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Agency Risk Management Program works to minimize, eliminate potential risks

By Tom Mechler

portrait of Tom Mechler
Tom Mechler, Member
Without proper prevention or detection programs in place, any organization faces potential risks, which can effect its operations, its employees and even the individuals it serves. Taking proactive steps to minimize or eliminate potential risks is essential to the successful management of any organization.

For the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, public safety comes first, but the safety of its staff and the offenders is paramount. TDCJ created a Safety Department in 1984, where prior Plant Maintenance officers performed safety-related activities. As the agency has grown and changed, the Safety Department evolved into the Risk Management Program and expanded its operations from fire and safety functions to a comprehensive loss prevention and control system. The Risk Management Program, now under the authority of the Administrative Review and Risk Management Division, also has operational oversight for the TDCJ Occupational Safety and Health Program.

The objective of the TDCJ Risk Management Program is to reduce misuse, theft, or losses of equipment and property; reduce the frequency and severity of accidents; reduce legal expenditures; and reduce expenditures for claims. In the event an accident or loss occurs, the Risk Management Program provides prompt assistance by thoroughly investigating staff and offender injuries and providing quality training and corrective action to diminish chances of recurrence.

As risk exposure exists in all areas of the agency, the Risk Management Program actively works with all divisions to reduce or eliminate that risk. The unit risk managers coordinate the efforts of wardens, supervisors and department heads to educate and empower unit staff to integrate safety measures into their daily routines. By embracing safety practices at all levels, the agency and staff are able to prevent numerous incidents from ever occurring.

Proactive measures and strategic development by the Risk Management Program and TDCJ leadership has resulted in an overall reduction in injuries and related expenses for three consecutive years. In fact, Workers’ Compensation costs paid out by the agency have been reduced from $24,252,791 in 2003 to $16,198,776 in 2005. This reduction is due in part to more effective accident investigations and improved staff and offender safety training.

To access state resources that can promote and strengthen their efforts, the Risk Management Program partners with numerous outside agencies. One example is their collaboration with the state fire marshal, who is providing the agency assistance in upgrading locking mechanisms and fire alarms throughout the system. Risk Management is also a member of the Emergency Management Council for the Governor’s Office and assists with technology and logistics that are crucial in planning for and responding to natural disasters and emergencies, such as hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency coordinates with the Risk Management Program in documenting disaster-related losses for potential reimbursement to the agency through grant funding.

Another responsibility of the Risk Management Program is to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). To facilitate compliance, unit risk managers conduct routine assessments to make certain the agency meets the needs of disabled offenders. The state’s Department of Licensing and Regulation provides assistance in this area by assisting in the interpretation of evolving ADA standards.

The Risk Management Program also receives assistance from the State Office of Risk Management through training and consultation, as well as tracking and projecting Workers’ Compensation costs for TDCJ. Through the monitoring and tracking of these costs, as well as the agency’s property losses and liability-related expenses, the Risk Management Program can assess potential exposures and help develop reduction strategies for the agency’s leadership.

Promoting a safe institutional environment for staff and offenders has a positive impact not only on the operations of the agency, but the attitude and behavior of those involved. The agency is fortunate to have the TDCJ Risk Management Program with dedicated staff working towards a successful team approach to minimize or eliminate potential risk exposure.

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