Safety Tied to Production: A Profitable Marriage

April 30, 2014

Cy McCormack of Sherwood Construction, Wichita, Kan., a member of the inaugural class of Under 40 in Construction Equipment Award winners, may have the simplest title in the history of construction industry titles. It’s one word: “Safety.”

But it would be a mistake to call him single-minded. He understands that a relationship must exist between production and safety.

Under 40 in Construction Equipment Awards

Our inaugural class of Under 40 in Construction Equipment winners was announced last year. These young people, all under the age of 40 as of the end of 2013, represent exciting potential for the industry.

This is another in a series of profiles highlighting some of the winners.

Apply for the 2014 Under 40 class.

“It’s easy for the safety guy to get biased and say ‘Safety’s No. 1,’ and tend to care less about production,” McCormack says. “I’ve even heard it said from safety guys—‘I don’t care about production, I just want those guys to go home safe.’

“You can’t refuse to care about production because if you don’t care about production, you’re not going to have a job,” McCormack says. “Production is what makes your paycheck.”

This is just one of the items McCormack stresses as he talks to employees and sits in on regular meetings with Sherwood’s equipment-management team. That’s right, safety has a valuable seat at the table for this heavy highway contractor that works across Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Colorado.

“Safety and production have to be married to one another and support each other,” McCormack says. “A good equipment manager should cherish the fact safety and production go hand-in-hand. If you don’t have a safety program married to your equipment-management program, you are going to have a hard time being productive.

“Equipment is the bread and butter of what we do,” McCormack says. “An equipment manager needs to have his equipment running to be profitable. A good safety program in place, it ties into your equipment.  Without it, you’re going to be hurting employees, and if you’re hurting employees, you’re not going to have employees to run that equipment.”

Making safety personal

McCormack also tries to make lessons personal during safety training, using the OSHA 300A form in an example. “What our industry fails in communicating to our employees is that OSHA requires us to post a 300A form, a summary of accidents and injuries from the year before,” McCormack says. “It’s a good tool they can look at. I tell guys the future of our work depends on how safe we are. Those statistics are public; the more we get hurt, the more if affects our bottom line. Maybe not tomorrow, not next week or next year, but in the long run,” he says.

“I ask who likes participating in the company 401(k), and a lot of hands go up. They like getting that free money. If you spend fewer dollars on injuries or equipment damage, you have more money to disperse.”

McCormack also reminds employees that injuries and DART rates (Days Away, Restrictions & Transfers) can be tied to bids and factor into winning certain types of work. “Basically what they’re asking companies is, ‘How many days did you have where someone was hurt badly enough that they couldn’t come to work? What’s your incident rate? How many OSHA violations have you had in the last 3 to 5 years?’” McCormack says.

“When Company A comes in and says it has hurt people about every other week, and Company B comes in and says they haven’t hurt anyone in a long time, who do you want doing that job?”

McCormack started his career as a construction laborer for one of Sherwood’s companies. “I was in the field and my boss calls me and says, ‘Tomorrow you need to show up wearing a shirt and some pants, you’re my new dispatcher,’” McCormack says. “It was a trucking company, with a fleet of dump trucks. And I said I don’t want to be a dispatcher. He goes, ‘Well, I guess you don’t have a job.’ I said, all right, well I guess I’ll be a dispatcher!”

 On McCormack’s second day as a dispatcher, the Kansas Corporation Commission arrived in his office for a DOT audit. It was his introduction to safety. In time, McCormack was moved to Human Resources, shifting between several Sherwood-owned companies. “I ended up doing HR and safety out in the field at the same time,” he says. “Reading regulations, being in the field learning as I went, surviving audits—you learn a lot from an audit.”

Treating pickup trucks as commercial vehicles

Immersing himself in DOT regulations resulted in McCormack bringing a new awareness to Sherwood: that the ubiquitous pickup trucks many company employees drive are often turned into commercial motor vehicles, inviting increased scrutiny.

“A lot of people don’t realize this, but on a federal level, a commercial motor vehicle is anything that weighs over 10,001 pounds, either solitary or in combination,” McCormack says. “So my guys out in the field, they’ve got an F-150 that’s probably got a GVWR of 7,050 pounds. By itself, it’s not a commercial motor vehicle, but it is if it’s pulling a trailer. That [awareness] was one of our biggest challenges.”

As commercial vehicles, company pickup-trailer combinations might as well have a target painted on them. They’re subject to the same regs, and points system for violations, as an 18-wheeler driving down the highway pulling a load of milk. “The only difference is that guy in the 18-wheeler has a CDL and he’s in a different drug-testing program,” McCormack says.

Now that he’s fostered corporate knowledge that virtually any pickup can suddenly become a commercial vehicle, he’s also created an approved driver list, along with a fleet vehicle safety policy.

“You’re not allowed to drive anything down the highway, not even a company go-cart, until you’re on our approved driver list,” McCormack says. “Everyone has a driver qualification file, has to get approved and get a DOT physical, and every year that file has to be maintained. You can’t fill it out once and put it away. Our strict fleet vehicle safety goes above and beyond what the state requires.”

McCormack also made up an intercompany points scoring formula. “There may be some violations where the state may not assign points, but the company will,” he says. “All of this limits liability from a legal standpoint and promotes compliance with the DOT. A company vehicle is a privilege. What you don’t always see are the underlying points [lodged against a company]. How good is a construction company without a DOT number? If your DOT fleet isn’t in compliance and you’ve got them out on the roadway, forget about the liability, think about the deadlines and downtime that you’re going to get from getting stopped because your inspection selection number is too high and those troopers are always yanking you to the side of the road. You’re not going to get anything done anyway.”

Once again, McCormack has brought safety and production together.