Kurt Kniffin, Stacy and Witbeck, Inc., UCON 2021 President
We have to pass on the commitment to safety to the next generation of construction leaders without making them attend the “school of hard knocks.”
We all want our co-workers, employees, subcontractors, and vendors to go home safe every day. Their friends and families are counting on this. As contractors, we don’t bid or manage projects expecting to have injuries to our workforce—we expect the work will be completed safely. To make that expectation a reality, we all have to commit to incorporating safety into everything we do, giving our crews the proper training and equipment, and taking safety personally.
The truth is our work is dangerous. According to OSHA, in 2019 across all industries, 15 workers died on the job each day. Fifteen a day! While this number has decreased dramatically over the last 50 years, I hope we all agree that this is still unacceptable. The most frequently cited violations are related to fall protection, scaffolding, ladders, and eye and face protection. All of these hazards are present in our industry and we can help minimize and eliminate them. I believe that by taking safety personally and acting proactively, we can make a difference and continue driving down these numbers, improving year after year!
As a more seasoned (older) person in the construction industry, I have seen my fair share of incidents that have moved me deeply. Before experiencing incidents firsthand, I certainly took safety seriously, but in those days there was an attitude that getting scared straight was part of the process. We have to pass on the commitment to safety to the next generation of construction leaders without making them attend the “school of hard knocks.” I’m hopeful that younger people in our industry don’t have the same stories to tell like I do and experience safety positively and proactively.
We can accomplish this by setting the example and showing commitment. When I was getting my start, I can remember higher ups in the company showing up at safety meetings in their loafers or tennis shoes, maybe without a hard hat or vest. That showed me and the crews a lack of commitment and that they were not taking safety personally. If the people in charge aren’t committed, it’s much easier, and unfortunately natural, to be disengaged in the daily routines that keep us safe. It becomes easier to ignore issues and to think of minor safety infractions as “not my problem.” But that’s the thing, safety really is everyone’s responsibility. It’s personal!
One of my favorite things to do is tour our projects with the onsite personnel and see their accomplishments. I am always proud and encouraged to see how empowered and proactive our employees are in making safety their priority. It’s amazing to see the impact you can have by not walking past any safety issue—by picking up the knocked over cone or barricade, by moving debris from the pathway, and by showing up in all required PPE.
A couple months ago I was touring one of our projects and was about to enter the jobsite when a superintendent put his hand up to stop me like he was directing traffic through an intersection. He said I was not allowed to enter the construction site because I did not have my gloves on. The only thing that came to mind was to say “thank you for stopping me.” While I had my hard hat, vest, safety glasses, and boots on, I was missing my gloves that were in my vest pocket. That superintendent takes safety personally and his jobsite showed it—everyone, including myself, thanks to him, had on all the required PPE, and the site looked clean and safe.
So, I challenge you all to speak up about the small things and be proactive about safety on your projects— It’s worth it.
In the June issue of the UCON magazine you will find the UCON Safety Award Winners. Congratulations to each one of the companies awarded for the work they performed during the 2020 year. Take time to read their safety philosophies, and how their teams work together during the challenging year—and I am sure on those projects, they all take safety personally!