Building PA Podcast: Season 1 – Episode 4: Building a Safety Culture the Alexander Way

ABOUT THIS EPISODE: Since the KCA and its contractor members are renowned for safety excellence, we wanted to showcase safety with our podcast. Alexander Building Construction Company has a proud history especially when it comes to safety. Its founder, H.B. Alexander, was a pioneer in the area of construction safety and he was an active and early member of the Associated General Contractors of America’s Safety Committee in the 1950’s (two decades before OSHA was established and decades before construction companies placed safety as a priority.) Something tells me that Mr. Alexander would be proud of the work that its current safety director, Darren Rech, does to build a safety culture with the company. To hear the interview visit: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/safety-alexander-building-and-construction/id1506259467?i=1000470794135

Jon O’Brien (00:01):

Hello, and welcome to another episode of Building PA Podcast, a podcast for construction professionals living right here in the great state of Pennsylvania. I am one of your co-hosts, I’m Jon O’Brien from the Keystone Contractors Association and I’m joined by my other cohost.

Chris Martin:

Alright, this is Chris Martin with Atlas Marketing. We tell stories for people who build things.

Jon O’Brien:

We have an excellent episode today, you know we’ve touched on so many topics whether it’s on workforce development, legislation, construction contracts, but I think, well, when we talk about safety, nothing beats construction safety…and we have a Bonafede superstar in the area of safety, Darren Rech from Alexander Building Construction. Welcome Darren.

Darren Rech:

Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Chris Martin:

Yeah, so one thing when we started with this podcast is, you know, we wanted to make sure to touch on a lot of construction industry topics.

Chris Martiin (01:04):

And when it comes to safety, we have this series and reminding other contractors just to get their feedback and their comments related to building a safety culture. So, you know, welcome to the podcast. And let’s talk about building a safety culture. What do you say, Darren? You ready?

Darren Rech:

Sure. Yeah.

Jon O’Brien:

Do you have any comments for our crowd or audience?

Darren Rech:

Not necessarily. I guess. My experience in construction is over 12 years in various managerial roles and I actually have a safety science degree from IUP, so I actually went to school for safety. And you know, I’ve been doing it now for geez, almost 30 years. So in various industries.

Jon O’Brien:

And how long have you been at Alexander?

Darren Rech:

So it’ll be in June, it’ll be seven years with Alexander as a safety director. Okay, thank you. Yes, we cover State College and Harrisburg and the surrounding regions, you know, York, Lancaster Williamsport, if necessary, wherever the job is, that’s where I go.

Jon O’Brien (02:22):

Okay. So your corporate wide with Alexander, you’re the safety guru, correct?

Darren Rech:

That’s correct. My title is Safety Director. We have at Alexander, a project in Mechanicsburg, the Hampton medical center project. It’s a Penn State Health project and we have a site safety coordinator on that particular project in State College. We had a site safety coordinator on our Paterno library project. And since that project completed, we have her moving around to different jobs in that State College region. So sort of helps. And she does a lot of the site assessments and whatever’s needed on those particular projects in that region.

Jon O’Brien:

Well, that’s a good place to start. So let’s talk about the two people you were mentioning there. How do you build a safety culture within them? You know, how do you coach them?

Darren Rech (03:24):

Yeah so my approach personally is one of coaching and mentoring. I’m not necessarily a, there were days of safety cops if you will, back years ago. And in this day and age with the workforce and different types of people working, really the method to get through to people is through coaching and mentoring and really just having an opportunity to build alliances with these people and build a rapport and build relationships you know, rather than the old yelling method or throwing somebody off the job. So that’s sort of my approach with our two site safety coordinators and they’ve done a good job adapting to our industry, especially the building construction and have come a long way and just, you know, sending that message out to their folks on their particular projects and in our region as well.

Jon O’Brien:

So you get a sense and you see that the buy in is there, you know, the people, your two safety professionals buying into the safety culture.

Darren Rech (04:27):

Yes, absolutely. You know, we have owners and we have some important owners who, who really value safety. And so when we can provide a site safety coordinator, you know, on one project, that’s pretty rare. Usually it’s one person per company hitting, you know, multiple jobs and doing site assessments and, you know, compliance regulatory assessments, things like that. So when you have multiple people, you know, you can create more of a focus on safety and you can drill down a lot more and into the training incident investigation, site assessments, and, you know, just have a well rounded safety program.

Chris Martin (05:05):

Do you find that the employees outside of the safety department are embracing safety? I mean, I I’ve been working in construction for about 30 years, just like you. And it seems to be this. Everybody might not love everybody, but everybody knows it’s of importance. Everybody recognizes how vital it is to the job site, but do people really buy into that safety culture?

Darren Rech (05:36):

Yeah, that’s a great question. And in reality, you have buy-in at various levels. Certain individuals will buy into it more so than others. And I find also that certain project teams will buy into safety more so than others. They’ll support the safety approach. They’ll do the initiatives that we typically set out for on those particular project. So, you know, it’s constantly up and down and we push this buying on a constant basis. And again, it’s really a lot of chemistry between the project teams and you hope that you have a team that a few people are buying into it and at least take the lead on safety for that particular project, because the way we’re set up is just really the site safety supers. I’m sorry, the site superintendent is in charge of safety, ultimately, but we have project managers, we have project engineers and also carpenters working on these projects.

Darren Rech (06:41):

So our approach is really to encourage everybody to buy into safety and have a stake in the safety approach. If you see something step up and do something to fix it. So that’s really our method of safety and communication is if you see something, make sure you step up, it’s not just the superintendent’s job. So that’s really what we try to push here.

Chris Martin:

And to that point, what are some best practices that you’ve seen instituted or are looking to institute at Alexander as it relates to that buy in?

Darren Rech:

So typically some of the methods we’ve incorporated where just tool box talks, for instance to discuss a task with your teams performance, or a morning huddle to discuss what task you’re going to do that week and have a review of that task and sign off by each team member.

Darren Rech (07:44):

So everybody has buy in. We also do what’s called a job safety analysis and really what that entails is reviewing what the hazards are for the task you are about to complete. So “do you have the right equipment for the job?” “Has everyone understood what is needed?” “Does everyone understand the hazards?” And so as a team, you have different levels of experience. Some guy might be working for 30 plus years. You may have a guy who’s, you know, maybe less than a year in the industry. So there’s such a variety of experience. And really what we’re trying to do is between each team member just communicate what the hazards are that they see and make sure they understand how they’re going to approach that. And what did we do to eliminate or minimize the hazard? So the job safety analysis, and we call it the thing card is something that we really push.

Darren Rech (08:39):

And we want to make sure that we understand what tasks the hazards are before we jump into the tasks. So oftentimes when I do incident investigations, a lot of times the correct or the root cause was some something to the effect of, well, we just, you know, we did something stupid or we knew better. And so, you know, many times, if they would just think through the task and pause before doing something, then often you get a good positive result. So that’s what we constantly encourage is the JSA – job safety analysis. Another thing we do on a monthly basis, we typically have what’s called a site safety stand down, and we will have a huddle. And it entails a group of foreman carpenters. It could be a project managers and we all walk the site together and we look for observations with deficiencies and things that need corrected and also you know, just pointing out things of areas of improvement.

Darren Rech (09:47):

And it’s a real collaborative approach. No, one’s yelling at each other or finger pointing. So it’s real positive buy in from everybody. And we typically do that once a month and, you know, we would buy lunch, maybe it’s you know, grilling hot dogs or hamburgers on the grill and you stand around and talk safety for maybe an hour, hour and a half with everybody on the job site. And so the personnel working, they typically have a good feedback response to us and you know, it’s well received. So it’s been an effective way of promoting safety and thinking about what they’re doing before they jump into their tasks.

Jon O’Brien:

Would you say everyone on the job site? So you’re including subs, consultants, anyone that might be on the site?

Darren Rech:

Yeah, that’s correct. So at Alexander we’re a construction manager and we have mostly subcontractors on our project. So these walk throughs will be mostly subcontractors. Oftentimes the owner will jump in and join us, but primarily it’s Alexander and our subcontractors and the owner at certain times.

Jon O’Brien:

For the client, what’s the owner’s take on not only the walkthrough, but the culture of safety at Alexander?

Darren Rech (11:10):

Yeah. So, you know, more and more these days, we’re finding owners who really look at safety and the culture of safety within your company. What we have is in every company what’s called an experience modification rating, and it’s a number used by insurance companies to gauge both past costs, injuries, and risk, or chances of risk. So the lower, the EMR of your business, the lower your workers’ compensation insurance premiums will be. And so what we’re finding is a lot of owners are really looking at that number. So if you have an EMR, for instance, of 1.0, that’s considered the average. And so to mitigate the insurance risk, they raised the workers’ comp premiums when your EMR starts creeping up over 1.0, right? And so, you know, the bad news is the, as an EMR increases, it sticks with you for about three years.

Darren Rech (12:14):

So it doesn’t go away after say a year. And as I said, more and more clients are starting to look at that that particular number. And you know, I sort of use the analogy, if you have your auto insurance premium, you know, on your personal vehicle, then you get into maybe two or three accidents a year. You know, what happens with your premiums, they shoot up, right? So the same thing is the case for workers’ comp insurance. And again, a lot of companies, a lot of owners, clients are starting to look at that EMR a little closely when they do their due process for a particular project. So it’s a very important number.

Jon O’Brien (13:13):

I heard on a conference call recently a comment, from I think a General Contractor from New York City I believe, and he made the comment that these young professionals that are coming out of a school they have been born and raised to talk safety. Their entire lives safety’s all around them. They’re always thinking about everything around them, and the educational process is doing a great job of preaching safety. It’s the old timers on the job site, it’s the guys that have been there forever and they’re like, Oh, I’m just doing it this way and I’ve always done it that way, you know? So yeah I’d like to get your feedback on that comment.

Darren Rech:

Yeah. That’s you know, it’s interesting. And I mentioned earlier, my approach to safety is more coaching and mentoring. And, you know, as we grow older into this business of safety and in some of our industry experience and your dad’s move on, you know, I’m seeing a shifting culture from that mentality. These, you know, a lot of these guys are getting older and they’re starting to feel their aches and pains and things like that that are creeping up after years of working in the construction industry.

Darren Rech (14:13):

So, you know, they’re starting to appreciate safety a little bit more, which is interesting. So it makes our job a little easier because they’re open to safety, suggestions and ideas to make their job easier. So, you know, ironically, I’m hearing a little bit less of the, you know, this is the way I’ve done it for 30 years now approach. So it’s been good and it’s been refreshing. And I think the culture of the industry starting to shift a little bit more towards that, you know, let’s do something safely and, and easier so we can, you know, go home safer.

Jon O’Brien:

Absolutely. And are you saying that too, amongst the younger professionals, their safety conscience too?

Darren Rech (15:16):

Yeah, it’s interesting. A lot of the folks coming out of the union halls and just entering industry in general you know, carpenters, electricians, plumbers laborers, most of these folks have the OSHA 30 hour training or the OSHA 10 hour training at least. So it’s been a good training for these folks. And, you know, I noticed on some of our projects that the owner will actually require that anyone working must be trained by a licensed OSHA 30 hour trainer, as well as maybe the labor has the OSHA 10 hour training. So there’s certainly a requirement from owners that a certain level of safety, the training is completed. And so that’s been a great plus as well, as far as culture and maintaining the safe culture.

Jon O’Brien:

I think it was maybe a year or two ago, you approached me, Dan, you approached me and mentioned a topic I’d never heard of before – Prevention Through Design. Is that still active on your radar? And if so is it a needed process during construction. And do you wanna explain what that is first of all?

Darren Rech (16:17):

Sure. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Prevention Through Design is you know, it’s a concept that’s been around for years and it has a little bit of a change in name, but ultimately what the concept fundamentally is one that you think of safety. You know, I’ll take building construction, for instance. You think of safety during the design of the building throughout the construction of the building, as well as the life cycle, after we’ve finished the building and the end user comes into occupy this building. We think of safety all through it from cradle to grave, basically. So, you know, we obviously want to work safely while we’re building it, but when we give up the project and the building is complete, and we turn it over to the owner who has folks who need to work daily in this building, or you know, different types of maintenance folks, they have to maintain this building and how do they do it in a safe manner?

Darren Rech (17:21):

So Prevention Through Design is really a concept of, you know, making sure that gauges, switches, light pictures and anything that must be maintained can be maintained in a safe manner. So the elimination of ladders, you know, maybe it’s a light the community lowered, so the bulb can be changed or maintained. And so, you know, the concept of just minimizing the risk is really what PTD is. And we continue to push that on all of our projects and we do it in different levels. It depends what the owners buy in from a safety standpoint and what they’re willing to spend with the design phase. So it varies in different degrees. You know, PTD is typically on one of our projects, but you know, we certainly continue to push it as a company and the certain requirements. So kind of in a nutshell, that’s what PTD is.

Jon O’Brien:

So it varies depending on who the owner is?

Darren Rech (18:34):

Yeah, varies, I guess of what it could involve. The occupants would be involved in the Prevention Through Design process and kind of let their opinions weigh in. Got some, right. Yeah, yeah. Really it’s driven by the owner. So the owner may say if, for instance, if the owner hires the architect, they, as well as the engineers, they really push the architects and engineers to design a building that’s safe, you know, for instance, a parapet wall should be at 39 inches. And of course there’s a cost to that. But if the owner is pushing the architect to design that building, regardless of cost, you know, you may have typically a 12 inch parapet wall on a rooftop. So if you can raise it to 39 inches, the folks who need to get out on that roof and maintain equipment and things like that can do so without fall protection, because you already have that parapet wall at the required height. So that’s an example of PTD and how the owner can certainly push it down the community to the architect and engineer, so to design it to be a safe building.

Chris Martin (19:44):

That’s a really interesting concept. I know when I worked for a contractor out in the central part of the state where your headquarters are, nothing against that company, but that just wasn’t happening at the time and that wasn’t a thought of how to you know, it was just, here are your keys, we’re onto the next project. And literally pulling together the ability to think beyond that is a heck of a great service for your customers. And as well as the people that are going to ultimately work in there beyond just the building and the trades and the other folks. So kudos to you guys for that.

Darren Rech (20:27):

Yeah. And that’s a great point too, cause I think really that that’s a key part of safety culture. And within Alexander, we have executive leadership who pushes safety. We have a parent company based in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and, you know that’s our parent company. And from our parent company down to Alexander’s executive leadership throughout, we have multiple safety directors. And so, you know, they’re really encouraging to know that they’re pushing safety and they make our life easier when, you know, they expect safe work projects and people were considerably. So, and they typically give us the resources as safety directors to do our job and, and do what’s needed to keep working safely. So, you know, really it did call it true from an Alexander standpoint.

Jon O’Brien:

That’s good. I’m guessing along that process too, there’s some good best practice sharing between your businesses and the safety professionals.

Darren Rech (21:35):

Yeah, yeah, that’s correct. And you know, in fact, we’re having a safety director meeting next Tuesday and the safety directors from each region basically get together. We typically do try to do one on a quarterly basis or at least, you know, twice a year. And we talk about best practices, what each region is doing for safety, sharing ideas and just really a good general discussion on safety on you know, where resources are needed and how we can do a better job and improve our project safety. It’s a great opportunity. And I, and again, it goes back to our executive leadership, you know, enabling us to do that and providing resources of your time away from projects and working on these ideas and concepts and making sure we can share these ideas.

Chris Martin:

It definitely starts at the top. Doesn’t it?

Darren Rech (22:33):

Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. There’s no question that’s you know, if you don’t have good leadership in place who focuses on safety it makes it really difficult for everyone you know, working down to work safely and to really buy into it. So certainly starts at the top.

Chris Martin:

Well, that’s something we want to do also with this Building PA Podcast, do a lot of best practice sharing. We want to give good stories, good answers, hopefully something in there, some company or some construction professional heard something that the light bulb went on. And, Oh, that’s a great idea. You know, we should try that. So we’re constantly want to drive home safety on this podcast. And safety these days is not something that is sort of copied, right. You know, in the past, people wanted to keep their ideas, you know, because they were their ideas.

Darren Rech (23:31):

And nowadays I see a lot more sharing of ideas with safety to promote safety just between different directors and you know, safety professionals everybody’s willing to share their ideas or, you know, help each other out. And that certainly goes a long way with a more safety. And, you know, especially in the construction industry, it’s a pretty tight knit industry. So when you have different professionals helping each other, you know, helps us individually. And that certainly happens. And you know, at least with Alexander and a lot of the subcontractors that we work with, that’s it professional. So, so yeah, it’s really helpful. And you know, again, it’s about building, building a relationships and, and trust between each other.

Chris Martin (24:24):

Well, Darren, thank you for taking time to talk safety with us. I know we’d love to have you come back on and we can continue to have this conversation on safety. We can reach out to you in the future and have you back on the Building PA Podcast. That would be fantastic. Thank you. Brought a lot of great insight and best practices clearly from the Alexander Company. So thank you for that and thanks for your time.

Jon O’Brien (24:53):

Yeah. Thanks, Darren.

Darren Rech:

Absolutely. Thanks for having me guys have a good day. Thank you, you too.

Building PA Podcast: Season 1 – Episode 2: COVID-19 Impact on PA’s Construction Industry

NOTE: This COVID-19 conversation was recorded on April 1, 2020; a lot has changed since then. For more information visit Building PA Podcast.

Chris Martin (00:01):

Welcome to the Building PA Podcast, a podcast specifically for the construction industry and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I am Co-Host Chris Martin with Atlas Marketing, where we tell stories for people who build things. And I’m with my partner, Jon O’Brien.

Jon O’Brien:

Hey everyone. How’s it going, Jon O’Brien from the Keystone Contractors Association based right here in good old central Pennsylvania. Hello, Chris.

Chris Martin:

Hello, Jon. Hey, I know that you have been a busy these days, and I know that, you know, our topic today is a very timely, special topic. We are going to be talking about, and Jon has been instrumental in this. So I get the tables are turned a little bit here. This isn’t our normal interview process, but today we’re going to talk about the Coronavirus and its impact on the construction industry. And like I said, Jon has been integral and very, very busy to say the least for the last few weeks. And even though this is not a typical Building PA Podcast topic, we want to start with this and share as much information as we can through the podcast platform. So, Jon, I know that the Keystone Contractors Association and GCAP, the General Contractors Association of Pennsylvania have been very, very instrumental in helping get the industry back to work these last few weeks, but can you explain for our listeners the difference between the KCA and the GCAP associations?

Jon O’Brien (01:50):

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that’s probably good because there does seem to be a lot of confusion with the two different groups. So yeah, KCA, the Keystone Contractors Association is a full service construction trade association. We offer typical services that contractor associations offer like labor relations, safety services, marketing, community service, you name it, we’re pretty busy, pretty active helping our members. That’s KCA. So, yeah, KCA was founded in 1940.  And as far as GCAP, which is the General Contractor Association of Pennsylvania, GCAP is an association of associations. So KCA is a member of GCAP. And our other level one members include the Master Builders Association in Pittsburgh and in Philadelphia, the General Building Contractors Association and GCAP’s primary and main purpose is to be the advocate for the commercial construction industry. Let me make that clear commercial construction industry, because that adds some confusion as well. When you mix in residential and people think we cover it all, but no, we’re busy enough just in the commercial world. Yeah.

Chris Martin (03:19):

That is more than enough time, effort and energy to be put toward one at one element.

Jon O’Brien (03:24):

Yeah. So, the for the staff, I double as the executive director of both KCA and GCAP, and I’m also the registered lobbyist for GCAP. So don’t hold that lobbyist thing against me, you know,

Chris Martin (03:40):

And, and more importantly you, that lobbyist hat has been in on your head for quite some time now for the last couple of weeks regarding the pandemic that we’re in, but can you give us an update on what GCAP is doing, but maybe some other associations are coming together to really work for the industry. Can you tell us what’s been going on?

Jon O’Brien (04:04):

Absolutely. If you like, why don’t I start with the work shut down. Governor Wolf posted the Executive Order on Thursday, March 19th, leading up to that Thursday afternoon, there was talk, you know, earlier in that week, and even the week before this might be coming, you know, once we heard NHL canceled and they’re not canceled, but postpone season of Major League Baseball, you know, all these big corporate events everything’s shutting down there is rumblings and a lot of rumors that construction might be shutting down as well. And out of the blue, out of nowhere on a Thursday evening governor Wolf just imposed a workstop of all nonessential businesses and per his administration’s classification, construction was listed as a non-essential classification. So being that, you know, I have a hundred members of KCA, and then you factor in GCAP with another 700 construction members….

Jon O’Brien (05:12):

So Thursday night, I think the Executive Order was issued around 4:00 PM or so an hour before the work day shut down. And from four o’clock till, probably two in the morning, I was on the phone all night, receiving text messages, emails. “What’s this mean” “what’s going on?” And there was no heads up that this was going to happen. As you could expect, because this was such a drastic measure, the communication did not stop Friday either. So it’s a Friday, yeah we had tons of questions Friday morning. About 7:00 AM I had a conference call with Labor & Industry. You know the while the Executive Order came in on Thursday, all work was to cease, I think, close the business that Friday, the 20th, and then it was extended to Monday the 23rd. But regardless of that time period, we got most of that and there were some issues with inspections because we already had counties that were getting hit pretty hard by the Coronavirus. So we had some issues and L&I was telling their inspectors, if there is any hesitation at all, and you don’t feel comfortable inspecting a job site, you know, do not go, just use your best judgment. From members they were saying the use of their best judgment meant none of them are showing up.

Jon O’Brien (06:48):

Yeah. So there were some major Philadelphia projects and they wanted to find out what was going on. So we scheduled this call first thing in the morning with Labor & Industry. And we’re, the call was just intent, designed to talk about inspections and how will the inspection process work during this, during this shutdown? And we were wondering, is it possible to do like virtual inspections? Is that even a possibility? And we’re still looking into that. But then at the same time with this shutdown and earlier in the week, other businesses were shuttering down. And this led to a, I think a five thousand unemployed, I got the numbers in my head. They’re all jumbled together, but there was something like 75,000 unemployment cases within the unemployment office in one day.

Jon O’Brien (07:47):

And then that just added up every day that first week. So Monday the 16th, 17th, 18th, I think by the end of the week, they were over 500,000. So that call that we just wanted to talk about inspections. We had tons of questions about unemployment compensation and, you know what should we be getting out to our members? What should employers be doing? What should their employees be doing? And, Oh, it was a crazy day that Friday. And then it did not ease up on Saturday, Saturday, the 21st, we had some good email exchanges and some good conference calls with GCAP and other government organizations. And now I was talking to a lot of labor leaders as well, and collectively amongst all of us, you know, labor-management, we decided that a good route to kick off our plan of action would be for GCAP and the Pennsylvania Construction Trades Council should send a joint letter signed by labor and management and send that Governor Wolf.

Jon O’Brien (08:54):

So Sunday the president of the Building Trades, my good buddy, Frank, Frank Sirianni. I hope you’re listening Frank. Frank and I swapped emails and texts and phone calls all day that Sunday, that would be what, I think March 22nd. We wanted to put together a nice communication to the governor and why we felt construction is essential to our economy and to our society and why we thought construction should keep working. So yeah, we finished late night, you know, midnight or so on Sunday, we had a product we were happy with. We sent it to the GCAP Board and were like there’s not a lot of time to review this, but let me know if you’re okay with this. Next thing, you know, Monday morning, March 23rd, some of the leaders on both sides, labor and management, weren’t quite sure if we should be reacting so fast to this shutdown order and, you know, there is talk about, should we let the dust settle a little?

Jon O’Brien (09:59):

I mean, we’re inside learning about this COVID-19 and the whole pandemic. We’re still learning about this. Are we really doing the right thing? You know, pushing the economy to move forward as if this doesn’t exist, you know, we should just ignore it and just keep working, you know, so there was a lot of questions internally, you know, and ultimately we couldn’t come to a decision. So we decided just to, just to sit back a little bit and let the dust settle. And when I say sit back, I mean, sit back on side of the lobbying. So while we were sitting out on the lobbying game, we kind of shifted our attention towards the area of safety and you know, through GCAP we’re rather fortunate to have that partnership with Master Builders and the General Building Contractors in Philadelphia. We’re fortunate to be partners with those two great associations. And we created within probably three, four days, maybe a week, we created the Pennsylvania COVID-19 Response Plan for Construction,

Chris Martin (11:19):

Excuse me, I know it’s good I’ve seen that plan. And not only is it thorough but it, it lays out a solid way for the industry to showcase not only how important this is to our industry, but more importantly, the level of intensity that we’re taking this as it should be.

Jon O’Brien (11:49):

Yeah. I mean, the plan is pretty awesome, you know, I mean, you saw it, but hopefully our audience as too. We’ve posted it online. It’s on our website. It’s kind of all over the place. I believe through the Master Builders and their Director of Safety Bob McCall. And I believe in Bob used a lot of connections and a lot of his relationships through the Associated General Contractors. He used those relationships to kind of form what I was calling the dream team of safety. I mean, they had safety professionals from across the country come together to really create this plan. And it’s awesome from details all the way down to making sure your autos and all sorts of transportation devices are cleaned daily make sure 24 hours a day, they were cleaned. You don’t see too many safety plans that go that into detail.

Chris Martin (12:49):

Yeah. That was one thing that I was shocked when I saw was just the level of detail that cleanliness comes into. And let’s be honest.

Jon O’Brien (12:58):

Yeah.

Chris Martin (12:58):

Our industry is not exactly the cleanest. So, you know well, Jon, let me ask you this, as far as the, you know, that process that you’ve gone through has there been any I mean, obviously there’s been a lot of progress since that initial announcement from Governor Wolf, but on the legislative front, can you explain a little bit about what not only the KCA and the GCAP is doing, but where things could potentially go as it relates to the industry?

Jon O’Brien (13:32):

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So early on when the shut down order came, there was a process that the governor allowed to have projects get waived, you know, and they could proceed. Yeah. So there is a lot of confusion with these projects cause you had similar projects submitted by contractors and some were approved, some were denied. You had elected officials, you know, state reps telling contractors if your project gets denied, resubmit it again, because a different set of eyes might see it a different way. And sure enough, you know, projects were getting submitted and approved the second time. So it was, it was crazy.

Jon O’Brien (14:21):

Yeah. And then further confusing the matter was this past Friday. So that would have been what I forget what the, my phone’s a little slow…the 27th. So Friday the 27th in the evening people within the governor’s office were sending emails out to the industry saying that K-12 school construction work is now allowed to proceed assuming they get approval at the local level. So school districts would have to approve this process. And we had that added another layer of confusion because there’s a lot of contractors that submitted waivers for projects

Jon O’Brien (15:12):

You know, they were denied in some cases, in most cases, I think all school was denied up until the 27th. So they were denied and then schools, we had schools out in the Pittsburgh area, tell contractors, just keep working. You don’t have to worry about that waiver process. And we’re like, what? And then you get this one line statement from the governor’s office that Friday night saying, you know you’re allowed to proceed if approved at the local level. And we’re like do we need more proof than just this little email? I don’t know. It’s not even that the top official, you know, it’s like, you know, a couple levels down, they sending this email.

Chris Martin (15:50):

You know you have been working your tail off here along with so many others that are in the industry. And, I want to emphasize how much I appreciate not only what you’re doing, but what everybody is doing to help move this along. But are you, you mentioned earlier there was a, a little bit of a, you know, some contractors say, “hey, wait a second are we doing the right thing here?” Are you seeing that there is a I don’t want to say a separation if you will, between the industry one being, “Hey, let’s get back to work.” The others, “maybe we shouldn’t be doing this.”

Jon O’Brien (16:40):

Yeah, I’m seeing that, but I think a good thing for our cause was creating that safety plan and we had some legislators in both the Senate and the House that want to legislate the industry returning to work, which I personally, I don’t believe that’s the right route to take. I think that would take too long. I think the better approach would be leaders in both chambers and industry leaders sit down with the governor and his staff and, you know, talk their way through. Cause we keep saying, you know, along with a safety plan

Jon O’Brien (17:21):

Much like the schools can work because you know, schools are shut down for who knows how long, at least until the end of April. So those projects can proceed because, you know, there’s a trust that the industry knows how to operate safely and there’s no students and there’s no faculty within those schools. And I think that same logic should be applied to the entire industry. And if projects are currently halted, you know, halfway through the project and the business has shut down, there’s going to be no harm to the community or the occupants, so the industry should be able to get in there assuming they have a good safety plan, which is part of the K through 12, the school districts approach, the plan at the local level was okay, the governor’s office is giving us the authority to proceed. Our only requirement is we want to see your social distancing safety plan and we want to approve it. And I actually heard just yesterday, there was a handful of contractors that submitted our GCAP safety plan as their company safety plan. And it was approved every time. So that was always good to hear when you spend time creating something and knowing it’s getting used within the industry.

Chris Martin (18:39):

Yeah, absolutely. Especially with such a quick turnaround. Well, let’s just get this because this is a thought that’s been kind of percolating in my head, but potentially when we are back to a, some level of normalcy, not only within the industry, but you know in society as a whole, has there been any talk about what are the steps when we get back to that normalcy? In other words you know, Governor Wolf said, okay we’re going to start off with no big groups of 200. Then it went down to a hundred, then it went to 50 then to 10 and then everybody stay at home. Is there a ramping up? Have you heard that there’s a ramping up process or are we still too early in this process to figure out how we’re going to get back to work?

Jon O’Brien (19:35):

Well they are letting some highway projects resume. I thought that was a no brainer because they’re outside. And when you drive by a highway project, I’m not a highway construction expert by any means, but when you drive by, you don’t see people on top of each other, they’re pretty spread out in the field. So there’s the social distance aspect is covered there. So yeah, let’s approve some projects to proceed. I believe they letting 61 this week and I’m hearing there’s going to be more as far as like I said, the school districts, they’re now in the process of approving projects to proceed. We’ve actually approached the administration and leaders in both the House and the Senate and said, projects are, like I said earlier, if a location doesn’t have any occupants in it, the industry should be able to proceed. I heard word from some legislators that we should legislate, you know, only 10 people on a project at one time, and I don’t know how you quite do that. You know, it sounds like, kind of Russia to me, you know, like how many people can go inside a building and I think that decision’s up to the GC and the subcontractors to manage their workforce.

Chris Martin (20:59):

Yeah. And obviously with a safety plan in place, or at least maybe it’s not GCAP plans that people are using, but their own individual plans. Yeah. There is a policy, but has there also been talks with more on the legal side cause this, that was my first concern when we started talking about job sites, getting shut down and those type of things, we have that with our clients too. But has there been any conversation from a standpoint of contracts and, you know, a start date is now let’s, let’s say this, the pandemic goes into May. That’s my stating this for the conversation. I’m not saying that’s what it is. But if it goes into May and there are job sites that were, or jobs that were supposed to be completed in May, what would be the impact to the actual completion of that project?

Jon O’Brien (22:02):

Yeah. I mean those questions are coming in. It’s just going to be a legal nightmare to answer your questions. It’s going to be, you’re listening to our podcasts. I mean, you have worries about the supply chain and, you know, is the material pricing gonna increase, contract and might’ve estimated steel at X. And now with all the, the issues when the industry comes out full tilt, you know, that price might be jacked up a little bit and, how’s that going to be adjusted? And you mentioned the schedules, how are the schedules going to be adjusted? And then, manpower within the unions I’m hearing now that the unions are creating two lists, a list of people that want to work during the pandemic and people that do not want to work.

Jon O’Brien (23:03):

So now as more projects go, there is a contractor able to work, but do they have enough people and as more projects come out, you’re going to need more people. Yeah. And then plus factor in the projects that can proceed now, the healthcare emergency repairs, the waiver approved projects, the PennDOT projects, there’s more and more projects. And I’m getting word this week that some subs’ workers just aren’t showing up. There was a project in a Harrisburg area where the whole subcontractor team didn’t show up. And they said, we feel as if we’re putting our family at risk by working at this time. And so I mean, legally, what do you do there? I mean, yeah, yeah.

Chris Martin (23:54):

It definitely kind of adds a whole different level to contract management and contract administration. Yeah. Cause I know I’ve talked with other business owners who have said, you know we’re leaving it up to our employees and if they feel like they’re putting themselves in danger or harming their family, you know, there’s also that element. And I know we’re not really gonna talk about this now, cause we’re focusing on the industry, but you know, the element of pay over periods of time, I’ve had people ask me about, you know, our business at Atlas Marketing and how is the pandemic impacting our business? And fortunately for us, for me, my response is, well, you know, it’s impacting us, but it’s not impacting us as much as it is the industries that we work in.

Chris Martin (24:50):

And so, you know, but it’s interesting to hear how other business owners are addressing it. And that comes back to the whole contract administration aspect because that’s going to change the way that things are. Jon, let me ask you this, where do you see this going, like from again from your efforts on the working with the administration with Governor Wolf and his team and other association leaders as well as trade and industry leaders, where do you see this going? Like what do you think are the next steps here?

Jon O’Brien (25:26):

So we had a GCAP call, I think that was about a week ago or so. And you know, they asked where do I see it going? And I said, well let me get out my crystal ball here, let’s see what’s going on here. So I’m kinda off a few days: I thought all highway work would start this past Monday, but it started today I guess. Okay. So I was off a day or two. And then I thought the sixth, this upcoming Monday, I thought that would be a full two week for the shutdown and all projects construction would resume. And then I that all construction would resume Monday the sixth. So I thought it would be highway the first week and then commercial building the next week. But now that these numbers are coming in and Governor Wolf does seem pretty firm in his stance, which is good. You know, he’s trying to do what he thinks his best for the health of Pennsylvania. Sure. It might’ve been a knee jerk reaction at first. Maybe we could have eased into it a little bit more, but, but still, I mean, he has the right intentions.

Jon O’Brien (26:44):

I’m thinking now maybe like the 13th, I think we might need another solid week, you know, of all workers coming back. Okay. Just so you know, as you hear every day in the news, as we needed another week to flatten the curve. So we couldn’t have an interview on the coronavirus without talking about the curve.

Chris Martin (27:05):

That is true. I honestly never heard of that phrase until you know, March of 2020, so

Jon O’Brien (27:12):

Yes, absolutely. Yeah. But still our stance, I mean, that’s me personally, that’s my opinion personally, but within GCAP, you know, the stance is if a project’s unoccupied right now, the industry should be in there finishing the project.

Chris Martin (27:31):

Well on behalf of everyone who works in the construction industry. I thank you for your efforts. I know that you and other association and Building Trades and industry leaders have been working extremely long hours and dedicating yourselves to moving our industry to where it was just a few weeks ago. But thank you. And thank you for sharing this information with us. And as we continue, we’ll provide updates but you know, feel free to download more episodes. We have other episodes of Building PA Podcast available and thank you for listening. And Jon, thank you again for all your efforts.

Jon O’Brien (28:18):

You bet. And if anyone out there has any questions, concerns, comments, and wants to reach me. My email is Jon@keystonecontractors.com or give me a call. Either way, I’m here for you.

Chris Martin (28:33):

Perfect. And then I can attest that he is there. We’ve had so many calls just between he and I just on podcast related information that have been rescheduled or pushed to another day. And I can attest to Jon’s effort for the industry. So again well done and thank you.

Chris Martin (28:54):

I Stand Corrected, but I still believe Safety First!

Last week was the fifth annual OSHA Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction Week. The Keystone Contractors Association members joined the rest of our country’s construction industry in being excited about this weeklong tribute to safety.

This enthusiasm rubbed off on the KCA staff, and as a result I penned an article about how the staff plans to hold a Safety Stand-Down on emergency evacuation. We held the training and I’m glad we did it so now we’ll be prepared if something happens at our office.

However, after the training we were informed that while OSHA encourages training, if you’re going to hold a Stand-Down during May 7-11, 2018 and call it a Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction Week event, then it has to be falls related. Upon learning this fact, the KCA staff had a safety consultant speak to the staff about fall hazards during the week so that we could state that we held a falls related Safety Stand-Down during OSHA’s Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction Week. We urged each KCA member to conduct a Stand-Down during the week and because of that we felt it was important to practice what we preach.

While I erred in encouraging any type of safety training to be held during the Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction Week, I later discovered that the error was in the moniker I used in labeling the event during the week of May 7-11, 2018. Five years ago, this May week was originally named an appropriate title to try to help in reducing the number one cause of construction fatalities – falls. But over time large, national/global construction firms working through the Construction Industry Safety Institute (CISI) created Safety Week (which is held in conjunction with the Stand-Down to Prevent Falls Week).

The aim of Safety Week is to raise awareness of the construction industry’s continuing commitment to eliminate worker injuries, and to clearly communicate the industry’s dedication to a culture of care and concern and the belief that every week must be Safety Week!

So, I messed up and called our emergency evacuation training a Stand-Down to Prevent Falls Week event, when in fact it should have been called a Safety Week event. But I’m kind of glad I flubbed this one, because of this blunder the KCA staff received two safety trainings during Stand-Down to Prevent Falls Week and Safety Week.

Safety First!

Let’s Pause for Safety During May 7-11

This Monday marks the beginning of the 5th annual “OSHA National Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction Week.” On May 7-11, 2018, thousands of construction jobsites across the country will hold a safety Stand-Down event. It’s time ALL industries join construction and take a moment to pause and talk about safety hazards at work.

A safety Stand-Down is a voluntary event to allow for employers to speak with its employees about safety at work. Any workplace can conduct a safety talk, and any topic can be focused on – distracted driving, proper lifting, emergency evacuation, workplace stress, etc. Just because OSHA refers to it as: “Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction Week” doesn’t mean this week is only for construction and the only topic is falls. This week-long tribute to safety was born out of the construction industry and falls are the leading cause of casualties in this industry so I assume OSHA wanted to draw more attention and training to falls hazards.

However, over its brief five-year existence, this has grown and more and more industries are celebrating safety during this week. Every year more non-construction employers are holding Stand-Downs. In fact, OSHA claims that the largest single participant for one stand-down was the United States Air Force in 2015 and 2016, both times reaching more than one million military and civilian personnel.

toolbox talkThe Keystone Contractors Association is a commercial construction trade association. We hope 100% of our members participate in an OSHA Stand-Down this year. We, the association staff, are not construction professionals – we work in an office providing various services to contractors. But our staff of three will conduct our Stand-Down on emergency evacuation. Hopefully we won’t find ourselves in an emergency in real-life, but thanks to this year’s Stand-Down we’ll be prepared. This also shows that any sized employer can hold a Stand-Down.

Following the Stand-Down, employers should visit the OSHA Stand-Down website to download a Certificate and provide feedback on the experience. (https://www.osha.gov/StopFallsStandDown/index.html).  The sharing of best practices is an excellent way to improve safety and protect our workers.

At KCA we believe that teamwork improves safety and we hope that work teams across Pennsylvania will take a moment to focus on Safety during May 7-11!