Commitment to Safety Leads to Success

Gary Auman

Gary Auman (www.dmfdayton.com) is a Partner in the law firm of Dunlevey, Mahan & Furry in Dayton, Ohio. He graduated with an electrical engineering degree from the University of Louisville in 1969, and a law degree from The Ohio State University in 1976. Since then, his practice has focused on defending employers in workers’ compensation and OSHA cases. In 2002, Mr. Auman was awarded the Distinguished Service to Safety Award by the National Safety Council. He has worked with OSHA in its development of safety and health standards, and he has defended OSHA cases in several federal appellate courts. Mr. Auman also represents 4 national and regional trade associations in the construction industry. He can be reached at gwa@dmfdayton.com.

October 1, 2007

The National Insulation Association (NIA) is committed to the safety of all who work in the commercial and industrial insulation industry. This commitment was furthered in 1998 when the organization re-established its Health and Safety Committee. In 2004, NIA instituted the Theodore H. Brodie Distinguished Safety Award. Rather than focus the award only on statistics, NIA determined that the award winner must demonstrate its commitment to safety in communicating and enforcing its safety program.

A few years after the award was established, NIA’s Board of Directors decided that association members could benefit greatly from an opportunity to meet with award winners and learn about their successful approaches to safety. This decision resulted in the development of the Health and Safety Roundtable program.

The Safety Roundtable focuses primarily on safety communication and enforcement, but all questions raised by participants are answered. One of the main topics at the roundtable is how best to communicate a company’s safety programs to employees. Attendees recognize that all employees must be educated on safety programs and policies before they begin any work for the company. Most employers provide this initial training in a formal safety orientation. Following the formal orientation, employees should receive weekly toolbox safety training, as well as daily safety briefings. Companies that show the greatest success in the areas of health and safety provide this communication on a regular basis, at a personal level.

Most companies agree that during an employee’s initial safety orientation, it is important that the safety director of the company or someone knowledgeable in safety spend the entire orientation period with the new employee. This individual should not only be willing to answer any questions the new employee has about safety, but should also be able to answer any questions regarding the company’s safety program and/or the interpretation of specific safety rules.

A Good Place To Start

Prior to the start of any project, a pretask safety planning meeting should occur. This meeting may be in conjunction with, or separate from, the pretask planning meeting to determine the scope of work for the project. The safety director, project manager or engineer, project superintendent, and all other management personnel responsible for project completion should be present at the pretask safety planning meeting. The discussion should focus on how to accomplish the project safely, what safety equipment is necessary for the project, when that equipment will be delivered to the site, and whether engineered safety solutions will be needed. After the project’s safety plan has been established, it should be immediately communicated to all employees who will work on the project.

The lessons learned by insulation contractors at NIA’s 2007 Safety Roundtable in Phoenix, Arizona, can be applied to any company in the industry. Whether a fixed-site employer or a company involved in the construction trades, the employer must make sure that all new employees be completely acquainted with the job responsibilities they will have, the functions they will perform, and how to perform that job and those functions safely. It is better to spend an entire day educating new employees on what is expected of them from a job and safety perspective than to risk a preventable on-the-job injury that results in lost time and great costs. Weekly toolbox talks are a wonderful idea, but always should be supplemented with daily job briefings. It is also important to confirm that employees understand the safety training presented to them.

Many companies require management personnel and sometimes even the hourly work force to attend a 10- or 30-hour Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety training course. These courses provide a good overview of construction industry safety and form a great platform on which employers can build a strong, individualized safety program. OSHA 10- and 30-hour courses are available to employers in the construction industry specifically, as well as general industry. While they provide a good overview of safety, they are no substitute for job-specific safety training. Employers never should rely on these courses alone to provide all of the necessary safety training.

A great way to teach new employees about a company’s safety program is using new-hire mentors. This involves placing an experienced employee with each new hire to mentor the new employee on company safety rules and compliance, as well as various aspects of job performance. Some companies provide special hard hats (or stickers for hard hats) that identify new hires. Experienced employees are instructed to keep an eye out for the new hires and to make sure that they comply with all safety rules. The experienced employees can correct inappropriate safety behavior before it becomes a habit and, in many cases, before a supervisor observes the behavior and is required to take disciplinary action. Identifying new hires and using new-hire mentors accelerates new employees’ safety awareness and understanding of the company’s safety program.

One other significant component of any company’s safety program is enforcement—that is, making sure safety rules and regulations are enforced without exception. Although “enforcement” is a term many companies would rather not use, it is the most reliable method to ensure compliance with a safety program. Some companies combine the enforcement program with an incentive program. This is an acceptable approach, as long as the incentive program is based on safety compliance and not reduction of lost-time injuries. Even with an incentive program, though, an organized enforcement program is a must.

The enforcement program should have several components, including clear communication of the safety program to employees, a mechanism for evaluating compliance with the safety program, and enforcement of the rules when violations are noted. When successful applicants for NIA’s Theodore H. Brodie Distinguished Safety Award demonstrated and discussed their safety enforcement programs, a common thread was the need for uniformity of enforcement. Exceptions cannot be made to the company’s enforcement requirements. When an enforcement program is developed, it must be something the company can live with long term.

Enforcement also must be combined with re-education. No matter what reason an employee gives for the violation of a safety rule, some level of re-education must be provided to that employee in combination with the disciplinary action—and both the retraining and the disciplinary action must be documented. The disciplinary action must be progressive and severe enough to convey the message that violation of the safety rules will not be tolerated.

Having an effective safety program is a key component to success in the insulation industry. A solid safety program will help reduce the number of injuries that a company experiences and, if used properly, will prevent OSHA citations. Another benefit from having a quality safety program: It will help in the bidding process so that a company can continue to grow and excel.