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By Brad Livingston
As of January 13, 2011, the General Appropriations Bill, which determines the state’s budget for the next two fiscal years, had not yet been introduced. The bill as filed will provide the starting point for budget deliberations that will continue throughout the legislative session, which ends May 30. It is widely anticipated that the bill will substantially reduce appropriations to state agencies. Once the filed version is available, we will prepare a brief summary of the reductions impacting TDCJ and distribute that information through the agency website.
On December 6, 2010, all state agencies received a request from the governor and the Legislative Budget Board to identify an additional 2.5 percent in possible budget savings during the current fiscal year. For the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, a 2.5 percent reduction in FY 2011 would equal approximately $75 million, and would be in addition to the $55 million in biennial savings previously identified.
The strategies used last year to achieve the $55 million in biennial savings minimized the impact on staff and operations; consequently, to the extent possible, those means will be used to generate additional savings. For example, just as there were unexpended balances from FY 2010 appropriations for certain initiatives, it is apparent there will be some unexpended balances at the end of the current fiscal year. Likewise, the agency achieved savings by reducing certain capital equipment expenditures. Further agency reductions will include essentially all of the remaining capital equipment funds for this fiscal year, postponing expenditures for critical capital items to achieve short-term savings.
However, many of the strategies employed last year cannot be used to further reduce expenditures in the current fiscal year. For example, certain fund balances were used to generate one-time savings. Consequently, additional measures will be required to further reduce spending in the current fiscal year, and the agency is in the process of determining how additional savings can be achieved while maintaining essential security, supervision and treatment. Minimizing the impact of budget reductions on staff remains a priority, but as budgetary constraints increase, a reduction in force in the current fiscal year and/or during the next budget cycle may be necessary to further limit spending. Public safety, staff safety and the safety of the offender population will remain our highest priority.
Information regarding the filed version of the FY 2012 – 2013 General Appropriations Bill will be provided as soon as possible, as will information regarding actions to further reduce spending during the current fiscal year. We will use this newsletter, the agency website, or other means of communication to keep you informed of any new developments. I regret that the fiscal situation is yet another challenge the agency and its employees must face and deeply appreciate your hard work and public service.
TDCJ employees are far more likely to be injured in typical workplace accidents than by offender assault, according to the agency’s Risk Management Department. In FY 2010, only one in five employee injuries were due to offender action. The bulk of the 4,797 total injuries resulted from non-serious mishaps such as falls, being struck by moving objects or colliding with stationary fixtures.
“We investigate how accidents have happened,” said Risk Management Program Administrator Elizabeth Boerling. “We look at the environment as well as the employee’s actions to make sure that proper procedures were followed or if we need to implement new procedures to make sure that the workplace is as safe as it can be.”
Slips and falls were the most common causes of injuries during the fiscal year, while being struck by or striking against objects accounted for the second highest number of mishaps.
Boerling said the best way for employees to stay safe from accidental injury is to be aware of their surroundings at all times. Most injuries are not the result of flagrant indifference to safe work procedures. Even a normally careful worker can still get hurt during a single, short moment of inattention.
Workplace safety depends upon good housekeeping, especially when addressing slips, trips and falls. Work areas, hallways and storerooms should be kept well lit, clean and orderly. Stringing cords across halls or walkways should be avoided, and safety practices such as closing file drawers after use and picking up and stowing loose items from the floor are encouraged. When entering a darkened room, the light should always be turned on first, even if staying for only a minute.
Stairways should be well lit and clear of obstacles. A stairway shouldn’t be used for temporary storage and people shouldn’t carry so much that they can’t see where they’re going. One hand should be kept free to hold onto the handrail and look for single steps when entering or exiting a room since sudden level changes can be hazardous.
And because traction on outdoor surfaces can change drastically due to rain or sleet, or indoor surfaces when moisture is tracked in by pedestrian traffic, antiskid tape or paint should be used where practical and shoes with slick soles or heels should not be worn.
“Awareness is half the battle,” said Boerling, noting that all unit personnel must take a one-hour safety class each month. “If employees are aware of what to look for and aware of how to see things, they can be safer on the job.”
Boerling said that fewer serious injuries and increased participation in a return-to-work program have helped push down workers’ compensation pay outs over the past few years.
“If we can keep our claim costs down (when) the workforce is growing, then we’re doing well,” said Boerling, adding that lower workers’ compensation costs confirm that employees are suffering less serious injuries and returning to work sooner than before. She said the State Office of Risk Management (SORM) encourages use of the agency’s program that allows injured employees to return to light alternate duty prior to resuming their old jobs. Once injured employees return to work in some capacity, their temporary income benefits are adjusted by SORM, lowering the overall cost to the state.