BROADVIEW, IL — In the construction industry, safety is synonymous with efficiency. According to a 2016 “Building A Safety Culture” SmartMarket Report, employers who invest in a strong safety culture are more likely to reduce the number of reportable injuries, retain employees, contract new work and improve ROI.
But even with an emphasis on safety in the workplace, there’s always room for improvement.
That’s why a group of safety professionals from across the country gathered at the inaugural Safety Directors Forum in Fort Worth, Texas, in early March. The Unified Group, an association of the leading independent HVAC commercial contractors in the industry, hosted the event to address challenges and share best practices by member companies on managing safety programs, minimizing loss, training team members and tracking safety metrics.
The Unified Group member Ken Trotter of A&G Piping — a premier plumbing and HVAC mechanical contractor in Fort Worth — shared his organization’s proactive approach to safety and new partnership with the Occupational Safety and Health Consultation (OSHCON) program.
“The whole company from the top down is involved in safety, from purchasing all the way to the guy using the equipment. We have to be. It’s a comprehensive effort,” Trotter said.
While OSHCON’s services are separate from federal enforcement, the voluntary program was designed to assist private employers with identifying the areas within their companies that do not meet OSHA safety and health standards.
When Trotter took over the company’s safety program in December 2016, he implemented new training tactics company-wide. In addition to weekly Toolbox Talks, field technicians are equipped with iPads containing monthly training videos that can be viewed on each job site. The company also adopted a tool management system, which standardizes the consumables, personal protective equipment and safety devices they purchase and stock in an effort to reduce paperwork and provide more focused training.
“Our EMR has dropped to the lowest we can have in the industry, 0.61, and I credit it to having a proactive approach to safety,” Trotter said. “OSHCON was also a piece of that puzzle.”
While OSHCON’s services are separate from federal enforcement, the voluntary program was designed to assist private employers with identifying the areas within their companies that do not meet OSHA safety and health standards. The service, which is free of charge and confidential, consists of a prequalification interview, a consultation agreement outlining that the employer agrees to correct any found hazards immediately, an onsite inspection and a closing conference/report of findings.
“They reviewed our safety manual and looked at some of our current procedures and the safety actions we’re taking, like Toolbox Talks. They also pointed out a number of things we were doing that were hazards that we just didn’t know,” Trotter said.
He emphasized that employers must keep in mind that immediate action must be taken to eliminate serious hazards that are discovered during the inspection.
“If there’s an immediate danger to life and limb, you have to shut down. You have to stop now,” Trotter said. “If it’s not an immediate hazard, they’ll give you a time limit. For example, you might have three days to take care of the issue. From the start, the owners have to be on board with this.”
But the benefits of the service far outweigh any drawbacks.
“While you are contractually joined with OSHCON, OSHA will not visit your site unless there’s a serious injury or fatality. Just that benefit alone is well worth the effort,” Trotter said. “For companies like us who are kind of novices in the safety aspect, it’s a valuable resource to tell you what you’re doing wrong, but also what you’re doing right.”
Attendees of the Safety Directors Forum took a tour of A&G Piping during the conference to view examples of how the company improved its facilities based on OSHCON recommendations.