Efforts to increase safety and reduce injuries have resulted in big savings for the Olentangy Local School District, officials say.

Efforts to increase safety and reduce injuries have resulted in big savings for the Olentangy Local School District, officials say.

Proactive safety procedures and employee training, coupled with a switch in the way the district pays worker's compensation costs, have resulted in savings of nearly $1.6 million since August 2009, said district safety coordinator Jennifer Iceman.

Iceman reviewed the practices that drove those savings at the Jan. 10 meeting of the school board.

In 2009, the district qualified to become self-insured, leaving a state-funded worker's compensation program with high premiums.

Now, the district pays for 100 percent of all work-related medical expenses and lost time -- but forgoes premiums. "The problem with (the old program) is that you're paying a premium for folks who are never going to have an injury," Iceman said.

In 2012, the district would have paid more than $608,000 to participate in the state-funded program. Instead it paid about $135,000 as a self-insured entity.

Since August 2009, it paid out just $595,500 in total to cover worker's compensation costs.

The district did take on higher risk by making the switch, but officials said the risk was offset by effective new efforts to reduce injury.

Iceman said officials now are quicker to correct issues that could cause tripping or falling, such as frayed mats or outdoor spots that don't get salted in the winter.

"We have proactive safety procedures," she said. "We're really making sure we're taking care of those situations."

Iceman added a comprehensive review of prior claims has helped the district to identify safety risks or lapses in training, and an online safety suggestion box was implemented so employees can notify the district of problems.

Ideas and suggestions are periodically reviewed by a new safety committee consisting of teachers and administrators.

Employees also are required to complete additional online safety training.

The district implemented a "light-duty" program that gets employees back to work sooner by temporarily assigning work that is less physically demanding and complies with a doctor's restrictions.

It also adopted stricter rules to verify injury claims, Iceman said. The district now takes witness statements, checks video and reviews prior employee history.

The efforts paid off. Between 2006-09, the district saw claims for more than eight days of lost time -- the most expensive claims -- 21 times. In the three years since, it saw just four similar claims. The results were achieved even as the district hired about 500 new employees during those years.

Iceman added the district has backup insurance to cover the largest claims.

Board member Julie Wagner Feasel said the new safety program is a big success, paying for itself several times over.

"Some people roll their eyes when they have to go to a safety training class, but as you can see, our claims have really gone down and it really does work," she said. "We took on more risk when going self-insured, but when you do it right, it pays off."