Who is the Most Visible Municipal Worker?

If you say it fast, it sounds like one word: "Trainingandsafety."

Even if you speak slowly and distinctly, these three words are joined at the hip.

However, you can have one without the other, and you can even have one in direct contradiction with the other: You can train workers to perform tasks unsafely. You can encourage safety without any formal training program.

I believe the real reason these words are so interlinked is because they are both tools that are stronger for being part of the same program - and good managers know it.

If I am a successful solid waste manager, the best thing I can do for my bottom line is to minimize injuries. Higher insurance premiums, loss of labor due to injuries and poor morale are all profit killers.

I would not allow untrained bumblers to rob me of efficient working hours. Well-trained employees work faster, accomplish more in the same amount of time, work more confidently and are the best advertising program you could have.

To citizens, the most visible people representing municipal governments are solid waste collectors, whether they are city employees or private contractors.

If they are shabbily dressed, slovenly, ill-mannered, messy and rude, that is the image the municipality is transmitting. They speak for the municipality if they don't know - or worse, don't care - about citizen questions or complaints.

This is a difficult message to transmit to citizen councils that are trying to allocate dwindling resources among beleaguered departments. Image, citizen satisfaction, and the factors that don't have price tags on them and are difficult to quantify in a budget.

Some cities use solid waste employees to observe and report unusual behavior that may indicate a citizen in trouble - such as noting that trash has not been placed out at an elderly resident's house and reporting signs of a break-in or drug activities.

Since haulers visit the same areas every week, residents come to know them and develop a positive attitude towards the workers. For example, in Los Angeles, we found that the solid waste group was beloved by most citizens, and that, combined with a competitive cost of operation, created a formidable shield against competition.

Good workers result from good training. Describing the savings to be gained by investing in training is a delicate task; you would have to translate intangibles into dollars. However, the savings in injury costs are more readily apparent.

Statistics from other communities, jobs of a similar nature and other comparable operations can be used to illustrate the point.

It is in demonstrating the benefits of public relations skills, beefed-up watchdog capabilities and other community enhancements that direct dollar comparisons are difficult to translate. This is where the decision makers need to hear from the most likely beneficiaries - the citizens.

Send questions about your solid waste operations to Bill Knapp at 3336 Vista Ricosa, Escondido, Calif. 92029. (760) 741-5349. Fax: (760) 740-9177.