Workers‘ compensation payouts by Boulder, Longmont governments dropped last year

Workers‘ compensation claims

Boulder municipal government employees

2015: 179 claims, $1,878,897 paid

2016: 182 claims, $1,264,846 paid

2017: 164 claims, $558,490 paid

Longmont municipal government employees

2015: 89 claims, $760,453 paid

2016: 98 claims, $1,519,323 paid

2017: 104 claims, $505,865 paid

 

Workers‘ compensation payouts from both the Longmont and Boulder municipal governments to their employees fluctuated greatly in the past three years.

Even as a local insurance firm owner said the amount of workers‘ compensation claims filed by the municipal employees outnumber the standard volume of those made by some private organizations, total money paid in such costs by each city was reduced by more than half from 2016 to last year.

According to data provided by officials from each city, Boulder‘s staff made 525 workers‘ compensation claims that saw a corresponding payout from 2015 to 2017, and Longmont employees filed a total of 291 during the same period.

Boulder‘s insurer against workers‘ compensation risk — Midwest Employers Casualty — paid $3.7 million in response to the city‘s claims over the three years, while Longmont, which is self-insured for workers‘ compensation, paid nearly $2.3 million.

The decrease in such costs seen by both cities in 2017, though, is substantial.

Longmont‘s payouts nearly doubled from $760,453 in 2015 to $1.5 million in 2016, then fell 33 percent to just $505,865 in 2017, even though the 104 claims filed last year was a jump from the 98 made the year before.

Boulder‘s insurer saw its annual losses to the city shrink twice during the period from almost $1.9 million in 2015 to $1.2 million in 2016 before a large dropoff to $558,490 in 2017.

Boulder Parks employees Dustin Zeis , left, and Kaylee Motz compact dirt on a mound they are making for the bike path at the Valmont Bike Park in 2015. ()

Steve Longenecker, agency owner of the Longmont Branch of DC Insurers-Mountain, said his firm provides workers‘ compensation coverage for several development and contractor businesses, and estimated the number of claims fielded by each city to be high compared to private organizations.

Assuming each individual claim was filed by a different person in 2017, that would mean 11 percent of Boulder‘s approximately 1,400 employees and about 7 percent of Longmont‘s approximately 1,500 employees reported they were hurt on the job during the year.

“That feels heavy to me,” Longenecker said. “I‘ve got a lot of contractors and they have some claims, but it would seem (costly) if just under one out of 10 people were hurt on an average. How many paper cuts are in there?”

The disparity he perceived between the volume of claims filed by city government workers and those made by employees of private organizations could be partly explained by what he called an “ego element” among construction industry staffers.

“Those guys get beat up all the time, and for them to go to a hospital or doctor, there‘s maybe a lot of things that should be claimed that aren‘t,” Longenecker said.

The culture of working through pain is discouraged by municipalities.

“There is an environment at the city of Longmont that would recommend if you‘re injured on the job or you encounter something that has potential liability, you should report it,” Leal said.

Both Boulder and Longmont have their own risk mitigation departments that sponsor safety training sessions for employees assigned to especially risky projects, such as water distribution crews who work in tight spaces like storm drain inlets.

Additionally, Longmont seeks to improve its safety practices by allowing its employees to report “near-misses,” or incidents that came close to causing an injury to an employee, said city safety officer Derek Barrett.

Staffers have the option to submit “near-misses” anonymously or attach their names to them, but in his three years with the city, Barrett said he cannot recall seeing such a report anonymously written — a trend he applauded.

“The thing that‘s great about it is it shows that our workers are wanting to watch out for each other and they‘re not afraid to bring that forward,” he said.

Personal health and wellness programs are also offered to staffers of both governments.

“The city as a whole also focuses on wellness, work/life balance and provides regular trainings and information on improving an employee‘s overall health which carries over to claim reduction,” Boulder spokesman Ben Irwin said in an email. “Our insurers have not noted or advised us of specific practices that would make substantial changes to our premiums, if they did, we‘d do them.”

Longmont risk manager Doug Spight, through city spokesman Rigo Leal, said no specific city effort to minimize risk caused the dropoff from total workers‘ compensation paid in 2016 to 2017.

Longenecker said it is difficult to determine reasons for any decreases or increases in costs without seeing the actual contents of the claims, most of which are unavailable to the public due to containing sensitive medical information.

“Trying to determine some kind of science around the fluctuation of the numbers of claims and severity of claims, that‘s a little like trying to prove whether global warming is really happening or if it‘s a blip in the entire history in the world,” Longenecker said.

“If claims are going up, it‘s because of either improvements that they need in safety measures, or new types of injuries that are occurring that maybe weren‘t in the past.”