Our brainiac Mayor's data-driven efforts are yielding fruit.
Our brainiac mayor’s data-driven efforts are yielding fruit.

It turns out at least one Metro Government department in Louisville is truly on the cutting edge, says Harvard University. That department? Public Works, specifically its garbage collectors, who have collectively cut their on-the-job injuries in half. Their secret? Stretching.

Of course there is more to the story, and it turns out to be a pretty high-tech story at that, filled with statistics, benchmarks, data collection, and all sorts of other things that make Mayor Greg Fischer jump out of bed in the morning.

All this comes from a recently published article by Matthew McClellan, writing for Harvard’s Data-Smart City Solutions project.

“Every morning, sanitation workers across Louisville start their day with a regimen of stretching,” McClellan writes. “In the offices of the city’s Public Works department, even those who spend most of their days behind a desk and computer monitor begin their day with the same routine.”

I don’t know about you, but for me, personally, I imagine them doing these group stretches to either “Y.M.C.A.” or dancing in a pyramidal-formation, a la “Thriller.”

The stretching is the answer to a problem that Public Works started to track in January 2012. That’s when the department began to benchmark its Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) stats on injuries serious enough to cause lost, or limited, work time. The rate was 30 percent in the first month, magnitudes worse than peer departments, some of which had no injuries. The source of most injuries were the “tippers,” aka the folks who actually pick up the trash cans.

Louisville garbage collectors stretch | Photo courtesy of Metro Government

Public Works, which has its own dedicated data analyst, found what are called Key Performance Indicators to track and reduce injuries. Once these were implemented, the department sought answers to deal with the problem.

Stretching was the biggest and most obvious one, but there were others. Another is how injured workers are allowed back to work in some capacity, like in the office, even if they can’t pick up trash for a while. Instead of more bed rest they can draw full pay, and stay active. This leads to faster recoveries.

It’s working. Injuries are down from 31 percent to 16 percent from March 2013 through February 2014.

There’s more. Hours lost to work-related injuries fell from 4,000 per month in 2011 to 608 last February. Public Works also has created an Accident Review Committee to give recommendations to the department’s management on how to prevent future accidents.

The article also praised the data-driven work of the Louisville Metro Emergency Medical Services (LMENS), which has drastically reduced ambulance turnaround time.

Turnaround time, the article notes, is the time it takes when an ambulance unloads a patient at the hospital, until the crew can go on another service call.

The old turnaround time standard was 38 minutes. Figuring this was too long an average, LMENS started to require EMS crews to make reports for turnarounds longer than 30 minutes. LMENS also holds monthly training sessions, giving both constructive criticism and praise in order to make the process faster.

So far it’s working, with turnaround times over 30 minutes falling from 115 daily to 31, a great reduction, although still not quite meeting LMENS’ goal of only 10 percent of all such runs being over 30 minutes.

Still, this improvement was good enough to be the financial equivalent of adding a new ambulance or two and five full-time staff to the street every day, which would cost about $1.4 million, according to Theresa Reno Webber, Louisville’s chief of Performance and Technology.

Which isn’t exactly garbage.

If you want to learn more about this data, or the performance of other city departments, simply click on the city’s LouieStat page.

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David Serchuk
David Serchuk is a staff writer at Insider Louisville. He is a former editor at Forbes.com, and an ex-reporter at Forbes magazine. He's written for NPR, CNBC.com, New York, Pittsburgh, Louisville and other publications named for places. He enjoys writing about business, music and other things as well.

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