The town of Fairfield has been recognized as being among the overall safest workplaces for public employees in the state.
“I think for the average citizen what it means is that the local government does strive to be a professional organization and to provide quality services to residents,” Town Manager Josh Reny said. “Safety is a big part of the quality in quality service.”
The town is the sixth in the state to have received the Safety & Health Award for Public Employers from the Maine Department of Labor for all of its units — the fire, police and public works departments as well as the town office, library and community center.
The award is one towns seek and the town must reapply to be inspected again in two years.
Reny said the award should make town employees feel good because they are safe and also because they have managers who care about their safety.
Fire Chief Duane Buckford, chairman of the town’s safety committee, said it took about six months for the town to earn the distinction, which is shared by Brunswick, Caribou, Jay, Kennebunk and Presque Isle.
While evaluating the town, the state department inspected five years of employee accident report logs and every health and safety policy for each unit. State inspectors then visited each department and documented potential safety hazards that needed to be addressed.
Bickford acknowledged that inviting the state into every nook and cranny of the town’s property was risking the discovery of a large problem that couldn’t be easily resolved, but the town runs that risk anyway, he said.
“They can stop in any time for a surprise inspection,” Bickford said. “By asking them to come in, if they look at it and they find something, they give you an opportunity to fix it without giving you a citation.”
Reny said the safety committee was fairly confident the town would do well during the inspection process because a surprise inspection about a year ago went well.
“The inspector said, âYou guys are in really good shape compared to most municipalities,'” Reny said. “That was a catalyst that gave us the confidence to push for it.”
While going through the process, the state identified safety problems, but they were mostly minor and Reny estimated they cost less than $1,000 to repair.
The town had to revise and update some safety policies, install a few lightbulb shields, eliminate extension cords from a few areas and install shelves in other areas so that items wouldn’t have to be stored on the floor.
On the larger issues, though, the town did well.
“There was a lot already in place,” Bickford said. “There wasn’t a lot to fix.”
Reny said he plans to inform the town’s insurance provider of the designation, but wasn’t sure if it would a improve insurance rates.
Both Reny and Bickford credited town employees for supporting a culture of safety that allowed the town to get through the process with minimal changes.
“All the employees are out there wearing their personal protective equipment when it’s necessary,” Bickford said.
Because of the designation, the town is now on track to achieve more independence in managing its workplace environment.
Bickford said the town is scheduled to be re-inspected in two years to renew the award after which subsequent inspections will happen less frequently.