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Medford School District one of most accident-prone in state

The Medford School District is ranked as one of the most accident-prone school districts in the state by its workers' compensation insurance provider, SAIF Corp.

Between July 2013 and June 2014, 49 workers' compensation claims were filed by district staff, who consequently lost 475 days of work.

As a result, the district is now just one tier shy of the high-risk ranking and the ensuing $1 million insurance premiums.

“Things happen, bad luck, bad injuries,” said Sharilyn Cano, the district’s human resources director.

“If we were to continue on our trend into the high-risk group, we would be looking at about a 40 percent increase to our insurance premiums,” she said. “We’d be paying close to $1 million, but that’s a ballpark figure.”

The district’s payroll, tier ranking and Experience Rating Modification (MOD rate) — the ratio of expected claims to actual claims — factor into the formula for calculating workers' compensation premiums, said Chief Financial Officer Brad Earl.

“A MOD rate of 1.0 means you’re basically average or in the pack,” Earl said. “Anything above 1.0 means that you are performing worse than average in your industry peer group, and anything below 1.0 means you’re a rock star and the favorability shows up in your rate.”

The district’s MOD rate in 2014 was 1.27, or about 27 percent worse than the average school district.

Slips, trips and falls account for the bulk of the work-related injuries being reported, Cano said, adding that the claims seem to be evenly distributed among all employees, not just teachers or maintenance workers.

“This is a person who uses a rolling office chair for a step stool and then falls off and fractures something or injures their knee or back,” Cano said. “And we all do it.”

Since starting with the district in October 2014, Cano has been trying to increase safety awareness and reduce the insurance premiums, which in 2013-14 cost the district $643,195. That’s up from $382,435 in 2009-10.

In January, the district began offering training for administrators on understanding the safety culture in their buildings and departments and revitalized its executive safety committee, which includes Cano, Earl, Facilities Manager Ron Havniear, principals and union leadership.

The committee, Cano said, reviews workers' compensation claims at each facility and, if possible, institutes preventive measures — for example, making step stools more accessible.

“It’s just a matter of bringing it back to people’s attention and building that safety culture,” Cano said. “It sounds simple, but it sometimes takes a while to change a culture.”

Some employees suffering from work-related injuries may not be well enough to return to their jobs but may be able to provide support in another office or department, she said.

Already the district has noticed a drop in the number of workers' compensation claims filed. Between July 2014 and January 2015, there were 18 claims filed and 47 days lost.

There were 40 claims filed and 503 days lost in 2012-13, 36 claims filed and 615 days lost in 2011-12, and 49 claims filed and 425 days lost in 2010-11.

Earl said there was an increase in the number of accidents while the district was renovating 18 of its facilities under the $189 million bond package. However, the number of accidents did not decrease even after the last bond project was completed in 2011.

“We've not had an appropriate culture centered around being safe and careful as employees,” Earl said, adding that the insurance premiums come out of the district's general fund.

“If we can get the premium down to where it belongs — say $300,000 a year — we can start adding more supports to class,” he added.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.