A shoe-in for taxpayers

October 31, 2012 

Not safe for work.

It pays to put your best foot forward. Just ask the folks at the Department of Public Social Services.

Three years ago, DPSS discovered that it was losing nearly a million dollars a year, not to mention thousands of work hours, to slip-and-fall injuries in the workplace.

“We had individuals falling in parking lots, slipping in hallways, falling down the stairs, tripping over frayed carpet,” recalls Sherise McDowell-English, who handles risk management in the department’s human resources division. Mystified, they studied the data and interviewed managers in every bureau.

Finally, she recalls, they pinned down the problem:  “People were coming to work in platform high heels and flip-flops.” The result? A Safe Shoe Campaign that last year saved the department more than $1.1 million and cut trip, slip and fall injuries by 23%.

That campaign is just one of more than 20 efforts, large and small, that are being honored this week at the county’s 26th Annual Productivity and Quality Awards. Because of Los Angeles County’s size, even seemingly modest improvements can make a huge difference, with results that go far beyond “attaboys” from bosses.

According to Chief Executive Officer William T Fujioka, award winners have garnered nearly $4 billion for the county in savings, cost avoidance and revenue since their inception a quarter-century ago. William A. Sullivan, who heads the county’s Quality and Productivity Commission, estimates that the county benefitted to the tune of nearly $170 million from the projects being lauded this year.

This year’s honorees (click here for a video sample) range from an iPhone app that allows county residents to request pothole repairs and easily follow their progress to a housing program that leveraged a $115 million county investment into a $551 million pool for the development of supportive housing for the homeless mentally ill.  Here’s a look at some of the others:

Several of the awards are for programs that have already been expanded. The project that streamlined the mail processing of vital records at the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s Office, for instance, has already led to improvements in the processing of fictitious business registration, the scanning and recording of property documents and a search for ways to consolidate the office’s call centers, says Sandra Spencer, an elections programs coordinator who worked on the original project.

“Our feedback has been really great,” she adds. “We actually get letters and phone calls from people, thanking us.”

Meanwhile, at DPSS, slip-and-falls are no longer the No. 1 source of injuries. (It’s all about the pushing and pulling of heavy file drawers now, according to human resources workers.)

But McDowell-English says the colorful Safe Shoe fliers and posters will remain, to keep workers on their toes—and balanced. As for her own footwear, she says she sets a cautious example: “I wear ballerina flats to work.”

Posted 10/25/12

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