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After losing nearly $1 million last year in workers compensation claims, Salt Lake City officials are starting exercise programs and teaching employees how to properly adjust chairs and use equipment.

Stephen Barth, the city's recently hired loss-control manager, believes he can save nearly $100,000 in claims this year through simple safety programs. Mayor Deedee Corradini believes the programs will be one more way to put a dent in the estimated $4.2 million shortfall the city expects to have by the time its next fiscal budget is due in June.Public works employees, who spend a lot of time digging, climbing or plowing, led the way in the city with claims last year totaling $248,332. The Police Department came in second with $187,417.

Public works officials have started exercise sessions each morning to help curb injuries.

Barth said his first task will be to study the claims to decide where the hazards are in each department. Then, he will encourage department directors either to eliminate the hazards or to teach employees how to avoid risks.

He said back injuries are the most common problems, whether from lifting or from sitting improperly at a desk all day. "A lot of the chairs are improperly adjusted," he said, adding he doesn't expect the city to have to purchase new equipment.

Barth said the city also plans to carefully control medical costs, making sure employees receive proper medical care and the city doesn't pay for pre-existing conditions. Then, injured workers will be brought back sooner than normal with jobs requiring light duties.

"The alternative is to pay people to stay home," he said. "That's bad. It creates a mind-set for the employee that makes it difficult for them to come back."

He said morale also is closely tied to injuries. "If you like your job, you'll want to come back sooner."

(Additional information)

29 of city's cellular phones `retired'

Salt Lake City has decided to retire 29 of its 97 cellular phones after judging them to be unnecessary.

Roger Black, the city's management services director, returned the rest of the phones this week after recalling them several weeks ago in an attempt to decide how many the city really needs.

He said the city will save about $12,000 per year by not using the 29 phones. However, he said the phones will be kept on hand in case of an emergency.

Mayor Deedee Corradini asked Black to recall the phones after learning some employees were making expensive cellular calls when conventional telephones were available.