Builders Association Program Leads the Way to Safer Construction
Chicago’s Safety Stand-Down Initiative Spurs Nationwide Movement
Eight out of 10 incidents in the construction industry are caused by an unsafe act, but the Builders Association in Chicago is dedicated to changing that statistic. In 2013, the organization held its inaugural Safety Stand-Down, a toolbox talk focused on one particularly noteworthy construction safety topic—fall protection. For 30-45 minutes, construction workers on more than 70 work sites across Chicagoland put down their hammers to participate. Interest in this program has spurred a nationwide movement to raise fall hazard awareness to prevent fall fatalities and injuries.
From the time of its founding in 1906, when it was a collection of just 60 individual builders, the Builders Association has set out to improve Chicago’s commercial construction industry. Today, many of the region’s leading contractors and suppliers are members. Even competing CEOs join together to serve as board members for the benefit of the industry as a whole. The association’s general contractor members—ranging from specialized businesses to national firms—build over $11 billion worth of private and public projects every year.
Focused on its mission “to deliver exceptional value to members through industry leadership, superior services and innovative programs,” the Builders Association, an Associated General Contractors of America charter chapter, provides a number of resources. Some of its services include political representation for the construction industry, lean construction education, and increased safety education for members on every level of the construction business—from CEOs to project managers to trades workers. It also builds relationships with groups such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the American Institute of Architects (AIA) to streamline construction processes.
With the goal to be “proactive, not reactive,” Executive Director Daniel McLaughlin and Programs Manager Stacey Kelly approach safety education as a positive, preventive effort against construction-related incidents and fatalities. Inspired by the success of Safety Stand-Downs in other states, Stacey initiated bringing the Safety Stand-Down to Chicago. She created an original curriculum for presenters to utilize at job sites and coordinated a daunting level of detail work necessary for the city-wide event. The overarching goal of this safety crusade is not only educational, but relational. “When construction is in the news, it’s often because something negative has happened. The Safety Stand-Down is an opportunity for people to see the construction industry in a positive way, without anything bad happening,” Stacey says.
A Culture of Safety
When Stacey established her region’s Safety Stand-Down program, she recognized the vital importance of garnering support from CEOs. She says, “With safety, it just has to be top-down. You can have a safety director who’s pushing safety all the time, but unless there’s buy-in from the CEO down, the agenda doesn’t really permeate the whole company culture.” Many CEOs and top-level administrators lead by example and attend Safety Stand-Down sites, which Stacey points out is the key to the program’s success. “It shows workers that a CEO’s primary objective is to see them go home safely to their families and friends at the end of the day,” she adds.
Brian Devalk, Superintendent for Berglund Construction Co., commented on the significance of the Safety Stand-Down for his company: “Workers were interactive and engaged. We calculated fall distances, discussed guardrail systems, falling object protection and hole covers. They found the Stand-Down very informative and effective, and were more focused on fall exposures following the event. Morale increased as they realized management truly cared about their well-being.”
A New Tradition
After the inaugural 2013 Safety Stand-Down, the event quickly became a part of construction tradition in Chicago. OSHA representatives who participated in the first Safety Stand-Down were so impressed that they took Stand-Downs to the national level in 2014. The partnership with OSHA was a huge success, giving trades workers and superintendents an opportunity to interact with OSHA representatives without fear of being cited and fined. “People actually raise their hands and ask specific questions. There’s back-and-forth conversation and mutual problem-solving between workers and superintendents and project managers,” Stacey says.
Dan Ruane, Director of Safety at Pepper Construction and the Safety Committee Chair at Builders Association, stated, “We want people to know that each person on a job site is responsible for the collective safety of the site. Each year, we receive overwhelmingly positive feedback from our job sites and our partners from the event. The people on our projects appreciate the time, effort, resources and involvement that it takes to stop everyone and spend time discussing their safety. It’s more than worth it.” Not only does company personnel like Ruane appreciate the program, but Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, publicly recognizes the significance. He supported the Builders Association’s efforts by proclaiming June 2-6 in 2014 as Safety Stand-Down Week.
Recognizing that “failing to plan is planning to fail” with construction projects, the Builders Association emphasized pre-task planning as the 2015 Safety Stand-Down topic. Last year, the program achieved its largest participation to date with over 200 job sites and 4,000 trades workers. Site executives chose curriculum from previous years’ Stand-Downs to meet the immediate safety needs of their respective teams, and the Builders Association also provided a personal safety checklist curriculum to every participating company. Looking ahead to its 2017 event, the organization will focus on common types of struck-by and caught-in hazards in construction, and how to protect against them. These are the leading causes of fatalities in the industry in OSHA Region V, which includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Over the years, the Builders Association has seen its collective members’ incident rate go down, thanks in part to the Safety Stand-Down initiative. The program also serves as a morale booster at the beginning of the construction season. Builders Association companies offer breakfast or lunch to workers while they participate in the toolbox talk. Banners provided by the organization add to the festive environment, and hard hat stickers are distributed to all attendees. In short, the Safety Stand-Down, with all of its success, is a manifestation of the people of Chicago’s willingness to work together toward a common goal—getting construction workers home to their families.
And at the end of the day, the Builders Association is focused on building connections that ensure a better future for the building and construction industry. Rival CEOs serve together as board members, OSHA representatives and project managers share lunch, and workers have coffee with administrators. When asked about the best part of her time at the Builders Association, Stacey’s answer is insightful. “I’ve learned a lot from our board members about how competitors can respectfully work together to make the industry better—from top to bottom.”