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Yellowstone County a success story in Montana's troubling workplace safety stats

Yellowstone County safety
Posted at 4:57 PM, Jan 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-21 12:26:01-05

BILLINGS — Montana has a workplace safety problem. The state ranks 46th in the country in non-fatal work injury rate - behind only Maine, Vermont, Washington and Alaska . It's especially bad for young workers.

"For workers ages 20-24, the rate is 13 percent higher than national average," said Julie Jenkinson, the executive vice president of the Montana State Fund.

Over about the last decade, the fund has made it a mission to make work safer. One of its biggest success stories? Yellowstone County.

"Over the last 14 years, they’ve reduced their incident rate by 31%," Jenkinson said Thursday. "Almost one-third. That is significant."

How did they do it? Incentives are one key.

"We tried to make it fun with a lottery scratch-off game," said LynnDee Schmidt, Yellowstone County's benefits and safety manager.

The county gives out a safety-themed lottery scratcher to every employee once a quarter.

"And if you match three safety sayings, either 'Safety First' or 'Safety Pays,' then you win a prize," Schmidt said.

Yellowstone County safety scratcher
Yellowstone County gives a 'safety scratcher' to each of its 450 employees every quarter.

They’ve also started an early-return-to-work program.

"For example, heavy equipment operators that weren’t released to go back to work driving that heavy equipment, we've had them work maybe over in the elections office, helping register voters," Schmidt said. "Just finding other work for them to do."

It all helps boost morale and gets workers to care about safety. They see a direct return on investment, and they’re about to see more. The Montana State Fund gives a yearly dividend to companies based on safety numbers. Yellowstone County just received its highest ever, more than $70,000.

"Right now we’re doing an employee appreciation award," Schmidt said. "We have a catalog and employees can pick what they want, from bags to vests to shirts to coats. They'll all have the Yellowstone County logo on them."

"Getting employees involved is absolutely important," Jenkinson added. "Giving them a sense of pride in their company and wanting to do good for each other is really when they start to pay attention differently."

And change a culture for the better.