A consistent, proactive approach to safety offers the best opportunity to protect employees while saving time and money in the long run
This article originally appeared in the Precast Today Q1 2023 edition.
By Mason Nichols
Developing and sustaining a strong safety program requires a concerted investment of time and money.
A culture of safety is like any other asset – a series of small steps that lead to a long term payoff resulting in increased protection for employees and facilities against potential accidents and the associated costs that come with them.
At its most basic level, a precast concrete facility safety program is designed to prevent injuries, illnesses and deaths. Safety specialists take that foundation then look to build further out when constructing a plantwide plan.
And every brush stroke along the way paints the big picture that both workers and management are looking for.
OSHA Core Elements
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) notes seven core elements that should be addressed in every safety plan:
- Management leadership
- Worker participation
- Hazard identification and assessment
- Hazard prevention and control
- Education and training
- Program evaluation and improvement
- Communication and coordination for employers, contractors and staffing agencies
Wendy Potashnik, executive vice president at USA Precast Concrete in Canal Fulton, Ohio, takes those seven points to heart, and she uses them to sculpt the safety efforts at her plant.
USA Precast Concrete is relatively new in industry terms. The plant has been in operation for less than a decade. During that time, Potashnik has been working diligently to bolster the program with OSHA’s core elements in mind.
She facilitates this by using a wide array of – mostly free – resources that can be leveraged to accomplish her safety goals, including:
- Safety Consultations. OSHA, along with state-specific safety organizations and governing bodies, visit plants and assess written safety plans along with daily efforts. From this analysis, recommendations are made for potential areas of improvement. Citations and formal reports are not generated as part of this process.
- Specialty Programs. Local agencies may provide training opportunities on specific safety topics. At USA Precast Concrete, Potashnik invited a nurse to the plant for the “Stop the Bleed” program, which focused on methods for treating more severe injuries. The plant received special tourniquet equipment as part of the training.
- NPCA Tools. Bimonthly safety training materials, important updates from OSHA and an extensive series of videos covering best practices all are available at precast.org/safety.
In addition, Potashnik visits fellow NPCA members and speaks with industry peers to enhance her program. Additional research leads to more information, which ultimately results in a wide-reaching effort that covers all of a company’s critical areas.
Generating and Sustaining Buy-in
With a solid base of general information in hand, the next step is fitting company-specific needs. No one knows a plant better than the teams that work there, so tap into employees’ experiences for suggestions as a resource on areas to address. This also builds buy-in from staff members and reinforces the importance of safety while creating a feedback loop that helps a company improve through time.
For more than six years, Thomas Jimeno has been improving and refining Wilbert Precast’s safety program. As occupational safety and health manager at the Spokane, Wash., facility, the changes he has helped implement have resulted in positive gains for his team and the plant.
Jimeno said dedicating the time, energy and financial resources needed to build a strong, effective safety plan must come from the top, but success cannot be sustained without support from the rest of the company.
“When I took over at Wilbert Precast, our safety program was on paper only,” he said. “As such, the culture of safety wasn’t there. While our owners and executive team were onboard, I had to work with several other members of the team, including branch managers and those on the production floor, to stress the importance of what we were doing.”
A safety program cannot only exist on paper.
Over time, Jimeno has helped team members think about situations from different perspectives. During one of Wilbert Precast’s company meetings, he asked employees a simple question: “What can you do with an extra $1,000 in your pocket?”
In Washington, employees are responsible for paying a portion of their company’s insurance premiums, which are determined based on that company’s safety performance and record.
“I gave everyone an example of one of our worst years where we had a poor safety rating and compared it to one of our better years,” Jimeno said. “Then I showed them just how better performance puts money back in their pockets.”
These dedicated efforts have resulted in noticeable improvements. Wilbert Precast has gone from 25 claims per year to about half that. This resulted in Wilbert Precast receiving refunds on premiums to the tune of thousands of dollars in savings.
The Power of Proactive
Precast facility safety covers a wide range of topics and situations. As a company grows, so must a safety program. This necessitates a consistent and persistent care for your plan, Potashnik said.
“My mindset has always been that it’s imperative to be proactive, not reactive, when evaluating safety protocols,” she said. “We’ve known companies that have almost gone out of business because plant safety procedures didn’t properly protect the employee or the company, and accidents occurred. That really drove home how important it is to be proactive.”
OSHA’s Kimberly Darby agrees.
“Precast concrete plant owners and managers must recognize that finding and fixing hazards before they cause injury or illness is more effective than addressing problems after a worker is injured or becomes sick,” said Darby, a member of OSHA’s national communications team. “Safety and health management systems help organizations prevent workplace injuries and illnesses, improve compliance with laws and regulations, reduce costs, engage workers, enhance social responsibility, increase productivity and boost overall business operations.”
To achieve success, allocation of time and resources is critical. There are several steps that you can take to make this happen:
- Prioritize safety in every situation. Tell employees to find and fix any hazards that could cause injury or illness. Emphasize that going home safely is the way the company does business.
- Lead by example. This means dedication to safe operations, including the appropriate investment of time and money.
- Provide training. Use all resources available to provide consistent education on safety-related topics.
- Conduct regular inspections. Inspect the plant with workers and ask them to identify any activity, equipment or material that is a cause for concern. Use checklists and other resources to identify and address these issues.
- Formulate a safety committee. Empower team members with a passion for safety to gather as a group and identify additional measures that can be put into place to enhance the program.
- Committing to some of the ideas will gain an entire team’s trust and respect. This helps with overall buy-in while generating a safety culture that is defined by being proactive and addressing issues before they become accidents or injuries.
The goal for every precast concrete plant should be for team members to head home to their families in the same condition that they arrived for the shift. And in the end, there’s no better asset to invest in than people.
Safety is a living, breathing effort that requires constant maintenance. Dedicating appropriate time and resources prevent critical injuries while communicating a message of care and compassion to the team.
“The thing about safety is that you never arrive,” Jimeno said. “It requires a continuous energy and a commitment from everyone on your team to never possess the attitude of ‘We are good enough.’”
Mason Nichols is a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based writer and editor who has covered the precast concrete industry since 2013.