County risk manager to check for safety hazards

The town of Massena can soon expect a visit from Jody Wenzel, St. Lawrence County’s new risk manager and compliance officer, who will be on the lookout for any potential safety hazards. Watertown Daily Times

MASSENA — The town of Massena can soon expect a visit from St. Lawrence County’s new risk manager and compliance officer, who will be on the lookout for any potential safety hazards.

Jody Wenzel is the risk manager for the St. Lawrence County self-insurance plan, which administers the workers’ compensation program for the county.

He said he’s been introducing himself to town boards so they’re familiar with him before an inspection takes place.

“It has been quite some time since anyone has done these ... So I’m trying to get on top of this as quickly as I can.” he said.

The town of Massena was among those Mr. Wenzel visited to introduce himself because they participate in a workers’ compensation plan.

“The town of Massena is a participating entity within the workers’ compensation plan. First and foremost, if you do have any questions or concerns or you need guidance on workers’ comp claims, please feel free to reach out to me,” he told the Massena Town Council.

Mr. Wenzel said one of his main responsibilities is to perform safety audits of the facilities of any participating entity.

“What this really involves is visiting all the towns, villages, cities in St. Lawrence County and doing safety audits, which pretty much involves doing a walk-through, pointing out anything that might be an unsafe condition, and also evaluating things that the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) inspector might look for,” he said.

The inspection might look for items such as correct bulletin board postings and correct policies relating to OSHA issues. One of the goals is to reduce workers’ compensation claims.

“Obviously we want to make sure that nobody’s getting hurt and we identify any hazardous conditions. Less claims equals less costs for all the towns, and that’s good for everybody,” Mr. Wenzel said.

A second goal would be to identify “anything that might trigger an OSHA citation.”

“You would want me to find that before an OSHA inspection. We submit a report to you detailing what we found, whereas an OSHA inspector would submit to you a fine for those citations. So it’s better if I find these things before somebody else,” he said.

Mr. Wenzel said either he or his secretary would contact the town, generally the town clerk, supervisor or highway superintendent, to set up a schedule to inspect the town’s facilities. He said it would basically be a walk-around to look for anything that might catch the attention of other inspectors.

“We look for anything that they would look for, and we do work closely with PESH (Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau) down in Albany. So we kind of work you into the enforcement bulletins that they issue. They tend to focus on different topics from time to time. Right now they’re very focused on fall protection. If you already had an inspection, they would be looking for fall protection and those types of issues. We do stay pretty in touch with them so we know what they’re looking for. It helps guide me to assist you in doing better with any inspection you have,’ he said.

Once the inspection is complete, Mr. Wenzel will summarize anything he found.

“I will submit that to the respective person, whether it be the highway superintendent, the town supervisor or any other designee that you provide to me. It will pretty much have a list of anything I find and a severity rating,” he said.

A severity rating goes from one to four, “four being pretty much informational only, three would be mild, two is significant, and anything that would be assigned a one would be something that presented an immediate danger to life and health. Normally speaking, if we found anything like that, we would address it right on the spot,” he said.

A town representative would initial and date the inspection report and return it to Mr. Wenzel’s office when the identified issues had been addressed. That’s kept in a file in Mr. Wenzel’s office, and is not shared with anyone outside of the town.

“This is an internal audit. This is for your benefit, really. The overarching purpose is to reduce the workers’ compensation claims by reducing hazards in the workplace. But this is not shared with anybody else,” he said. “If you were to get a PESH inspection later on and they did cite you for something, showing that we are doing due diligence and doing these inspections and attempting to keep up with all these safety issues might help mitigate some of the fines if you were to be assessed.”

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