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My First Blog Post

This is the post excerpt.

This is my very first post. With this blog, we hope to cover the construction industry issues that are important to the AEC industry in Pennsylvania. While the Keystone Contractors Association cover most of the state, we may not be in the know on all issues. If you’d like to guest write, please let me know. You can either email me (Jon@KeystoneContractors.com) or call the KCA (717.731.6272). I’ll be sure to promote you and/or your company to make it worth your while for contributing something.

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Construction Opioid Awareness Week Starts Tomorrow!

Tomorrow is the start of Construction Opioid Awareness Week. 

Working with our industry partners, we developed five videos and toolbox talk materials on five important topics for this year’s awareness week. A daily email will be delivered first thing in the morning each day to the KCA’s safety email list. If you are not on this list and would like access to the videos, please let us know by sending an email to Jon@KeystoneContractors.com. 

The theme to this year’s week is: return to the basics. We started this opioid awareness week in 2017, and the construction industry, much like society in general, was trending in the right direction concerning opioids, addiction and general wellness, but then 2020 came. During the past two years we have seen an increase in addiction and suicide rates and it appears to be a good time to return the basics. We picked five video topics that may appear elementary like pain management and employee assistance programs, but we feel these topics need emphasis to get us trending back in the right direction. 

Additionally, for the first year of Construction Opioid Awareness Week in 2017, we sent construction companies across the state “Opioids – Warn Me” stickers to be placed on medical and pharmacy cards. What may appear to be such a simple, basic message was just the opposite – it was extremely powerful to have an authority figurehead from a company (the person who signs the front of the check, executive, superintendent, etc.) personally distribute these stickers to their workers letting them know that they are an important part of this company. Please do not hesitate to contact the KCA if you would like more of these stickers for your company.

Lastly, please feel free to share any feedback or photos from your company participating in this year’s Construction Opioid Awareness Week.

The 2022 Construction Opioid Awareness Week – July 25-29

Have you ever felt like you’ve gone back in time? Or that someone hit the rewind button on you? That’s how I feel when I look at the opioid issue and its impact on the construction industry. 

In 2016 the Keystone Contractors Association conducted a needs-assessment of Pennsylvania’s construction industry. Concerning our construction labor workforce, one glaring topic needed attention and that’s education in the area of opioids/pain medication. Construction is tough on the body, no one denies that statement. When the aches, pains and injuries come, many turned to pills so that they could keep working. Five years ago, we heard story after story on how opioid addiction was wreaking havoc on our industry and our communities.

As a result of our findings, we knew we had to do something. Sure, there were ads to warn against opioid abuse from the government and healthcare systems, but I did not find channels that spoke directly to construction workers. Since I did not have much luck, in the summer of 2017 the KCA worked with industry allies in our state to create the Construction Opioids Awareness Week. This recognition week is the last full week of July and for it we arm construction employers with lots of resources to discuss pain medication use/abuse with their employees. It’s hard to gauge the success of a movement like this, but one indicator that I believe is crucial for success is if we get the construction industry talking about the issue. And over the next few years we had the industry talking – employees were talking to employers.

But then 2020 arrived. The KCA workforce went from building Pennsylvania to being non-essential (NOTE: Pennsylvania was the only state to shutdown construction during the COVID-19 pandemic). For a month and half during the Spring of 2020, the construction industry was shutdown and only healthcare and other projects continued. Then on May 1, 2020, Pennsylvania’s construction industry reopened, while the majority of businesses and schools remained closed or operating remotely.

2020 put a lot of stress on the construction workforce in our state. They went from being unimportant to some instances where workers were the lone person of a household to go into the COVID-19 elements and returning home not sure how to feel or how to interact with their family. Or for the workers who lived alone, it was worse – they went from being non-essential, sitting at home all alone to returning to work but not having the normal human contact after work at such places as church, restaurants, etc.

Along with an increase in stress levels in 2020, the construction industry also experienced an increase in addiction and suicide rates. The sad part is that we were heading in the right direction entering 2020, but this unfortunate downward trend continued in 2021.

In 2022, we are ready to tackle the challenge of reversing these horrible trends happening in our communities. And like 2017, we are ready to make an impact on opioid awareness. We are going to make a difference by returning to the 2017 playbook – conversation is key to building a construction industry in Pennsylvania where people feel comfortable enough to seek help.

For this year’s Construction Opioid Awareness Week, we are encouraging construction companies to reengage on the topic and work to get valuable resources to the workforce while making sure our workforce knows they are respected and appreciated, plus they know it’s ok to ask for help. We want the same energy and passion the industry displayed in the years leading up to 2020 to help our workforce.

This year’s week is July 25 to 29. During this week we encourage companies to participate in the week by offering the following safety toolbox talks:

  • Monday – Pain Management
  • Tuesday – Signs of Impairment
  • Wednesday – Reducing Stigma in Construction
  • Thursday – Importance of Employee Assistance Programs
  • Friday – How to Use NARCAN

We hope Pennsylvania’s construction industry will join us for a trip back in time when we were helping the lives of our fellow construction professionals. Hopefully, we can create an environment where those needing help know that we are there to assist them.

For more information on the 2022 Construction Opioids Awareness Week, as well as toolbox talks on the topics listed above, please visit: https://keystonecontractors.com/Opioid-Awareness/.

From The Archives: LinkedIn For Business Development

NOTE: In 2013/2014, the Associated General Contractors of America created the AGC Business Development Forum for construction professionals who are interested in learning about business development for our industry. At the time when I heard about this soon-to-be-launched group, I was working at the Master Builders’ Association in Pittsburgh and upon receiving the notification from AGC about this new group I requested that they hold a spot on this forum for an MBA member. At an MBA Marketing Committee meeting I reported that we have a spot on the AGC BD Forum and asked who should we nominate. It was decided that I should represent the MBA on this national forum. During this forum’s infancy, while we were deciding on our mission and activities, it was agreed that forum members should crank out an article to help with the launch. I’m glad the articles are still being produced and I’m glad to see Paige Packard still steering this ship – keep up the great work. To learn more about the AGC BD Forum: https://www.agc.org/connect/agc-groups/business-development-forum.

Here’s the article I wrote for the AGC BD Forum that was published in 2015.

LinkedIn For Business Development

LinkedIn has been called Facebook for professionals, the virtual rolodex, and the headhunter’s haven to name a few. Regardless of what you call this online network, LinkedIn can be important for business development. Before delving
into LinkedIn business development advice, let’s look at why LinkedIn is beneficial for the construction industry.

Why LinkedIn – Everyone’s On It
With more than 300 million members, LinkedIn is the largest business network in the world. In 2013, the Master Builders’ Association (MBA) released the results of a social media survey of western Pennsylvania commercial construction professionals. This survey indicated that 89% of the professionals in the region’s construction industry use social media and the majority use social media for both professional and personal use. According to the MBA survey, LinkedIn was by far the one used most for professional networking.

Despite the Pittsburgh survey being over two years old, the usage of LinkedIn by the construction industry remains strong. If you’re not convinced or don’t think it can be helpful, take a step back and think about the last ten people you have communicated with in your day-to-day work activities (phone, email, meeting, etc.). I would be shocked if most, if not all, are not on LinkedIn. Your coworkers, peers and competitors are on LinkedIn and without a LinkedIn presence you may be missing valuable opportunities. If it turns out that your work contacts are not on LinkedIn, then stop reading this article now. Are you still with us? Good, let’s proceed.

The LinkedIn Profile
A good first step for using LinkedIn for business development is your profile. Your profile is crucial as it is the site where potential clients can learn more about you and your role in the industry. An unfinished profile is a bad first impression to make, especially for prospective clients. A profile picture is a great way to bring your page to life and let people know you are real. According to LinkedIn, users with a profile picture are more likely to be accepted for connection than others without a photo and users with a profile picture receive more profile views as the result of a LinkedIn search opposed to users without a picture.

After the appropriate profile picture is selected, you should take some time to make sure your profile tells your story. Make sure your headline is current and customize your experiences so inquirers can learn about key positions you
have held, work achievements, education and certifications, and volunteer involvements. Plus the summary section of your profile allows you to share your expertise and vision, so do not forget about this item.

Join & Be a Thought Leader
Now that you have an effective profile, you are ready to expand your network and spread your brand. Company pages and LinkedIn groups are excellent locations to get noticed and make new connections. What companies do you enjoy working with? Check to see if they have a company page and join. Take a second and think of business groups and associations that you belong to and then see if these organizations have a LinkedIn group and join. Once you join spend a little time to actively participate with the groups to share your knowledge. Be mindful of the number of groups you join. It is better to join a few and be active, then join many, become overwhelmed with content overload and then do nothing. Posting insightful comments or thought-provoking questions will be welcome by your connections (and future connections) and most importantly you’ll demonstrate that you are interested in your community and making your mark in the industry. By demonstrating your thought leadership, it will result in more connections and all the LinkedIn activity opens the door for new business opportunities.

LinkedIn can be a powerful tool. It does not guarantee you will succeed in obtaining all sorts of work, but it can help find prospective clients and demonstrate firsthand your connection to them.

Key Takeaways:
• LinkedIn is the largest business network in the world – find, and be found, by potential clients
• The LinkedIn profile has become the business card
• LinkedIn provides numerous opportunities to demonstrate expertise and knowledge

Pennsylvania’s Rising College Tuition Isn’t Helped by Outdated Construction Law

Recently Penn State University announced they approved a tuition increase for incoming students, joining Temple University and University of Pittsburgh. As families continue moving from a pandemic towards normalcy, I am sure the last thing they wanted, or expected, was to see the price tag of education to increase for their students.

A lot of costs go into the background of the high costs of college. Facilities management and maintenance are one important component. If construction procurement reform had been put in place, to put us in line with the rest of the country, I wonder if this tuition increase could have been avoided. As one of the last few states requiring the use of multiple prime contractors on each public construction project, and enforcing it more strictly than other states, Pennsylvania is stuck with an archaic business practice. Referred to in Pennsylvania as the Separations Act, this requirement was enacted in 1913.

So, what exactly is the Separations Act? And why should students at state-related universities care?

In essence, the Separations Act forces the public owner, like the state-related universities, to serve as the general contractor for a project and each of the multiple primes contracts directly to the public owner. Without a single entity directing the project and with plenty of finger-pointing, this is an inefficient contract delivery method fraught with problems such as delays and claims, which are the norms and culprits leading to public projects being over-budget.

This multiple prime delivery system is virtually nonexistence in the federal, private, residential, and commercial markets – and in fact when the state-related universities spend their own money for construction projects, they very rarely use multiple prime delivery because they want their money spent efficiently. Yet the state-related universities are forced by state law to use the multiple prime delivery system when it is building projects funded by the state.

On average, a multiple prime delivered project costs 10% more. For that reason it makes sense for these schools to avoid this process when spending money from alums and other contributors. One would think our legislature would have that same sentiment about taxpayers that these colleges have for their donors.  

It’s time to modernize the Separations Act by affording our public sector a list of proven delivery methods to select from. Construction is not a one-size fits all industry and there is no perfect delivery method. A construction client’s priorities (i.e., cost, quality, time, safety, etc.) vary from project to project and the customer should be allowed the opportunity to select the most appropriate delivery method for a particular project on a case-by-case basis. Senate Bill 823 of 2020 provided those options.

By no means am I saying that modernizing the Separations Act is the be-all end-all solution to stop tuition inflation, but when Pennsylvania knowingly operates inefficiently while my neighbors see a tuition increase at our fine state-related institutions, I feel inclined to speak up. Now is the ideal time to address inefficiencies in our procurement process on behalf of current and future college students.

It’s OK to Ask For Help: Addiction Stories from the Construction Industry

NOTE: The following article was featured in the recent National Safety Council’s Family Safety & Health. It was written in the Fall of 2020 collaboratively between Jon O’Brien, Executive Director of the KCA, and Howard Bernstein, President of Penn Installations.

In October of 2016, Jon O’Brien started at the Keystone Contractors Association, which is based in Harrisburg, PA and has member companies spread around the state. After this relocation, the first thing he did was to schedule a tour of the state, visiting current members to learn more about them – their history, strengths, weaknesses, challenges, etc. The same issue kept popping up in conversations: opioid abuse is hurting the industry and communities.

After reporting the results of the statewide tour to the KCA Board, KCA leadership knew they had to do something. Mr. O’Brien did some research to see if concentrated efforts were underway in construction to tackle this opioid epidemic. Sure, there were ads to warn against opioid abuse from the government and healthcare systems, but he did not find channels that spoke directly to construction workers. Since he did not have much luck, in the summer of 2017 the KCA worked with industry allies in state to create the Construction Opioids Awareness Week.

This recognition week is the last full week of July and for it we arm construction employers with lots of resources to discuss pain medication use/abuse with their employees. It’s hard to gauge the success of a movement like this, but one indicator that the KCA believes is crucial for success is if we get the construction industry talking about the issue. Conversation is key to building a construction industry in Pennsylvania where people feel comfortable enough to seek help, with that in mind here are some perspectives from labor and management:  

Labor: Meeting-Makers Make It, Mark’s Story

Mark St Cyr’s story: His sobriety date was December 28, 2007. But his story began way before then and it’s all part of the plan per Mark: “God puts the toughest people through the toughest situations to help others.” As a young boy, he was molested by his uncle after his uncle returned from the Vietnam War; in high school Mark smoked weed and drank alcohol too; as a young man he became addicted to opioids; in 1986 he had a fire in his home that severely burned his wife and over 30% of his one daughter’s body.  Mark’s a tough person, but that’s only half of it – helping others is the other half.

On that December day back in 2007, Mark’s world changed and because of his life’s experiences up until that date, he is now able to change the lives of others too. “Because I drank alcohol so much at a young age, I was emotionally immature, and I was unable to talk and connect with others. Being sober changed all that and at meetings I’m able to tell my story. By sharing, others are able to relate as they have been through similar situations.” Some examples: Diane had a burnt child and listening to Mark was inspirational; Sean and Jesse shared similar experiences as Mark growing up and Mark’s story is able to help them. Jesse has relapsed twice over the past 12 years but has been clean for the past two years with the help of the sharing sessions. As Mark says: “Meeting makers, make it!”

Over the past few years, Mark and his team of supporters started a non-profit organization in Washington County, PA called Club Serenity, Inc. This organization currently operates a recovery home for women and a second home for men is coming soon. “We’re able to remove people from their environment and place them in a home with like-minded people. It’s working,” said Mark.  

Management: ‘We’re There to Assist’: Howard Bernstein Shares What He’s Learned

Having grown up working summers in construction, Howard Bernstein saw his share of drug and alcohol issues as a young man but now as a husband, father and employer, he looks through a far different lens and he feels powerless over the growing problems we face with addiction. In trying to assist people in both the field and office, he has learned the cliché often about not being able to help addicts until they seek help themselves. Although self-awareness or interventions may occasionally lead someone towards recovery, it is sadly more often that legal troubles, divorce and/or job loss lead to the “Rock bottom” needed to seek help.

What he has learned is that “Getting help” can mean many things, from counseling, to outpatient rehab, to intensive inpatient rehab. Out of pocket expense, income lost, and embarrassment have all been barriers to taking these steps and there can be a wide difference in the experience and success rate of various professional programs. Even the best programs have success rates that can seem defeating, but relapse need not be seen as a failure and is more often than naught part of most people’s recovery. There is no one size fits all but just as with our carpenters, the more tools that one has in their tool bag, the better prepared they can be to meet each day’s challenges. Additional tools for recovery include the support of friends, family and co-workers (many of whom may have been hurt by the addict and may be wary of helping), support groups, an experienced sponsor, recurring counseling and finding positive outlets for the time that was spent previously using. Vivitrol is an injectable form of Naltrexone which lasts for a month and has been a game changer for many addicts and alcoholics who say that it reduces their cravings and can be one more tool.

Hopefully, employers can create an environment where those needing help know that we are there to assist them as the cost of not doing so could never be measured in dollars alone.

Helpful Resources:

Construction Opioids Awareness Week: https://keystonecontractors.com/Opioid-Awareness/

Club Serenity Inc.: https://www.clubserenityinc.com/

Happy Anniversary!?!? Pennsylvania Begins Its 108th Year Overspending on Public Construction

Next time you drive by a public-school building under construction, know that our state is intentionally spending 10% more on that project because of an archaic law that only exists in Pennsylvania.

On May 1, 1913, Governor John Tener put his signature on legislation to enact the Pennsylvania Separations Act.  Tener assumed our state’s top office as we were coming off of a construction scandal involving the Pennsylvania State Capitol.  State Treasurer William Berry had found that there had been an unappropriated cost for our state capitol’s construction of over $7.7 million ($211,282,599 today).  Mr. Berry found many questionable charges, which led to the conviction of the building architect and the former State Treasurer.  Due to today’s technology, every cent that is spent is easily tracked.

At the time, in 1913, a Separations Act-type law was the norm in America.  However, it is not the norm today as every other state, the federal government and the private sector enjoy options in construction delivery.  Yet Pennsylvania remains the lone holdout that mandates the Separations Act which requires the use of multiple prime delivery.

Supporters of the Separations Act like to debate the statement that Pennsylvania is the only state left with this cumbersome contracting requirement and they believe there are two other states joining us.  They feel that North Dakota and New York join us.  These two states have chipped away at their multiple prime mandate, allowing flexibility in public contracting methods depending on the type of project.  But regardless of whether Pennsylvania is the only state or one of three states, it’s a pretty weak defense to keep a law on the books that wastes tax dollars.

So, what is the Separations Act and multiple prime delivery? And why should taxpayers care?

The Separations Act requires that public entities, like a school district, solicit and receive at least four separate bids for one construction project.  This is referred to as the multiple prime delivery method.  Let that sink in – four separate companies tasked with building one project.  This multiple prime delivery method requires the public entity to hold and manage the multiple contracts, making the public entity responsible for coordination of contracts.  Consequently, the public entity increases its contractual liability exposure and is forced to be involved in contractual disputes among the primes.

Without one company in charge of the construction project, the multiple prime requirement is cumbersome and sets the stage for adversarial relationships amongst the prime contractors, resulting in a drastic rise in change orders and claims on multiple prime delivered projects.  Additionally, without one contractor guiding the project, there are multiple project schedules, and this lack of collaboration eliminates the prospect of early completion.  In the private sector, like the healthcare industry, it’s typical to read in the newspaper that the new hospital was built under budget and ahead of schedule – wouldn’t it be nice to afford the public sector similar contracting options that others benefit from?

There is draft legislation that would bring Pennsylvania inline with the rest of the country when it comes to project delivery for public construction, but most importantly it would save tax dollars.  This legislation would allow the public entity to choose between four different delivery systems: Design-Bid-Build Multiple Prime (current mandate), Design-Bid-Build Single Prime, Construction Management At Risk, and Design Build.  To the non-construction professional these terms might be foreign to you.  While there are thousands of resources that explain the various delivery systems (and I don’t mind pointing people in the right direction if requested), I’ll try to keep the explanation simple: each of the listed delivery systems have a different entry point to have the construction team join the design team.  Due to design and construction teams joining forces at different times, depending on the selected delivery system, the systems vary in collaboration as illustrated here:

Now I’ve been told that the Separations Act is a tough issue for the general public to understand.  Personally, I thought an issue that saves tax dollars is something the masses can get behind.  But perhaps I can use an analogy that may help:

  • Can you imagine if the Philadelphia Eagles had four head coaches?  This lack of leadership would result in chaos on the field with players unsure who to listen to.
  • Or what if the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra had four principal conductors?  The crowd would need aspirin and earplugs if the orchestra were to receive four different directions.

On Pennsylvania public construction projects, we have four head coaches and four conductors all giving different orders.  There is no perfect construction delivery method, and our industry has evolved since the days of Governor Tener.  We have adapted delivery methods in response to the customer’s changing circumstances.

The customer should be afforded the opportunity to select the most appropriate delivery method for a particular project on a case-by-case basis as cost, quality, and time vary from project to project.  Flexibility to choose the most effective and efficient project contracting method will enable local public entities to control costs on building projects, which ultimately saves tax dollars.    

Improving Project Outcomes: Advice to Owners, Designers & Builders

Improving Project Outcomes is an ongoing, open discussion among construction industry stakeholders in Pennsylvania.  Established in 2017, these collaboration colloquies are held three to four times a year and have been hosted by leading construction organizations in our Commonwealth. 

In 2020, CMAA Central PA, COAA PA, CSI Central PA, DBIA Alleghenies and KCA set out to find the best pieces of advice for industry stakeholders.  With the construction industry well represented by all stakeholders, we held three different events: 1. Advice to Owners from Builders & Designers; 2. Advice to Designers from Owners & Builders; and, 3. Advice to Builders from Owners & Designers. Below are the three lists that our five organizations believe can help Improve Project Outcomes:

To watch the unveiling of these lists at an Improving Project Outcome session visit: IPO 2021 Kickoff featuring Advice to Stakeholders.

Advice for Owners!

1. Involve more End-Users/Maintenance personnel in the design process (early)! 

2. HOLD Team Members Accountable! 

3. Expect Lean Techniques/Principles, continuous improvement process 

4. Stand behind QA/QC schedule 

5. Review Qualifications before price! 

6. Increase FEES! 

7. Improve communication flow Architects/Vendors

8. More clearly define Stakeholders 

9. Security/Safety, same as everything else! 

10. More Time Upfront and better Early Stage Decision Making, alternatives/innovation 

11. Project Delivery decision, earlier

12. Support the Use of Technology

13. Continuity of Expectations 

14. Design for Future Flexibility 

Advice for Designers!

1. More transparency into the design process – more collaboration and better collaboration early! 

2. Improve leadership during preconstruction and construction

3. FUN, more FUN

4. More construction visits and better strategy for CA. 

5. Make sure young designers get field experience!

6. Design to Budget, process in place. 

7. Must consider tolerances in Design! 

8. More exploration for Renovation work!

9. Adhere to agreed upon Design Schedule. 

10.Get to know each other, Team Building! 

11. Decision-Making! Include life-cycle cost analysis!

12. Understand the complete budget! 

13. Open to and Understand DA

14.Continuous estimating and Lean principles, get smart.  

Advice for Builders!

1. Open Lines of Communication – more collaboration and better collaboration early! 

2. Bring Solutions to the table, not RFI’s! 

3. More FUN! Team Building! Trades too. 

4. Realistic/Achievable Schedules, do not over promise!  

5. Understand Scope and Goals for project, ensure quality time during preconstruction when invited! 

6. Utilize Value-Adding Technology, develop plan for project and get the model to the field. 

7. Involve Entire Team in Pursuit Presentations, want to hear from key Superintendents/Project Managers/Foreman! 

8. Remove the Waste, explore prefabrication, bring it! 

9. Push for Design Assist, we need to stop complaining about the design!

10. Continuous Estimating, figure it out, please! 

NOTE: Safety is extremely important to all organizations, companies and professionals associated with Improving Project Outcomes.  Each session starts with a Safety Minute and we have held Safety sessions too.  It was discussed that Safety is an area that Owners, Designers and Builders embrace, and all the stakeholders care about the health and welfare of everyone associated with their projects.  While Safety is not a Top 10 list, we felt it was important to include this item on our publication because we all celebrate Safety!

To request information on Improving Project Outcomes or to be alerted of upcoming sessions, please contact Jon O’Brien – 717-884-2801 or Jon@KeystoneContractors.com.

EVENT: 2020 Lessons Learned from PA Safety Directors

A Zoom webinar titled “2020 Lessons Learned from Pennsylvania Safety Directors” will be held virtually on Tuesday, January 26 at 3:00 PM.

2020 was a year like none other. The commercial construction industry had to change the way it operates to keep its workers safe. Hear from safety directors from across Pennsylvania as they share lessons learned and look ahead to 2021.

The esteemed panel features:

  • Darren Rech of Alexander Building Construction Company
  • Don Tracey of Quandel Construction
  • Mike Penrod of Rycon Construction
  • Tom Scott of McClure Company
  • Moderated by Bob McCall of the Master Builders’ Association

To register please email the Keystone Contractors Association (SethKohr@KeystoneContractors.com).

KCA Announces Virtual Legislative Event – Feb 1 at 10 AM

TITLE: Legislative Insiders Provide Insights to the 2021/22 Pennsylvania General Assembly Session

WHEN: Monday, February 1st at 10:00 AM

VIRTUAL: KCA’s Zoom Channel

If you’re wondering what may happen in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania during this upcoming legislative session, then this is the event for you. Listen to respected capital insiders as they share their opinions on the upcoming legislative session.

This event features:

  • Stephen Caruso of Pennsylvania Capital-Star
  • Alex Halper of Pennsylvania Chamber of Business & Industry
  • Jan Murphy of PennLive/ The Patriot-News
  • John Wanner of Wanner Associates
  • Moderated by Jon O’Brien of Keystone Contractors Association/ General Contractors Association of Pennsylvania

To register please email the Keystone Contractors Association (SethKohr@KeystoneContractors.com).

Building PA Podcast Season 1, Episode 13: Building a Safety Culture at Leibold Inc.

Introduction: When I was hired at the Keystone Contractors Association, I explained how 90% of my construction contacts are Pittsburgh-based and I would welcome being introduced to others in the industry located around Pennsylvania.  KCA Board of Director Dave Jones of Cresswell Brothers was one of the first to offer help: “Hey Jon you should call Clayton Leibold.  He runs an impressive operation and places a strong emphasis on safety.” I’m glad Dave made that suggestion.  Clayton operates Leibold Inc., a mechanical contractor based in Pottsville, PA.  His company is highly respected in the industry due to its reliability, production and excellence in safety.  But how did Leibold come to be a safety-first operation? Listen to this Building PA Podcast interview to find out.

 

To listen to the entire interview visit: Building a Safety Culture at Leibold Inc.

Jon O’Brien (00:03):

Hello, and welcome to another episode of Building PA Podcast, a construction industry podcast taped and recorded right here in the great state of Pennsylvania for our wonderful construction industry. I am Jon O’Brien from the Keystone Contractors Association.

Chris Martin:

And I’m Chris Martin with Atlas Marketing, and we tell stories for people who build things.

Jon O’Brien:

Awesome. Good stuff. Hello, Chris, how are we doing today?

Chris Martin:

Hey, Jon, how are you doing today? I’m looking forward to our discussion today.

Jon O’Brien:

It should be fun. We’re talking safety today. We have a Clayton Leibold from Leibold Inc.. A fine mechanical contractor based in the great town of Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Hello Clay.

Clayton Leibold (00:47):

Hello. How are you doing today?

Jon O’Brien (00:49):

Good. Doing great. Doing good. Well, you are joining us and we’re going to talk safety. And this is part of our safety podcast series we’re calling, Building a Safety Culture.  Your company has been a member now I believe three years, going on three years at the KCA, which is awesome. And during that time, your company has taken home two of the KCA safety awards for safest subcontractor under 50,000 man hours worked with, this is the important part, with zero injuries. So you’re going on a two year streak here, zero injuries. So who better to speak with concerning safety culture, then an award winning safety contractor that places a strong emphasis in the area safety. So welcome to the podcast. Yeah like I said, we’re gonna talk safety here. So you know, you want to touch on your company and just first off, maybe introduce yourself and your company and then we can kind of delve into the safety topic.

Clayton Leibold (02:07):

Sure, sure. So, as you mentioned my name is Clayton Leibold, the owner and president of Leibold Incorporated. We’re a full mechanical HVAC sheet metal and piping contractor located here in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. We are going on eight years in business. My company has been going to be in business for eight years here, but I personally have been in the construction industry and in the field for going on 24 years as a union pipe fitter. So that’s kinda my background. And then as I mentioned, my company was formed about eight years ago and we, you know, serve as all of, pretty much all of Pennsylvania and surrounding States. And we do, you know, emphasize safety as a very important part and aspect of our job and our day to day activities in, in the field.

Jon O’Brien (03:16):

Now, concerning safety, is something that was kind of instilled in you during your 24 years working in the field prior to starting your company?

Clayton Leibold (03:27):

Yeah, it was early on, I could tell that obviously safety is important in the field and it was kind of brought to our attention on a regular basis and we always strive to do things in the safest manner. As you know, going back 24 years, as it’s starting out as an apprentice, obviously you are learning every day and things and certain incidences come up and hopefully you learn from them and can grow and understand how things work, how and why safety is so important, especially in the construction industry, in our field with so many things that could happen you know, on the job site related to heavy objects, multiple things that can occur that we may or may not have control of.

Clayton Leibold (04:31):

So my foreman, project managers I feel did a good job from early on instilling the simple fact that safety is so important. And if you want to continue to do your job, be healthy and continue to be able to do the job that you’re wanting to do it in the proper correct manner. And just be aware of your surroundings and always have it on your mind and kinda remain, not get too laid back in your day to day activities.

Chris Martin (05:13):

Clayton with your experience and clearly you have some amazing experiences leading into this, but what do you see as the biggest challenge for not only the safety industry, but more importantly, the construction industry as it relates to safety?

Clayton Leibold (05:31):

Probably maybe overcoming the jobsite hurdles, the things that are constantly brought up and in the day to day active daily activities of being on site, your timelines are getting shorter and shorter. Things are being accelerated, whether whatever the reason maybe, but I think we all have to keep in mind that can’t compromise the safety of how the job is getting done. And the manner that you do it. So I would say the more recent trend maybe of trying to do as much work as possible in a very short timeframe you know, we just can’t, we can look past or beyond the fact of just doing it in a safe manner.

Chris Martin (06:30):

You know, the construction industry has a, we’ve been talking about it with clients on our end. And I know Jon and I have spoken about it multiple times, and that is a worker shortage. Are you finding that in the safety industry as well? Are you having a hard time finding qualified safety professionals?

Clayton Leibold (06:53):

You know not as hard as someone may think. It is I guess the fact that the construction industry is experiencing a shortage in some fields with us being a union mechanical construction company, we have a good source for competent well-trained individuals up and coming through our apprenticeship programs. So the good key individuals are there to be found. And we’ve had good luck with taking some key employees – foreman, project managers – and kind of molding them into good safety individuals. So, you know, it kind of worked out real well good for us because I feel they’re the best and most competent because we’re taking their field expertise and knowledge and just fine tuning that and molding them into a good safety individual to lead and lay the foundation for the rest of our company as far as the safety program goes

Jon O’Brien (08:17):

And concerning new hires. And when you bring someone on new, either in the field or a project manager is onboarding a challenge at all, as far as making sure that these new hires also believe in safety and they buy into the safety cultures. Is that a challenge at all with new people?

Clayton Leibold (08:40):

Yeah, it can be especially maybe the younger generation or someone that’s not had the experience of being in the field, seeing examples of how safety is so important and possibly not experiencing near misses or smaller accidents that might catch their attention. If they don’t have that knowledge and if they’re coming from a field or something, or straight out of maybe, you know college or high school that just don’t have the experience it is harder, but we just have to take the time to educate them and give them the proper paperwork, the information the protocol of how we operate as a company. And we just have to make sure they understand it and abide by it because it’s not going to be taken lightly. And that’s what I would expect from all my employees. So it’s something that needs to be done and done correctly, or it’s just not going to work out.

Jon O’Brien (09:55):

Yeah. And I’m getting to know your company more and more, you know, we’re a few hours apart, but I’m getting to know your company more. And it seems as though there’s a buy-in amongst your foreman and your top people in the field and in the office on safety, and I’m sure that’s extremely helpful when it comes to onboarding. Do you have any advice to other companies, like how do you get the buy-in or I don’t know if you can touch on that a little bit.

Clayton Leibold (10:23):

Sure, sure. It is difficult at times to make sure that everybody is buying in. It’s important to have the top guys in our safety program leading by example showing that their fellow employees have someone to take after, or look up to, or just bounce questions off of, or conditions of a job site maybe, or someone there to offer some advice or guidance if they would have questions. But as long as they’re there leading by example, getting the rest of the crews to buy in and understand, that’s a way of doing business, that’s the way that I want the culture of the company to be like. And you know, they’re there to make a point that we’re going to discuss safety on a weekly, even daily basis.

Clayton Leibold (11:28):

And that’s what is expected and it is gonna have to happen. And if you just keep driving home that point eventually they believe that it does make sense. And there is proof that it works obviously we’re winning some safety awards and are zero injuries in the field speaks to that so if they see the results and as the results are compounding and building we are on a, knock on wood, a pretty good streak here of not having any work injuries in over three years. So they see the results. And I think it’s easier for them to buy in and accept it as a way of the daily routine.

Chris Martin (12:30):

Yeah. It’s obviously no accident in three years. That’s a great run. And obviously the buy in is there. Also maybe touch on outside resources? I mean, do you reach outside the company to help with maybe training at all? You mentioned the unions, are they helpful at all?

Clayton Leibold (12:50):

Yeah. Yep. They’re very helpful. We belong to a couple different associations, similar to Keystone Contractors Association. We affiliated with SMACNA Sheet Metal Contractors Association, also the MCAA, the Mechanical Contractors Association, and they do offer a wealth of continued education, safety seminars, conferences you know on a regular basis. So we do lean towards them with providing additional valuable tools such as the toolbox talks, the guidelines, some additional safety information that we can implement and add to our portfolio. It cannot hurt to have too much information. You don’t want to keep repeating certain things or harp on certain conditions or aspects. It’s always good to mix it up a bit.

Jon O’Brien (13:58):

Do you have any advice, maybe you’d like to share with a young entrepreneur that wants to start out in industry advice, safety related obviously. There’s various pieces of advice you can give someone, but when it comes to starting a construction company, anything you’d like to share

Clayton Leibold (14:21):

I would say there’s no real, no good example where taking a shortcut in safety, whether it’s your employee, yourself, your fellow employees, or your coworkers, there’s no good reason to do any shortcuts that would compromise the safety of anyone. It would really benefit anyone and would certainly do more harm than good by possibly causing accidents. Whether, like I said, to yourself or to others just for the simple reason that it might be quicker to do a certain task, one way that may be a little bit more unsafe or whatever the reason may be. I just wouldn’t recommend any shortcuts or trying to compromise doing something in a safe way. I actually have had the experience where I had to make a tough call and tell my guys to pull off of a job just for the sole reason that it was unsafe. And it wasn’t a popular decision. The customer was not happy, but in the long run, after further explanation from my point of view, he understood it and ultimately was okay with it and then thanked me. So that’s just a brief example of doing something correctly to not compromise potentially unsafe condition.

Chris Martin (16:11):

Clayton, that’s a great example of safety first, not only for your company, for your employees, but also for the client and the fact that the client came back and said, thank you, hats off to you for that, because that just doesn’t happen that often. But, but my question to you is do you find that a lot of your clients aren’t really focused on safety?

Clayton Leibold (16:38):

You know, honestly I don’t, we don’t. We are finding even more and more of our customers and clients are gearing up and leaning more towards a much safer environment, working environment and job site conditions and working conditions and doing the certain tasks that we were hired to do in the most safe, the safest manner possible. So maybe it’s cause we have some pretty good customers and clients, but I do feel.

Clayton Leibold (17:12):

We definitely work in some very sensitive facilities where that the unsafe type of work is just not tolerated. So we can’t afford to do anything but the job, but do the job safely because we just won’t be working there any longer. So I’ve found that the more, I can honestly say most of our customers and clients expect us and hold us to a very high safety standard. And that’s probably one of the main reasons we continue to be safe is we, we also have that in the back of our minds that if we don’t do this the right way, we may not be working here, not only for my company, but at that facility anyway.

Jon O’Brien (18:06):

Right, right. And I think too, you know, to your point that the entire industry has obviously put a huge emphasis on safety over the last 20 to 30 years, at least, we’ve even seen it with our clients you know, working with trade unions and, and contractors that we go on photo shoots and we know we can’t take photography or video of certain elements because there has to be a certain safety functionality to it. If not, it shows the wrong story or gives the wrong message if you will. So I think you’re right. It’s a balance of everybody understanding how important safety is to move the industry forward and get out of the typical thoughts and perception of the industry itself. So I’m glad to hear that from both you and your company and your clients. That’s great. That’s great. Right? Yep. Kinda done a lot to me. We touched on a lot here today, Chris, any other questions or comments or to say Clayton thank you. This has been really enlightening. And hopefully we can ask you back in the future and we can talk more about safety as it relates, not only to your company, but talk a little bit more about your company in general too.

Clayton Leibold (19:29):

Sure. Sounds good. I appreciate the time that we’re able to take in and continue to shed some light on a safety culture within the skilled trades sector and of the construction industry, and I’m happy to happy to help.

Jon O’Brien (19:52):

Absolutely. And you have been an award winning contractor. Of course, we’d like to have you back on, but I got to have one request. If we have you back in the future, we have to record it at your company. Chris, you have to see the farm. He has goats, horses. I believe you have horses and pigs and you name it. I love it.

Clayton Leibold (20:18):

Sure. We’re happy to show some folks around when we have visitors. We just had a baby donkey last week. So she’s she’s pretty darn cute. So she’s hanging around here, she’s always fun to hang around with. So it works out pretty well. Yeah.

Chris Martin (20:36):

Well, yeah, I’m there, man. I have to say, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a baby donkey, so that’ll be interesting.

Clayton Leibold (20:46):

Sure, absolutely.

Chris Martin (20:48):

All the stuff we talk about here. It’s not just about construction, right. It’s awesome.

Jon O’Brien (20:53):

Yeah.

Chris Martin (20:54):

Very cool. Yeah. Well, thank you for your time here. This is an excellent conversation and we look forward to seeing the baby donkey.

Clayton Leibold (21:05):

That sounds good. Anytime. Thanks for having me.