24/7 Safety

Originally published
Originally published: 1/1/2008

Safe workers are productive workers. Instilling upon them the importance of safety not only prevents injury, it makes for a healthy bottom line.

A worker installing a rooftop hvac system used his tin snips to cut an unmarked, live electrical wire. Upon contact, electricity coursed through the hvac tech’s body. The surge proved fatal.

Despite efforts to be safe on the job, accidents happen — right? According to the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA), many accidents are preventable via proper and continuous safety training.

Indeed, the MCAA offers its members access to many safety training tools including its Safety Training Library and its Twenty Top Hazards: Recognition & Protection DVDs.

But simply having the tools on hand doesn’t constitute a safety program —action must be taken.

For St. Louis, Mo.-based Murphy Co., investigating accidents is the key to keeping workers safe on the job.

The Murphy Co., which performs construction and engineering work in the industrial, commercial, municipal and institutional construction markets, hasn’t simply committed to reducing on-the-job injuries, it has set a goal of zero injuries.

“We have a pretty strong injury review process, which helps employees understand that all injuries are preventable,” says Tom Skaggs, director of safety at the Murphy Co.

According to Skaggs, any injury within the organization is investigated. The employee who was injured meets with Skaggs, the project manager and the foreman —everyone in the chain of command all the way up to the executive vice president and president of the organization to discuss the injury.

“This says a couple of things,” notes Skaggs. “One, it says that we’re committed and serious about worker safety from the most senior positions of the entire company. And secondly, we want the employee to understand how they could have prevented this from happening. And often times it comes down to a simple personal protective equipment issue.”

The Murphy Co. uses a combination of safety training techniques to get the message across to employees. In addition to utilizing the MCAA library of safety training tools, its management team is required to attend safety training courses that teach the entire safety process —from acquiring information and implementing it to what to do in case of an injury to what the company expects from its workers.

One of the expectations —routine safety audits.

The weekly audits are contained to a one-page form (two-pages for senior-level folks who delve into job site and administrative issues) and are intended to identify shortcomings and failures and help workers address those issues.

To arrive at the one-page form, the Murphy Co. conducted a five-year study of the most common things that caused injuries. The idea was to get management to focus on common issues. According to Skaggs, “Every two to three years we reflect back to see if the audit is still accurate and addressing things that we want to focus on or we may make modifications if necessary.”

Indeed, a safety program cannot remain the same — it has to be continually evolving because your culture is continually evolving.

“It’s not: Buy a program, put it on the shelf and go to work. They have to be willing to evolve,” says Skaggs.

What are the common issues currently on Murphy Co.’s audit sheet?

“We found a significant amount of injuries are simply due to poor housekeeping — tripping hazards,” says Skaggs. “Another common one — basic personal protective equipment (PPE). Making sure that everyone has the task-appropriate gear on: goggles, ear plugs, welding masks.”

Skaggs explains that the company has a disciplinary procedure if workers are not compliant. He notes that his supervisors will talk to employees before they institute action.

“If someone is seen without their safety glasses we give them a reminder because we are all human and we sometimes forget our safety gear.”

Seemingly, PPE issues are top of mind at many companies.

At Donald C. Rodner Inc., a Dayton, N.J., mechanical and service company, making sure its workers wear hard hats, safety glasses and safety shoes is a challenge.

“Some of our customers require our workers to wear steel-toe shoes,” says Don Rodner, owner of the company his father started in 1963. “If they don’t have them they are escorted off the site.”

When asked if there is a best practice to get workers to wear the appropriate gear, Rodner quickly answers, “Yes, it’s called termination.”

To illustrate, “We had a welder working for us who was an excellent welder and a real friend of the company,” Rodner says. “He worked for us for quite a few years, but it got to the point that he was being told every other day to put on his hard hat and safety glasses — we basically had to let him go. And that resonated with the rest of the workforce very quickly —it’s amazing how fast it works.”

Rodner notes that his company also keeps safety issues in the forefront by holding weekly safety meetings. The meetings last between 10 and 15 minutes and every week a different topic is covered. The sticking point for the meetings is that all workers must sign off on each meeting, which allows Rodner to keep track of who is keeping up with safety prevention issues.

Keeping safety on the minds of workers 24/7 automatically reduces the number of injuries by making safety second nature to workers. While formal steps are taken via mini-meetings and safety audits, the lasting impression is to be safe.

“It’s our intention to make safety a way of life,” says Skaggs. He also stresses that looking out for safety violations shouldn’t only occur at specific times. “It’s 24/7 and the audit simply reflects what they are doing on an ongoing basis.”

In terms of the actual documentation, what gets measured gets done, according to Skaggs.

Ordinary coffee spilled on the stairs turned them into a deathtrap. Those stairs were Deadly When Wet.

That cheesy line sounds like something straight out of a low-budget horror movie — and for good reason. It’s a safety campaign that was fashioned after the best B-Movies late-night television has to offer in order to warn employees about common hazards that could prove dangerous.

Called Safety Stuffers, the small flyers are dispersed with weekly paychecks to United Association Local Labor Union 597 workers employed by member contractors of Mechanical Contractors Association of Chicago.

In total, 26 different stuffers are being distributed, each conveying its safety message in the form of a scary movie ad — complete with eerie illustrations.

“The Safety Stuffers remind workers to observe important safety measures on the job,” says Stephen Lamb, executive vice president of MCA Chicago. “We have the safest workforce in the industry, and the Stuffers help to keep them that way.”

Similar to the Labor Union 597 and MCA initiative, the Murphy Co. embosses the phrase “Work Safely” on everyone’s paychecks.

“It’s something to keep safety in the face of every worker,” says Skaggs. “We are firmly convinced that the safer an organization is the more profitable an organization is. And our loss data supports that —the return is definitely there.”

As for Don Rodner, safety is important to his company because if someone can’t work they can’t make money for the company.

Obviously, money isn’t the only driving force for Rodner.

“You can’t prepare your workers for every safety issue,” he says. “We instill on them that safety is more important to us than getting the job done. We don’t want anybody getting hurt. If they are going to get hurt, it’s not worth it to us to have them there.”

Traci Purdum is a former editor of HVACR Business.

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