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The Age of Safety

It's Time to Think Deeply and Broadly about Safety

Precision Walls workers participate in a group “stretch and flex” as part of a job site daily huddle.


Edward M. Hanley, director of safety for The Raymond Group in California and co-chairman of the AWCI Safety Directors Committee, says the business of construction safety is growing. More wall and ceiling companies are hiring safety directors, and more safety and risk management dialogue is taking place in the industry.




Thanks to schedule compression and multiple trades working in tight spaces, the potential for hazards on job sites is growing. It’s time we had good communication about working safely and shared our knowledge as an industry. In fact, AWCI has been leading the way. Five years ago, Hanley and Matthew Taylor, CHST, SMS, corporate safety and risk director at OCP Contractors in Ohio, formed the AWCI Safety Directors Committee.


“People are getting involved,” Hanley says. “The safety and risk management worlds are gaining interest, and industry executives want to know what we’re doing.”


To find out what’s going on, we reached out to past winners of the AWCI Excellence in Construction Safety Award winners to capture their best practices. We contacted Hanley and Taylor, of course. But we also interviewed Jason Unwin, safety director at T.J. Wies in Missouri; and Stephen Cain, safety quality risk manager, and Nabor Anica, safety coordinator, at Precision Walls in North Carolina.


Here are 15 great safety ideas your firm could implement.

1. OSHA 30 for Everyone

OCP Contractors asks all employees to pursue OSHA 30-hour construction training certification, Taylor says. “It’s not just the foreman’s job or the superintendent’s job or the safety person’s job to look out for hazards,” he says. “It’s got to be everybody.” A new hire, he says, must have the same safety knowledge as a company 20-year veteran for job sites to be truly safe.


Thus, OCP’s policy gives new hires 90 days to become OSHA 30 certified. An employee can take OSHA’s 30-Hour Construction Training Course online, or they take the course administered by OCP itself.

2. Monthly Safety Summits

Cain says Precision Walls holds a virtual safety summit every month. Invited are the 26 safety branch representatives from the company’s 11 branches.


“We’re sharing insights, creative opportunities, accountability and understandings,” Cain says. “We roll out ideas, share what’s new in safety equipment and discuss what’s coming down the road.”


“We can also discuss near misses,” he adds. “These can slide under the rug, so we want to talk about them. We want to bring them to the fore and find solutions.”

3. Make Training Fun

Anica likes to turn hands-on practice sessions into a game. Here’s an example.


“I give $20 dollars to the guy who puts on a [fall arrest] safety harness the fastest and correctly,” Anica says. “I’ll say to the class, ‘Let’s have a race. Everyone put your hands in your pockets. Ready? 1, 2, 3—go!’”


The exercise teaches fall protection in a way that makes the learning fun and lasting. The company record for strapping on a fall arrest harness properly, Anica says, is 45 seconds.

4. Safety Peer Reviews

AWCI’s safety directors committee, Hanley says, has calendared safety peer reviews for two member companies this year—one this spring, one this fall—and is looking for more member contractors to participate.


What is a safety peer review? A team takes a holistic look at a company’s health and safety compliance and risk management policies and activities. The peers also review the company’s safety culture. The process includes the company CEO, upper-level management, field supervision and the crews.


“We look at processes, protocols and commitment,” Hanley says. “While we’re reviewing the C suite and upper management, we’re also looking at field operations to see if they’re actually walking the walk.”


The review takes three days to complete and concludes with a presentation of the information gathered to the company’s executives.

5. Backup Cameras for Boom Lifts

In 2019, T.J. Wies added reverse cameras to eight boom lifts it owns and mounted five additional cameras to brackets with magnets, which can be added to rented lifts. The cameras feed live footage to an iPad, which can be clipped by the operator to the boom lift cage. The camera eliminates a key blind spot when maneuvering the lift.


“We try to always have a spotter on the ground for those situations, but sometimes it’s just not in the playbook at that moment,” Unwin says. “So, the cameras give a live view of any blind spots.”


Unwin says T.J. Wies has not had a single property damage or safety reportable incident involving a moving boom lift since installing the backup cameras.

6. OSHA Compliance—Always

Many industry firms set safety standards higher than what OSHA requires, and Taylor says that’s true at OCP. Still, Taylor feels every worker should know OSHA’s rules and comply with them. After all, meeting OSHA minimums results in a safe workplace—if the rules are always followed.


“I say it all the time, ‘99% right is 100% wrong,’” Taylor says. “That 1% wrong can get someone hurt, so you can’t be 99% right. You’ve got to be 100% right.”


So, while it’s good to set standards beyond what OSHA requires, it’s also good to meet OSHA standards 100% of the time. That’s what Taylor encourages his workers to do.


“If we’re a football team, let’s not run a trick play when we can’t even block and tackle,” he says. “It’s the same with safety. Let’s first drive the fundamentals—and get them right—and then never wavering from them. OSHA is a good place to start.”

7. Four-hour New Hire Orientation

Cain says getting new hires to adopt a safety mindset begins on Day One of their employment. Precision Walls provides four hours of health and safety training for new hires and for all sub-tier associates working under subcontract for the company.


“It’s not just a visual presentation,” Cain says. “It also involves written information and hands-on training. We physically identify the procedures for inspecting ladders, erecting and dismantling scaffolds and working on stilts. We discuss all the parameters for working in elevated positions.”

8. Speak in Their Mother Tongue

Anica says it’s important for workers to understand safety training sessions, which may mean presenting in both English and Spanish.


“If the majority of the class speaks Spanish, then I give the majority of the class in Spanish.”

9. Track Leading (Not Lagging) Indicators

Hanley likes to refer to the “Focus Five” of safety, five leading indicators of safe activity, which he tracks for Raymond executives. They are:


(1) “Safety lessons,” a positive way to refer to “near misses” or “close calls” and one that encourages more employees to speak up about such incidents.


(2) Safety lunches, such as a barbecue paid for by management in recognition of a crew’s safety track record, are indicative of a strong and functioning safety culture.


(3) Project safety audits nudge project managers, project engineers and the safety team to stay up to date on their safety reporting and correct issues before they come up.


(4) Holistic job hazard analysis, done at the beginning of a job and tracked by project and by region, helps identify safety weaknesses early on.


(5) Safety recognition, which are awards given to those demonstrating safe behavior or safe thinking, the number of awards given being an indicator of a strong safety culture.

10.  Red Painted Perry/Baker Scaffolds

Perry/Baker rolling scaffolds are typically 6 feet tall, and OSHA requires fall protection at 6 feet. However, the T.J. Wies rule requires fall protection at 5 feet. To identify 5 feet, the company painted the ladders on 200 rolling scaffolds bright red at the 5-foot-high mark and up. The red color signals to workers when they need to tie off or use rails.


“It’s an indicator letting the guy know they’re in this red zone and need to attach a safety railing or tie off from above,” Unwin says. “It works. We haven’t had anybody, knock on wood, walk off backward when up on the scaffold.”

11. Safety Items Noted in All Tasks

OCP trains employees to mentally include safety items along with the items needed to complete each production task.


“This is production thinking: ‘When I build a wall, I need a screw gun, studs, screws and a Baker [rolling scaffold],’” Taylor says. “But we also need them to think, ‘I need to lock those wheels, put guardrails on those Bakers and wear gloves.’ They need to know the safety portion as much as the production portion. Otherwise, we’re putting them at a disadvantage. Productions, quality and safety must all be on an equal playing field.”

12. Daily Huddles

Every Precision Walls field worker—the site managers, mechanics and laborers—must participate in a “daily huddle” which, in part, helps to identify any hazards before they start working.


Cain says the Precision Walls daily huddle occurs prior to the start of every shift. It includes a walk-around of the work area, a safety discussion and a group “stretch and flex.”

13. Sell Safety

Communicating about safety properly with company executives and field supervisors involves a bit of selling, says Hanley. “You have to sell safety concepts, initiatives and directions so that people can take ownership of them,” he says, “and have them be almost their own idea.”


Suppose an initiative involves getting workers to wear gloves. Rather than speak to the workers, Hanley first focuses on getting buy-in from the superintendents on the importance of wearing gloves. This way, the superintendents will take ownership of the program and glove-wearing will likely become a practice among the crews.


When speaking to top executives, selling safety involves presenting data. This can include key performance indicators, such as Experience Modification Rate and Total Recordable Injury Rate, critical metrics that can impact a company’s builders risk insurance rates and more. Hanley also focuses on the “Focus Five” leading indicators of safe activity mentioned earlier.

14. STSC Certification

How do you increase the safety knowledge of an employee who wants to take on leadership roles? OCP sponsors employees who pursue Safety Trained Supervisor Construction certification issued by the Board of Certified Safety Professionals. OCP pays the application fee, the cost of study books and the time off to attend classes.


“It’s a way to instill pride in our people,” Taylor says. “An employee can say they’ve received a diploma from a board that certifies professionals. It means a lot to them. When they pass, you hear so much excitement in their voice because they accomplished something.”


OCP has about 45 leaders who are STSC certified, Taylor says.

15. Safety Committees That Include Field Workers

The safety committee at T.J. Wies is a group of six to seven field workers, including foremen, journeyman and apprentices from each trade, including metal framing, drywall, drywall finishing and ceiling carpentry. The committee also includes a superintendent for each trade, a senior project manager, either the director of construction or the director of operations and the human resources director.


“It’s a group of all different levels of employees coming together to talk about best practices, what’s trending out on the job sites and what’s coming down to the pipe,” Unwin says.


Ideas that field workers have contributed include purchasing The Platformer, an easy-to-set-up anchor for building a load-bearing platform, which saves strains and sprains by not having to build scaffolding, and the Wall Walker, an exterior hanging work platform that’s safe and easy to erect.

Mark L. Johnson writes regularly about the wall and ceiling industry. You can reach him at

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