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Controlling your risk by Bob Carruth

As Risk Control Manager for the NCACC, Bob Carruth manages the operation of the Risk Control Team for the Risk Management Pools. The team assists members with development of safety policies and programs and identification of liability exposures and controls. Carruth is a Certified Safety Professional and is certified as an Associate – Risk Management.  For archives of this column click here

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Sep 12

The Unsung Heroes of County Government

Posted on September 12, 2012 at 9:54 AM by Chris Baucom

One of the more intriguing parts of my career over the last 20 years or so has been the contact I have had with unique jobs and interesting people who work behind the scenes to “keep the world turning.”  In fact, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the television show “Dirty Jobs.”  If you have not seen this program, it is worth watching.  Every week, the host spotlights those jobs that, while not the most glamorous, are essential to the continued functioning of our nation’s economy. 

You may not be aware, but county governments have some of those same unsung heroes.  They may work under different names, and some of them may actually be contract employees, but they all share the same basic function – to keep the floors and restrooms clean, to make sure the lights turn on when we flip the switch, and to ensure our public buildings don’t fall down around us. 

NCACC staff members are required to complete 16 hours of local government training each year.  In recent years, we have been encouraged to “job shadow,” that is, to find a particular position in one of our member counties and work with that person during the course of his/her job.  Since as a commissioner I get exposure to the highest level of county government on a regular basis, this year I decided to try something different – I shadowed one of our facilities maintenance crews for a full day. 

During my day, I accompanied Shane Brown and Jimmy Brown (not related), as they worked off the day’s work orders that had been provided to them.  Our first stop was to unclog several drains at the county animal shelter next door.  Dogs leave plenty of waste that must be cleaned up on a daily basis.  Most of this is washed down the drains at the end of each run, which occasionally gets clogged (this is as much detail as I will share at this point). After about 30 minutes, all the drains were clear, and we were on our way to the next stop.

Most of our day was spent at the local fairgrounds and expo center, getting ready for the annual Cabarrus County Fair coming up in early September.  I became the tool boy for the crew, as I observed them installing several safety chains on various mezzanines around the arena.  I saw how difficult it is to do even normal tasks when you have to negotiate a 10-foot ladder, as well as working in hotter than normal temperatures.
 
That task completed, we moved to the outside on the fairgrounds.  For the balance of the day, we inspected and repaired about 20 different water distribution access points around the midway, including replacing several components at each point. This is where three new terms became part of my vocabulary – (no, not those words!) hose bib, vacuum breaker, and water tree.  I also learned the proper tools and techniques needed to remove and replace a utility box cover. 

In the midst of this work, we also changed the code on the door locks at the transportation department, made a trip to Lowes to get more supplies needed for the fairground, and inspected the range control mechanism at the law enforcement training range.  We started at 7:30 a.m., and by 4:15, this risk control manager was whipped – and I didn’t do the heaviest part of the work!   I gained a new appreciation for the work folks like this do every day in our counties to keep things running.  I also thought about the cleaning staff that works every evening and is always there to greet us when we are entering the building for our meetings, as well as being there when we leave.

So, now here is the safety part of this article.  We often think the greatest safety hazards facing county employees come from our public safety sectors, with the rest of it basically being administrative and low risk.  This is not the case.  Our general services workers face many risks, which must be adequately controlled.  They climb ladders.  They work in all kinds of environmental conditions. They use powered tools.  They are exposed to noise (imagine about 100 dogs all barking at the same time!).  They also are mobile, so they are driving vehicles, and often times may come across unique and even dangerous situations in the course of their jobs.

That being said, you should pay particular attention to the work you are asking these unsung heroes to perform, and ensure they are provided with the tools and resources needed to perform their jobs safely.  The next time you see one of these folks, thank them for the job they do day in and day out.

As Risk Control Manager for the NCACC, Bob Carruth manages the operation of the Risk Control Team for the Risk Management Pools. The team assists members with development of safety policies and programs and identification of liability exposures and controls. Carruth is a Certified Safety Professional and is certified as an Associate – Risk Management. A current Cabarrus County commissioner, he serves on the Board of Directors for Piedmont Behavioral Healthcare and the Water & Sewer Authority of Cabarrus County.