Redwood City spent roughly $7.7 million on workers’ compensation claims in fiscal year 2020-2021, with about 76% of it going toward the police and fire departments, according to data from the city.
The next most significant expense from workers’ compensation claims came from the public works department at $727,094 in the same year.
And as workers’ compensation claims continue to rise, the city has been looking for ways to cut costs, most recently signing a contract with Pivot, the distributor for Northern California, to purchase ergonomic furniture, which would likely go to the city manager’s office, IT, emergency operations center, and the North Fair Oaks Community Center.
The cost of workers’ compensation claims for office workers, which include the city managers’ and the information technology’s offices, totaled $1.1 million, according to Jennifer Yamaguma, Redwood City communications manager.
The contract with Pivot, which would allow the city to purchase ergonomic furniture, was approved at the March 13 council meeting. The total contract amount is not to exceed $1 million, said Yamaguma adding that the city “won’t know the exact amount spent until the close of the contract in two years.”
“The city does not spend $1 million annually on furniture,” she said.
According to city data, total workers' compensation claims, including field workers, rose 30% from 2017-2021. Workers’ compensation claims for the city managers’ and IT offices comprised 0.3% and 0.4% of the total claims in fiscal year 2020-2021, respectively.
At the March 13 city council meeting, City Manager Melissa Stevenson Diaz clarified the city’s approach to furniture replacement and the importance of ergonomics in the workplace.
While the $1 million furniture contract cost may seem significant, Diaz said the city does not spend frivolously. Furniture replacement is done for specific purposes, such as accommodating different ergonomic needs or reorganizing work environments. The city also repurposes furniture in good working condition, she said.
Over the last few years, the city manager’s office expanded with a series of cubicles to support the new staffing level.
The city typically keeps furniture for 20-25 years, she added.
Diaz said the city standardizes its furniture, allowing it to mix and match furniture over time as needs change, taking advantage of its storage capacity. Standardization also helps preserve the city's investment in furniture.
Although field workers make up most workers' compensation claims, the new furniture likely isn’t slated for those departments.
“Having ergonomically-appropriate furniture reduces the risk of repetitive motion injuries; these typically occur in office settings,” Yamaguma said.
But she added: “The city’s worker’s compensation expenses also relate to illnesses or injuries that may occur in the field, and to conditions that are presumed, by law, to be work-related, such as certain types of cancer and heart conditions for public safety personnel.
“We have multiple efforts underway to support employee wellness and safety and avoid these claims when possible.”
According to Yamaguma, the city's focus on ergonomics has been driven by a city council directive to reduce annual costs associated with workers' compensation claims.
During a budget session in fiscal year 2016-2017, the city council decided to address unfunded workers’ compensation claims by providing additional funding and creating injury prevention programs.
At the March 13, Redwood City residents disagreed with approving the contract with Pivot. Rona Gundrum, for example, noted that with significant budget shortfalls predicted in the coming years, the council should consider reducing costs associated with the furniture purchase.
"Up to a million dollars for design services and furniture does seem excessive. I would hope that we can get nice ergonomic furniture for quite a bit less than that."