By Mason Nichols
There are few one-size-fits-all solutions for precast concrete plants across the industry. Some plants manufacture a series of small, standardized products that primarily are used for underground work. Others concentrate on large-scale custom products for use in above-ground applications. And some boast complex, multi-faceted product lines that can meet the needs of seemingly any client or customer.
While precast plants vary widely in their offerings, one thing remains the same: Safety is king. Without a strong safety culture, precast manufacturers and their team members cannot achieve consistent success.
For Jason Brewster, safety and compliance manager at Atlantic TNG of Sarasota, Fla., the National Precast Concrete Association provides considerable value in this area.
“When it comes to safety, a lot of collateral materials must be made,” said Brewster, who serves on NPCA’s Safety Committee and also chairs the Environmental Subcommittee. “As such, it’s nice to have a variety of resources in a format that gives you a baseline from which to start. Whether it’s the NPCA Guide to Plant Safety or environmental Best Management Practices (BMPs), you can take the information and customize it, making it site-specific to suit your needs.”
NPCA’s resources provide precast plants with the information needed to highlight crucial safety topics and establish a strong safety culture. Not only does this result in protecting team members, but it can also instill confidence in your business.
Creating a safety program must work hand-in-hand with a plant’s production schedule. Often, the best place to start is with resources that benefit all team members, regardless of role or day-to-day responsibilities. This is where NPCA’s safety video series comes into play. The series includes six modules covering various safety aspects, including:
- General safety
- Production safety
- Unsafe materials
- Unsafe areas and equipment
- Cranes and lifting
- Powered industrial truck safety
Each video is 5-7 minutes in length and offers direct, easy-to-understand guidelines and protocols pertaining to specific topics – perfect for training new hires.
“At Atlantic, we took the production safety and general safety videos and plugged them in during our basic employee onboarding process,” Brewster said. “This gives us a nice baseline from which to start. It fills each new employee in on a lot of what to watch for, then we talk about specifics afterwards.”
The modules, available in English and Spanish, are designed for training new employees like Atlantic TNG does or as deeper dives into specific topics during toolbox talks and safety meetings.
NPCA’s Guide to Plant Safety is another wide-reaching resource that offers detailed safety information, covering topics such as confined space entry, fall protection, lockout/tagout, PPE and more. Each chapter contains a comprehensive topic summary, including terms and definitions, proper procedures to follow and applicable OSHA standards.
The guide also provides supporting documents and a training plan, allowing staff to engage more fully. Let’s say you’d like your team to focus on fall protection. Using the guide, you can leverage the training plan to develop multiple educational sessions. These sessions then can be used to reinforce important terms connected to the topic, stress the importance of crafting an emergency response plan or engage in a hands-on demonstration showcasing the proper means of attaching a personal fall protection system.
The NPCA Guide to Plant Safety is designed so businesses can add their company names to the training materials, effectively providing a plant-specific safety manual. The information can be used as a foundational piece that holds up on its own or built upon by adding specific information tied directly to a plant.
Dan Reinholtz, director of industrial sales and business development at Shuttlelift, has served on the NPCA Safety Committee for more than a year. During this time, he has worked on a variety of resources, including the safety video series. But it’s Reinholtz’s experience with rigging, lifting and cranes that has proven especially useful in creating topic-specific safety resources.
As Reinholtz said, the availability of targeted resources is crucial.
“I have traveled all over the U.S. and seen many precast operations,” he said. “There are many small businesses that do not have safety programs in place or provide the proper training to keep their employees safe.”
For some precast producers in the early stages of crafting a safety program, it may make sense to initially focus on a specific topic that is pertinent to operations. NPCA can help with those resources. One tool is the association’s safety training post, which publishes on the NPCA blog every two months.
The post includes a PowerPoint presentation developed by the Safety Committee that contains detailed information on the selected topic. Each presentation contains valuable information and links to other resources that provide further education and training. Recent topics include workplace violence awareness, small tool safety, hand safety and personal protective equipment.
Then there is Safety Express, NPCA’s quarterly email newsletter that deals exclusively with safety topics – articles, information and resources curated by the safety committee and NPCA’s professional staff. And it’s free for all members.
Another NPCA resource that focuses in on a specific topic is the Occupational Health Program & Written Exposure Control Plan for Respirable Crystalline Silica. This manual, developed in conjunction with the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute, contains everything a plant needs to identify the hazards associated with respirable crystalline silica and the steps to ensure that team members who work with or around silica are not exposed to hazardous levels of the material. The information, which spans 10 sections and more than 600 pages, is supplemented by an accompanying video from NPCA and PCI – available in English and Spanish – to serve as an introduction to respirable crystalline silica compliance.
Going above and beyond
While many precast plants employ a safety manager or even a safety team, a company’s size, complexity of day-to-day operations and ever-increasing workload can inhibit the generation of high-quality safety materials. That’s exactly why the NPCA Safety Committee exists – to help every plant establish a strong safety culture.
“In a lot of plants, people end up performing multiple roles,” Brewster said. “If someone happens to be a shop lead but must also be the safety guy, it’s really important to have resources like this to fall back on. Trying to create the wheel when you’re also trying to do other things becomes way too much, and then things will get missed and people will be overwhelmed.”
The NPCA Safety Committee is valuable resource that gets out ahead of change but also reacts to each member’s needs. Got a topic you’d like to see covered in more detail? Contact the committee. Interested in seeing a specific story published in Precast Inc.? Contact the committee. Member organizations can effectively use the safety committee an extension of their own staffs – drawing upon that knowledge and experience.
“The safety committee is made up not only of producers but also vendors and safety consultant companies that work within the industry,” Brewster said. “When you have more than just the view of the guy on the ground at a plant, you get a more complete picture of what’s going on.”
Getting to work
No matter the development stage of a plant’s safety program, NPCA has materials and resources to enhance it. Resources delivered through a variety of formats and channels are designed to fit specific needs, all backed by the industry knowledge and workplace experience of NPCA Safety Committee members.
Visit precast.org/safety to access the materials referenced here and to learn more. PI
Mason Nichols is a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based writer and editor who has covered the precast concrete industry since 2013.