by Skip Paquette

Is there any reason safety shouldn’t be a top priority at your company?

At Coastal Mechanical Services, LLC, our safety program started out as a program of basic policies and rules to be implemented at job start-up. It has evolved into a proactive use of detailed injury prevention procedures that require implementation long before a new project begins.

Our pre-planning methods include a review of plans and work processes prior to job start-up. Through this review, we strive to identify and eliminate hazards before they occur. We also plan for each project’s safety equipment and training needs. Our basic safety program is then supplemented with additional, project-specific hazard control plans.

Our safety program has — and any successful safety program will need — the continuous, visible involvement and support of senior management.

Management’s involvement comes in many forms. Our president and vice president discuss safety issues at supervisory and safety committee meetings, and they teach supervisory skill classes that include safety topics. In addition, our senior managers communicate with safety staff on a weekly basis to stay apprised of current safety issues, and assist when needed.

Project managers speak at weekly safety meetings, and regularly communicate with the safety staff. They use project look-ahead schedules to pre-plan equipment and training resources well in advance of need.

Essential to our current injury prevention efforts is the provision of adequate funds to support our safety program. Safety expenditures, including training costs, are tracked separately for future evaluation and project budgeting purposes. Future needs for major expenditures, such as equipment, are reviewed during annual business planning meetings.

Other key elements of our safety program include incentive and training programs, written responsibilities and accountabilities, disciplinary procedures, and injury investigation procedures.

Incentives can aid employee acceptance and involvement in a safety program. However, take care to choose a reward program that doesn’t encourage “hiding” injuries, and isn’t based solely on the number of injuries a company incurs.

Currently, our employees earn a modest monetary reward for each year of accident-free work. However, with our “Coastal Buck” incentive program, they’re rewarded for working safely and for personal involvement in our safety program.

Employees can earn Coastal Bucks on the jobsite for wearing safety glasses or using fall protection equipment , or in the office for training a co-worker on tool safety or safety equipment, speaking at a safety meeting, conducting weekly ladder inspections, or attending safety classes.

All Coastal employees attend a new hire orientation prior to field assignment. We review with them our basic safety responsibilities and accountabilities, including disciplinary and drug-free workplace policies. We discuss hazard communication and injury reporting and treatment procedures as well. The details of past accidents and injuries are openly communicated to all new employees.

New employees also attend a 90-day safety orientation class, where we administer a written quiz to document and gauge individual safety knowledge. Safety training materials, including videos, are always available to all employees.

Required safety training depends on one’s job description. Field mechanics and helpers receive basic safety training, and may sign up for other safety classes. Foremen, or those wanting to achieve foreman level, have additional required safety training, including the 10-hour OSHA class, excavation safety, and first aid and CPR.

Many of our foremen have completed the 30-hour OSHA construction course. Although our safety staff visits jobsites to conduct safety inspections, our foremen have the responsibility for the day-to-day safety of our employees.

As the years have progressed and our safety program has become ingrained in our company, we’ve changed from the days of the “safety cop” hammering jobsites. Today, we have an educated field staff that administers our safety program, and views the safety department as a needed resource. Safety has become such a part of our culture that even our marketing department promotes our safety methods to prospective customers, as one element of our overall customer service package.

We have made the safety of our 300-plus employees a top priority, and you can — and should — do the same at your company. Can you think of anything more important?

Skip Paquette is safety director at Coastal Mechanical Services, a $66 million commercial contracting firm headquartered in Melbourne, FL. The company has received numerous safety awards from the Associated Builders and Contractors Association (ABC). You can reach Skip at 321/403-3987.