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Solid Waste Officials Discuss Strategies to Reduce Workers Compensation Claims in Cities

By Jubi Headley
June 13, 2011


While automation of trash collection and legislative remedies are two significant ways to address the incidence of workers compensation claims among solid waste workers – a challenge every city faces – there are more cost-effective solutions that city officials can implement, often without the need for legislation at the state level. That was the message to participants in the June 2 webinar on workers compensation, hosted by the Municipal Waste Management Association (MWMA), the environmental affiliate of The U.S. Conference of Mayors.

The webinar featured a presentation by Orlando (FL) Solid Waste Director Mike Carroll, who outlined the key elements of Orlando’s workers compensation process:

  • Workers are only paid 2/3 of their regular salary under workers compensation—they must use accrued leave (such as sick days or vacation time) to make up the remainder of their regular salary. And workers out on workers compensation don’t work holidays and thus don’t earn the usual double-time holiday pay.

  • Orlando contracts directly with an occupational medical provider, who reviews every workers compensation claim submitted. If a claim is refused for any reason, the worker is entitled to a second opinion – but they must choose from a pre-approved list of board-certified doctors in the field most closely related to the nature of their injury. This contrasts sharply with the experiences of other cities. For example, California state law allows a worker to choose his or her own doctor to review their claim, according to San Diego Environmental Services Director Chris Gonaver.

  • Workers who are deemed fit for restricted duty are assigned to paperwork jobs in city hall, often in the records or human resources departments. These clerical positions often involve mundane and repetitive work, and most workers see them as boring assignments. According to Carroll, pulling one of these assignments is in itself an incentive for many workers to work to reduce their time on workers compensation.

  • Orlando’s solid waste workers are restricted to a maximum of six months on workers compensation in any 12-month window. This includes any leave the worker may take under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), as well as any restricted-duty assignments in which a worker might be placed. In contrast, California workers may claim up to 2,080 hours – up to a full year of benefits – at full pay.

  • All workers on workers compensation have their cases reviewed every two weeks by the city’s occupational medical provider. (In many cities cases are reviewed less infrequently – for example, in Austin it’s every 45 days.) If a worker is deemed fit to return to full duty, in the absence of a second opinion to support continued benefits, he or she must either do so or face being fired.

Carroll feels that these policies have been very successful in reducing workers compensation claims – out of a field staff of 80 he’s had only two “repeaters” over his ten years in the position.

This webinar was the second of 2011 in MWMA’s “Urban Summit” Series, where solid waste officials from around the country conference to discuss issues that they face in their work, and hear ideas, best practices, and solutions that other cities are implementing to deal with similar challenges. MWMA’s next webinar, scheduled for September, will focus more specifically on worker safety programs, and the issue will be explored in more depth at the upcoming Fall Summit, MWMA’s annual conference for municipal solid waste, recycling, and other environmental executives. The Fall Summit is scheduled for October 24 – 26 in Houston.

To learn more about MWMA’s webinars, the Fall Summit, or the organization in general, contact Jubi Headley by telephone at (202) 861-6798, or by e-mail at jheadley@usmayors.org. Or visit the MWMA website at www.usmayors.org/mwma.