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A Safety Stand Down with Caddell Construction

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Stepping onto the US Navy Nuclear Power Training Facilities jobsite in Charleston, South Carolina, one can easily be overcome with the gravity and importance of this project.

We aren’t a safety company, we are a construction company, but safety is a vital part of our business in terms of reputation––our reputation to those we want to hire and to those we bid to award us work. 

The week prior to OSHA’s National Safety Stand Down is Caddell Construction Safety Week––and as you can expect, it’s extremely thorough. The Procore team got a chance to catch up with a few members of Caddell Construction on this high profile project to get an idea of what it takes to be safety leaders in this industry and what they hope project team members walk away with after this year’s Caddell Construction Safety Week.

Procore’s Product Marketing Manager, Lauren Masser sat down with Caddell Construction’s Corporate Safety Director, Tim Stout, Corporate QC Director, Buddy O’Mary, Site Safety and Health Officer, Bobby Wolpert, and MEP Superintendent, Frank Campbell to discuss how they manage to maintain such an admirable safety culture.

LM: Before we dive into safety, what is it like working on a project like this? You must feel it too.  I got chills stepping onsite.

TS: Most contractors would give anything to work on a project like this. But at times, it’s tough. It’s enormous pressure––the specifications, the drawings, the end user, the client and the architects–– there is no part of this job that isn’t, oh so consuming. However, everyday the process here gets better and it is a tremendous honor to be a part of it.

LM: I noticed the switch from Caddell’s “Safety First” phase – to “Safety Always” when I arrived today. What pushed that change?

TS: In 1996 I was tasked with establishing Caddell’s corporate-wide safety program. What we had was stone age and I needed something like “Safety First” to help promote a brand new program. To establish any type of a program in construction, experts say it takes 5 years––whether that be safety or quality or whatever.  I was hell-bent on establishing ours in 3 years. “Safety First” helped me promote a, somewhat, fundamental and basic program that we could roll out across our diverse project types that would make sure we were all on the same page. A Lamborghini program isn’t gonna work for everyone––not when you are trying to establish the basics. That program became the foundation for us to build off of. Then I got to a point, just knowing the business better, where I realized safety isn’t first. Do I need to put it on the same plane as other important aspects of our business? Absolutely, yes. So I started going with “Safety Always”. We aren’t a safety company, we are a construction company, but safety is a vital part of our business in terms of reputation––our reputation to those we want to hire and to those we bid to award us work.

LM: What is the difference between your safety stand down, in conjunction with NAVFAC vs other contractors out there conducting their safety stand downs this week and next.

TM: I think you’ll find that most contractors will take a day out of the week to tackle and review an aspect or two of their safety program with their employees. They may even go over fall protection, as prescribed by OSHA. Ours is one full week, each day dedicated to a few important items. Outside of the formality of this annual event, we do a 20-25 min safety stand down each and every Thursday of the week with the entire workforce. This is where we review deficiency trends that we may find, near miss incidents, or recognize the safety excellence of a supervisor or crafts person.

LM: I have really liked seeing how involved NAVFAC is onsite. Them being here this week must show a level of commitment to this job, but also their partnership with Caddell Construction.

TS: NAVFAC truly wants us to succeed. The support of your client on any job is vital to its success. So for senior members of NAVFAC to fly in from out of state to say a few words at Safety Week, and that is huge reflection of their commitment.  

LM: What do you feel is the most process-driven aspect, and most personal-driven aspect of your job, as the Corporate Safety Director of Caddell Construction?

TS: Everything has been ballooning the past couple years inside OSHA and other regulatory associations. Regulatory changes are running ramped and keeping people up-to-date is difficult.  You have to tailor messages multiple ways depending on region, culture, and language terminology––remember we have projects from Houston to Afghanistan. That being said, being involved in safety, you take care of the well-being of people, and that’s rewarding.

LM: When it comes to delivering a message of safety or creating a culture of safety, how do you motivate people?

TS: 1) Never forget that the most beautiful name you know is your own. So if I need something from one of the workers on site, I start that request off by addressing that individual by their first name. In most cases, that starts my message out in a positive direction. People are people. You don’t know if some guy started out their day on the wrong side of the bed. A good safety manager is going to seek out those individuals having that bad day and make it a little bit better, intentionally, by calling them by their first name.

2) Some people don’t respond well to talking over their head. Citing OSHA regulatory scripture and verse is not helpful. You need to show them the why in a use case scenario.

3) And the third aspect is to motivate by knowledge. At times, need to be able to cite that regulation chapter and verse. An effective Safety Manager knows the regulations, policies, standards, etc.  

LM: What has shaped you, as a safety leader? What drives you to be a better safety professional?

TS: Forrest Kirkpatrick. [Tim pulls laminated cards out of his wallet and hands one to me.] This guy wrote a poem called “Setting Examples”, which hits home about how the best way to teach is by example. Also, I think I’ve got every book John C. Maxwell ever wrote. The 360-Degree Leader, it hit me right between the eyes.

LM: Buddy, how is technology playing a role in how safety culture is changing?

BO: If you’re not changing, you’re in the rearview mirror. We see technology as being the head of the spear when it comes to how to conduct our business more efficiently. Partnerships with technology are going to drive this industry forward.  

LM: What’s the hardest part about technology infiltrating this industry?

TS:  Some people are averse to it––they just don’t like it. Some of our most seasoned professionals don’t want anything to do with new technology.

BO: We can’t kick them out, but we also can’t take no for an answer.  These are students we need to learn how to teach. It’s a challenge, but we are committed to it.

LM: Aside from not wanting to use technology, do you ever get push back when it comes to safety, in general?

TS: We have a subcontractor clause where we have the right to remove someone if they don’t adhere to our safety program. At times you feel like an oncologist seeking out the cancer and removing it so that it doesn’t affect the rest of the body. 

LM: How long does it take to recognize that cancer?

TS: What type of cancer is it? Is it melanoma or something more aggressive?That’s where logging those leading indicators comes in handy. Looking for trends can help you find that cancer and do something about it. Part of our contract here with NAVFAC is that we need to report leading indicators and near misses. Actually reporting it, earns us good marks with the owner. When you are catching near misses in quality and safety, it means you’re being proactive.  We need that information.

LM: How do you empower team members to report those leading indicators? Your superintendents and site safety managers can’t be everywhere at once.

TS: Well, one, you can’t make it a negative experience for the person that reports it. You can’t separate them from the rest of their work group––it doesn’t look good. Having a bunch of shiny white hats drilling a person that’s trying to be helpful…that will surely make that person not want to report an issue again.

Another way to encourage the reporting of leading indicators is to reward them. That can be by means of a gift card, a cold water, or a warm thank you.

FC: Someone in the field, at the front line, has to gain the trust of their field personnel. They need to feel comfortable confiding in you. People come to me every day and tell me if they are seeing potentially unsafe working practices. I listen and I tactfully apply that message.  Treat them like you’d like to be treated.

LM: How does this job differ, regulation wise, from a civilian construction project you might work on?

BW: We have to submit a site-specific accident prevention plan to the government before starting work. We fall under the EM385-1-1, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers Safety and Health Requirements Manuals. It’s been around longer than OSHA. It used to be 18 pages, now it’s around 900.

LM: That’s a lot of updates and amendments. How do you keep up with that?

BW: Training. We are sent to OSHA Training Institutes (OTIs) a couple times a year. We also attend conferences and report back to our organization what we learned.

LM: Bobby, what is the hardest part of your job as a Site Safety Manager?

BW:  I think people feel that once you have a dedicated safety person on site, jobsite safety, in all of its entirety, is on that person. Changing that mentality can be difficult. My job is to find the holes in the program and bring those holes to the attention of the corporate and project team for prompt resolution. I’ll come with solutions in mind for corrective actions.

LM: What advice would you give to other companies to help improve on their safety culture?

BW: Invest in a designated safety professional and ongoing training. Make sure the person you designate as a site safety professional is qualified and properly trained to do the job. Don’t go half way. 

TS: Far too often smaller contractors or subcontractors will send one supervisor to project. That supervisor is supposed to fill the role of superintendent, supervisor front line, quality guy, scheduler, and everything else wrapped into one. Well, if he or she is a superintendent, the one thing they know how to do really well is push people. But outside the boundaries of being a people pusher, most of the time these people have very very little training, if any, in safety. Our subcontracts are becoming more and more stringent on the language pertaining to on-site supervision and support.

LM: Accidents will happen, and when they do, how do you make sure all the proper steps are taken, that there’s a feedback loop and that that situation can be used as a learning moment?

BW:  We have prompt safety stand downs with the parties involved. First and foremost we check on the parties injured and make sure they are being treated properly. That supervisor will shut down the area and tag out any piece of machinery that was involved. Then a meeting is called with all witnesses involved to go over their Activity Hazard Analysis (AHA) to see if they followed what they said they were going to do. Once we separate fact from fiction, the staff will meet separately to discuss the best corrective actions to enforce. We try to get to the true root cause of the accident. We want to know why why why. Not just the what. 

LM: You had told me that you had been getting an increase of near miss and good catch reports.  What has attributed this increase of information?

TS: Our client representative, NAVFAC, requires reports that attribute to their CPARs. They want us to stop an unsafe act before an occurrence and they want it documented.  You need someone to witness that unsafe act and report it back in a specific way. We used to have just our superintendents or site safety supervisors reporting these, but with the NAVFAC’s encouraging response to these reports, it has helped us change the culture a bit and we’ve gotten an influx of employees and workers reporting near misses or good catches to us as well. This increase of information gives us a chance to do something about it––learn from it.

LM: That positive reinforcement must create a safe space for honesty. I believe this industry has a long way to go with feeling truly comfortable reporting all the issues that take place out in the field. We know it happens, but if you write it down, then it “really happened.”

TS: You can’t learn from something that “didn’t happen.” The more owner reps, and construction leaders are open to hearing what’s true, the faster we can work on it as an industry.

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