Keeping Safe At College

By David Huey | September 28, 2010

Some job sites, you can tell just by driving by that it's not a place you'd like to work. There's debris everywhere, equipment is rumbling along as workers leap aside and more hardhats are in the tool shed than on the crew's heads. All you need is to see someone limping or with a cast on their arm to complete the picture.

Then there are work zones like the Neumann Brothers Inc.'s Grandview College Rasmussen Center for Community Advancement Professions site on the east side of Des Moines, Iowa. The ground is uncluttered, as much as any construction site can be; hardhats are worn by everyone entering the area; operators move their machines around mindful of hazards and co-workers; and there's a deliberateness about the work. It looks efficient. It looks ... safe.

Like most big projects, there are plenty of subcontractors going about their business. An employee of Allied Construction Services, Inc., was cutting to shape and mounting exterior insulation atop a Genie S-60 stick boom. Mindful of the recently launched "Click It!" safety campaign sponsored by Aerial Work Platform Training (AWPT), the worker was secured by a full-body harness with a short lanyard attached to a suitable anchor point.

Allied is a Des Moines drywall specialty contractor that performs work within a large range of scope:heavy- and light-gauge metal framing, insulation and vapor barriers, gypsum board, and exterior insulation and finish systems (EIFS). They also have offices in the Quad Cities, Peoria,Illinois, Omaha, Nebraska, and Kansas City, Kansas. On this occasion, they had rented the Genie from Contractor Sales and Rental (CSR), based in Des Moines. Like many rental operations, CSR offers operation and safety training.

Shawn Gavin, a CSR sales and rental rep, also handles some of that training. At the request of the renter, Gavin will provide a two-hour in-office (theirs or the renter's) session that involves discussion using an instructional DVD, a walk-around with the machine and a graded test. Successful passing is good for certification. Is it useful?

"There are a lot of things people don't know until they go through the training," Gavin noted. Of course, most of Allied's crews are old hands, and safe operation is second nature.

On the east side of the job site, a Forrest & Associates Masonry crew was placing brick on the roof, using a Gehl Dynalift telescopic handler with a fork. The Des Moines company also offers certified safety training, according to Ted Erickson, safety director. The Forrest program uses certified instructors to administer a five- to six-hour class. It includes classroom instruction, a hands-on portion that includes setting a pallet on an elevated surface and a 40- to 50-item test.

Jim Dove, one of Forrest's certified teachers, emphasizes the importance of hands-on training. He stresses, "Being able to read a load chart is important, but I want to see them handle the machine over rough terrain."

The question presents itself, who trains the trainers? On the other side of the Neumann site, a JLG 800S telescopic boom lift, with the familiar United Rental logo on its side, was working with a roof crew. Sales and rental rep Craig DeDecker of the Des Moines UR operation is also a certified trainer. He learned his safety through years on the job, and with several training companies. Most recently, he took a week-long safety course provided by IVES Training Group, courtesy of United Rental.

IVES is a recognized leader in mobile equipment training programs and products, having certified trainers and operators since 1981. DeDecker spent his week there devoting a day each to scissor lifts, booms, high reach equipment, and forklifts, with a final day for review and certification testing.

He brings that training to his own safety courses. He custom-fits his classes to meet his customers' needs. Most of his students already have at least 5 to 10 years of experience, and only need a refresher for certification. Usually, the course involves some classroom time with a video/DVD and a test. Most of the time, everybody gets on the equipment at least once. At the end of the course, the graduates can get a card, a full-size certificate, their passed test, and a copy of the attendance sheet. DeDecker uses Ives' books, visuals and tests. Contact for information on training and training materials.

"The material is mostly common sense," DeDecker admits. "It's not rocket science. Do things in sequence, always do a site and equipment inspection — don't do something stupid and you'll stay out of harm's way."

Around the corner from the Rasmussen Center site, a Des Moines PAR Electrical Contractors, Inc. crew was planting a new power pole to carry the power line for a new transformer they'd put in. When a worker is dealing with high voltage, safety takes on a whole new meaning.

Before the full-body harness and lanyard go on, the guy doing the work had already donned his blue fire suit — a must when dealing with electricity. He climbed into the lifts' bucket, secured his lanyard, then pulled on a pair of orange insulating sleeves and heavy gloves. He worked carefully and methodically. The crew on the ground quit talking and watched. When he was done, the jokes began again. For another day, he made it home safely.

Part of the reason for his homecoming was that PAR is committed to safe work processes and strong safety awareness. Over the years, they have developed innovative work methods that maximize safety and efficiency. They have policies against unsafe acts that ensure all crewmembers understand the importance of safety. That reputation for safety practices helps attract skilled, motivated people. In the end, it comes down to this: Zero accidents is the most important objective in their work culture.

A Neumann-Safe Site

That philosophy is shared by the general contractor, Neumann Brothers.They, too, take safety very seriously.Their safety officer, John Neumann, develops a site-specific safety manual for each and every Neumann project.The safety manual covers applicable topics of concern such as confined spaces, lockout/tagout, OSHA inspections, assured grounding, and emergency response.Copies of the safety manual are distributed to the owner, project superintendent and on-site subcontractors.Via a standard form of subcontract agreement, all subcontractors are required to adopt and employ safety procedures in line with Neumann's safety manual or greater.

In addition, a corporate safety officer makes periodic inspections to insure that safety guidelines are in place and being followed.The on-site superintendent also assigns a specific foreman as the on-site safety supervisor responsible for daily safety checks.

This on-site project safety officer (PSO), who is at least 10-hourOSHA-trained, is usually the laborer foreman on the project. The PSO and the project superintendent (also 10-hour trained) work together to maintain a safe working environment for all on their particular project. These two individuals are also trained in First Aid/CPR so that they can administer to injured workers should an incident arise.

The PSO also handles daily safety checks, accompanies the corporate safety officer on jobsite inspections, and leads the group each day in the morning stretching session — yes, stretching. In April of 2006, Neumann implemented a company-wide stretching program to reduce the number of strained muscle injuries and promote greater employee well-being. The onsite superintendents and personnel have adopted the program with enthusiasm and include it in their daily routine. The stretching program has been instrumental in reducing the number of recordable strain incidents in 2007 to zero.

Once a week, the superintendent holds a "Toolbox Talk."This weekly gathering of on-site personnel serves as a platform to discuss general and specific safety topics.It is an opportunity, for example, to preempt the changing weather by reminding everyone of safety issues concerning frost.

Finally, certain phased projects require additional attention to safety as the construction area involves occupied space or is adjacent to occupied space.Neumann Brothers is well versed in working in and around occupied spaces.They have completed over $60 million worth of work at the Iowa State Capitol, a building which has remained open for business during all phases of the renovation/restoration.Their work at the Des Moines Federal Building also featured work in a fully occupied building.For projects such as these, Neumann has found it advantageous to hold meetings with the neighboring public to facilitate additional communication of project phasing and safety procedures in place.

As a result of Neumann's attention to safety, they are able to boast a low insurance modification rate, the savings of which are passed on to their clients.Neumann Brothers, Inc. was also a finalist for the Master Builders of Iowa Safety Award 2007.Ultimately, their safety awareness protects everyone on-site — workers, visitors and customers.

In addition, they have a comprehensive Drug Testing Program, Assured Grounding Program and monthly superintendent meetings at which safety issues across all jobs are shared with all superintendents.

Does It Work?

Through the efforts of everyone employed at Neumann Brothers, 2007 became the milestone year to which future years will be compared. Over the last 5 years, Neumann Brothers has averaged 10 recordable accidents and 5.4 lost time accidents each year with an average of 319,696 hours worked. In 2007, their increased safety efforts resulted in only six recordable accidents, only one of which was a lost-day accident (8 lost workdays), all while exceeding the average hours worked by over 40,000 hours.

In addition to providing an extra safe working environment for all, 2007 should also further reduce Neumann's Experience Modification Rate in 2009 to a number below the current record low. While this modification number is important to them, there is one number that supersedes its importance: ZERO — their goal for 2008and beyond.

A goal like that would make any job site a thing of beauty.