City of Plano Safety Olympics brings home the gold in education and loss prevention

Deborah A. Stone
Public Information Coordinator
City of Plano, Texas

More than 200 City of Plano employees cheered and rocked as the pulsating music of the Ike and Tina Turner Lip Sync Review cascaded from the outdoor stage. Nearby, another 100 employees were finishing a barbecue luncheon under the shaded park pavilion and heading into the festive exhibit tent to visit with vendors and spin the wheel of fortune.

A rock concert? A carnival? How about the third annual City of Plano Safety Olympics-a program that stresses the importance of safety and accident prevention while providing a team-building experience for the employee team in a casual and fun environment.

“Every year the employee team tells us ‘keep doing it,’ ‘this is what we need’,” said City of Plano Risk Manager Joey Page. “This is the best thing we can do to promote and encourage ongoing safety education while building morale and teamwork.”

The eagerly anticipated annual Olympics is the summit of a year-round education and training program initiated through Plano’s Risk Management Department. The program is so successful it has seen the reduction in the number of Workers’ Compensation claims decrease 49 percent in total incurred costs for claims in Fiscal Year 1998-99, compared to Fiscal Year 1997-98.

With an employee field team of over 180 workers and a total employee team of 213, Plano’s Public Works Department is one of the largest areas to buy-off on the benefits of safety training and Olympics participation.

“The biggest resource we have is our people,” said Public Works Director Jim Foster. “Obviously, a healthy employee team is one of the elements of a healthy organization. Besides our ongoing safety programs, our participation in the Olympics provides us with yet another outlet for getting the safety message across to our team.”

The Olympic scenario is a simple one. A week-long, twelve-event competition is tailored around lunch hour periods to enable maximum participation. The number of teams and team members is unlimited, with only one to six of the team members required for participation in any event. A festive opening and closing awards ceremony and luncheon lend excitement and add to the Olympic atmosphere.

“Our focus is fun, but the tie-in is safety,” advised Page. “Each event has a safety theme that ties into the related activity. Additionally, safety seminars are held each day focusing on themes such as back safety, fire safety, personal safety, and heat stress.”

The Olympics is chaired each year by a cross-section of City employees who determine the events, scoring, and coordinate set-up and preparation.

An Olympics can be tailored to any size budget or number of participants. The majority of event equipment and materials are already in service in-house, and the use of park facilities to hold events provides ample participant parking and set-up space. Perks such as team trophies, medals, door prizes, and a luncheon celebration can be added as funds allow.

Critical to the success of the Olympics is management support. Alan Spurgin, Public Works Utility Coordinator, also serves as one of the three Safety Coordinators for the Public Works team. “Part of the success of the Olympics is the visible support we have from the top,” he said. “Our City Manager plays a major role in the opening and closing ceremonies and we have the support of our Director in forming teams and participating in events. This is a big morale boost and visually expands the concept of teamwork and support for safety initiatives.”

The Olympic events are tailored to attract maximum participation by offering something for everybody. “We have events for all skill levels and anyone can participate in at least one event, regardless of their physical capabilities,” advised Page.

A parody of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” tests the mental prowess of participants who answer questions geared towards safety.

Testing the use of proper protective equipment, teams go through an obstacle course, hammer nails, and demonstrate proper lifting, the safe use of “hazardous” chemicals, and the use of hearing protection.

Experienced and novice operators can test their skill during a seven-minute Backhoe Event, manipulating objects within the radius of the backhoe.

Basketball, Golf, Supersoaker Water Wars, Swim Relay, Punt/Pass/Kick, Soccer Shoot-Out, Golf Cart, and Mini-Car Races are typical of the Olympic-styled events.

Page emphasized that the safety connection is not only work-related, but extends into “at home” usage as well. “Keeping our employee team injury free is our 24-hour, 365-day objective,” he said. “When we have our water events, for example, we’re demonstrating pool safety and boating safety. This type of knowledge the employees can take home and put to use and share with their family and friends.”

Prior to and during events, specialists within the City are utilized to discuss topics such as proper use of personal safety equipment, physical fitness, fire safety, heat stroke prevention, proper lifting, and working around heavy equipment. This year, a clinical physical therapist was brought in to teach stretching exercises prior to events.

“Having the safety training take place before and during the fun-oriented events only serves to enhance the retention of this key information,” said Foster.

Perhaps no Olympics event is more anticipated than the closing day’s Talent Show. The free-spirited event is the only one not directly tied into a safety theme. Instrumentals, vocals, skits, comedy, and lip sync provide the perfect forum for the participating teams to kick back with wild abandon in anticipation of the closing day’s awards ceremony.

The talent competition demonstrates creativity and innovation at its best, with teams demonstrating talents from group whistling to synchronized dance and lip sync. The winners of the Year 2000 Plano Olympics talent show, the Ike and Tina Turner Lip Sync Review, went on to perform at the Texas Public Works Association Annual Conference, hosted by the City of Plano this past June.

“Having the Review perform at the Conference Opening Ceremony helped introduce Public Works professionals from across the State to the Olympics program and to the benefits to a Public Works organization supporting safety initiatives,” said Foster.

In addition to the Talent Show and a BBQ luncheon, the 2000 Plano Olympics closing ceremony featured exhibitors for the first time. “We brought in exhibits such as Poison Control, Plano Animal Services, Dig-Safely and the Texas Forest Service Fire Prevention,” said Page. “It really enhanced the atmosphere and gave a new dimension to the information the employees were receiving. We plan to expand on this next year.”

The Safety Olympics is the culmination of an aggressive year-round safety program initiated by Plano’s Risk Management Department.

A network of 40 City-wide Safety Coordinators and an annual cash Safety Incentive Program aid in promotion and recognition of employee safety training and practices.

“The Safety Coordinators are like an extension of Risk Management,” said Spurgin. “We have a certain number of topics we need to cover each year, and Risk provides us with whatever we need, from outside speakers to video presentations. Everyone looks forward to getting together our Olympic teams and competing not only with other Public Works divisions, but getting to interact with other City teams as well.”

Public Works has captured the Gold in two out of three Olympics and has its sights already set on holding onto the Gold in the 2001 events. “We’re looking forward to even greater involvement next near,” said Foster.

Besides its impressive reduction in personal injuries, Plano’s award-winning Risk Management Department has also reduced both general liability claims by 91 percent and the total number of claims by 31 percent in Fiscal Year 1998-99 over Fiscal Year 1997-98.

For information and assistance in setting up an Olympics or other Risk Management education program, contact Joey Page, City of Plano Risk Manager, at 972-941-7113 or

For information on the involvement in and benefit to Public Works in safety education programs, contact Jim Foster, City of Plano Public Works Director, at 972-964-4128 or