BERLIN — The city council received the encouraging news that its workers’ compensation claims are going down. After experiencing high levels of workers’ compensation claims four and five years ago, the city is now seeing “some good things happening,” reported Rick Alpers, risk management consultant with Primex.
Mayor Paul Grenier asked Alpers to update the council on Berlin’s workers’ compensation experience at Monday’s council meeting. He noted it had been several years since Alpers had delivered such a briefing. Like most municipalities, Berlin uses the N.H. Public Risk Management Exchange for workers’ compensation, property and liability coverage.
Alpers said between January 2012 and December 2017, the city had 122 claims that resulted in over $550,000 in payments made. That period is currently used to set Berlin’s rates.
But Alpers said last year (2018) the city had 28 claims costing $41,000. And so far this year, there have been two claims. Alpers said as Berlin’s claims go down, so will its rate.
“It’s good news,” he said.
Alpers said slips, trips and falls account for the most claims. He said it is impossible to prevent all injuries and claims but education and training can reduce the number. Grenier said the city’s goal goes beyond saving money. He said Berlin wants to avoid injuries to its employees and keep them safe.
He credited the work by City Manager James Wheeler and department heads in creating a safer environment for city workers.
Wheeler said when there is a workers’ comp incident, the city’s Joint Loss Prevention Committee makes sure the supervisor files a report that analyzes the cause. He said the reports are highly effective in helping the city avoid repeat incidents. The current chair of the committee is Ron Lemoine, which is the first time the chair has come from labor.
Alpers said at the request of Fire Chief John Lacasse, his organization has done a lot of training over the past six months with the department on back injury prevention and confined space entry training. He encouraged the city to take advantage of Primex’s training opportunities. In addition to classroom training in Concord, he said Primex also has online training programs and soon will have video conferencing.
Primex also provides property and liability insurance to member communities and one current initiative is an effort to reduce fires at public works garages. Shelly Waltz of Primex said the fires are expensive because of the cost of replacing equipment and vehicles housed in them. For about a year, she said Primex has been visiting public works garages across the state and making recommendations. She said now that new Public Works Director Eric Grenier has been hired, Primex will make a visit to Berlin.
In other business, the council voted to oppose House Bill 683. The bill would require municipalities to get a majority vote of its legislative body plus the approval of two-thirds of abutting landowners before opening a town highway to OHRVs.
Grenier noted if there were two abutters and they split on allowing OHRVs on a road, permission would be denied because the measure did not get the two-thirds majority required.
The mayor said he believed the bill is designed to shut down the Ride The Wilds network of trails.
Councilor Mike Rozek said there is limited OHRV riding in the southern part of the state, allowing the North Country an opportunity to attract riders. He said the region needs the business generated by ATVs.
Councilor Diana Berthieume said Maine is trying to attract ATVers and allowing riders to use local roads to access trails and businesses makes northern New Hampshire stand out.
Councilor Lucie Remillard said the region is seeing real estate values recover as ATV riders purchase properties for second homes. She said without the ability to jump on their ATVs and access trails from their homes, they would look at other places.
Grenier said he will testify against the bill in Concord and will work with local OHRV clubs to attract an overflow crowd in opposition.
The mayor predicted all the various OHRV bills will end up being sent to a study committee.