that you have a worker who is out injured getting paid workers’ compensation or someone who is now working but may be light duty and unable to work within his or her job description.

LWitherspoon July 6, 2013 at 10:33 am

@RKeyes
Thank you for the explanation of light duty and lost time hours. I wonder how one would calculate the cost of these to the City. I suppose one would have to know how much the City pays the person who fills in for the lost time / light duty worker, as well as how much the City pays the injured workers.
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Does anyone know if the $1.7 million per year in total savings under the new contract included any projected savings from reduced workers compensation claims? If I recall correctly, early in the conversation over garbage outsourcing several Council members objected to that on the grounds that it was very difficult to project what the savings would be.
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@oldtimer
It has been widely reported that City Carting will eventually use mechanical trucks to pick up recycling. It has not been reported anywhere that they are switching to hydraulic-lift trucks for regular trash pickup. Are you sure this is correct? How is it even possible unless every homeowner gets a standard can for regular garbage which is compatible with hydraulic-lift trucks?

RKeyes July 6, 2013 at 1:13 pm

LWitherspoon
Just for point of clarification I don’t think the City replaces the light duty worker. They just make due with who they have and the other workers suck it up and get the work done with who is working, whether they are capable of full or light duty.

Under the workers’ compensation system the employer doesn’t have to keep the injured worker. They can’t fire you for filing a claim but if you can’t come back to work full duty then they can let you go. It makes sense but union employees have certain rights under their contract that at will employees don’t have. Municipalities are hard pressed to get rid of those that are injured for long periods or get injured repeatedly. It is not a perfect system and municipalities are always trying to figure out ways to reduce claims or get rid of employees out on compensation that can’t come back to full duty employment.

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