January 20, 2019

Safety Week

Strategic events involved all corners of the company, rewarding safe work performance and heightening safety awareness.

Between May 3 and 9 construction firms across America took part in the second annual US Industry Safety Week, using it to refocus and re-energize a collective commitment to reduce jobsite injuries. Here in Connecticut, O&G gave Safety Week its own spin. Under the motto, “Safety is more than a slogan,” Safety Week was a demonstration of a corporate-wide commitment to working safely. It was a way to ingrain safety into the way all work is performed; it was also a vehicle for rewarding people for their accomplishments in working safely. Every plant, every showroom, every yard, every project and every office took part

POINT MAN FOR SAFETY WEEK AT O&G was Mike Ferry, the company’s new Corporate Safety Director.  Though  young  by  comparison  to some, Ferry is credentialed and accomplished with a   calm but authoritative presence. His words carry weight. Ferry became O&G’s Corporate Safety Director in February of this year. With the transition to his new position commanding most of his time, he estimates that three weeks of planning were all he had available for Safety Week. The truncated window made him focus on what would make the biggest impact on safety in the field. The planning began with brainstorming between Ferry and Seth Duke, Corporate Marketing and Communications Manager. In their give and take,  a comprehensive, week-long program took shape. Then it went to Ferry’s Safety Department – Tom Hunter, Michelle Lacharite and Caswell Sewell – who, with input from Jimmy Rodger, Matt Dmyterko and Jim Dolan at the New Haven Joint Venture, fleshed out the details, and there were plenty. They compiled a master list of every project, plant and facility, the talk that would be presented at that facility or job, and who would be responsible for leading the event on what day and at what time. (Meetings rand from Monday to Friday that week, kicking off at 5:30 in the morning on the busier jobsites.)

Outside the Department others contributed to the success of Safety Week. Benefits Manager Sharon Okraska and Administrative Assistant Terry Creigton tackled the job of ordering 3000 safety-lime t-shirts and packaging them for Venture Night Safety Manager Matt Dmyterko. Duke also attneded numerous events to lend a hand as needed and, with Vice President Jim Zambero, oversaw the Touch-a-Truck festivities that ended the week. Zambero also orchestrated stand-downs at all his maintenance and repair facilities.

Stand-downs, toolbox talks and battling complacency. With their chains of command, piles of materials, heavy equipment and the hazardous nature of construction work, it’s not a stretch to see why Safety Week borrowed a term from military parlance – “stand-down” – for the meetings it held at the sites. At a designated stand-down time all workers rendezvoused at a set point to hear a safety message suited to their job or facility. Either at lunch hour, before work or at a coffee break, a member of the Safety Department would be on site to deliver a message, usually with a manager from the facility or project. At certain locations vendors would also make a presentation, like fall protection specialists DBI Sala demonstrating the potentially lethal results of not trying-off properly at heights, and United Abrasives-Sait showing safe grinding and cutting at four repair facilities.

“Toolbox talks” for Safety Week presented four different messages. One matter that Ferry and his team dwelt on at virtually every event was complacency on the job. “Because you routinely perform hazardous work you run the risk of becoming blind to the dangers you encounter every single day in the construction industry,” the message went.

Someone coming off the street to a job site would be in awe of all the moving parts and how dangerous it all appears. The trap for seasoned workers is becoming blind to the danger. “Our people are used to heavy equipment and movement and backup alarms,” says Ferry. “It’s the nature of doing business for them. Someone new hearing a backup alarm, to him it’s a true alarm. If we’re complacent that alarm becomes just another noise.”

He cited a personal example from the first night he visited crews working on the Merritt Parkway. Because it was all new for Ferry he was on his toes, aware of where he parked his truck, how he exited his vehicle, how he moved around the site. “The people working there are accustomed to the hazards, but I saw firsthand how someone could become complacent to the dangers of night work on a narrow parkway.” O&G does all it can to control risk through training and setting up road work sites but it can’t completely control the motoring public. “All we can do is manage our side of the equation,” says Ferry, “and put ourselves in the best possible position.”

In their Safety Week talks Ferry and team put the spotlight on numbness to danger by presenting examples from around the country where lapses in focus caused injuries or fatalities. They called for workers to recognize the danger hid- den in routine activities, to self-audit the steps they take in their workday tasks and to be aware of how they model safety as they teach new hires.

Actively working safely. It’s one of the most essential messages the Safety Team preaches: internalizing safety, making it part of one’s way to working until it becomes instinctive and totally natural. That “safety culture” mindset is the pinnacle of working safely. The goal is to develop a way of thinking that wants to work safely, not viewing it as having to work safely.

O&G provides the best equipment and the latest training but at the end of the day, says Ferry, “We need everyone’s active effort to work safely and make smart decisions out in the field. We need worker commitment – managers, superintendents, foremen, everyone actively working together safely,” says Ferry. The true focus is each other’s safety.

Understanding the process.  Construction captivated Ferry when  he was a high schooler working as low man on the totem pole in small construction companies. He’s seen much in his ten years working in safety on high rise construction in and around Boston. Ferry is sympathetic to what it means to be building in the field, to balance the desire to make production with the necessity of staying safe. His personal challenge is analyzing the processes of construction and plant production and then ensuring that safety plugs in all the way through.

Ferry and his team understand that they need to grasp the details of the construction process going on at a given site before they can talk about safety compliance, regulations and procedures. Without that understanding their words will fall on deaf ears. To have a seat at their table, Ferry says, you need to know why things happen as they do, what the goal is and how it’s achieved. That’s when safety training is most effective.

Workplace safety is also about understanding that everyone is on the same side, the same team. It’s not just about combing a site for deficiencies and “gotchas”, it’s about commending the many things that are being done properly and in order. Ferry and team compliment workers who integrate safety into everything they do. “Sometimes the guys will tell you their thought process, why they are doing a task the way they are doing it, and we’ll be blown away by the level of thought that went into the planning process and implementing a safety strategy,” says Ferry. He recognizes that O&G has many workers everywhere who are seriously involved in their own safety and the safety of those working under them. Same side, same team.

Vice President of the Materials Division, T.J. Oneglia, speaking in a stand- down at the Southbury Quarry, posed a question to everyone assembled. With everyone’s safety level heightened about as acutely as it can be at the stand-down, he said, what will happen throughout the day and in the coming days to degrade that? He urged everyone to challenge themselves personally to maintain that level of safety awareness every day going forward.

“We always tell workers, ‘If you spot something wrong speak up.’ We encouraged workers to let foremen know so issues can be corrected. After the talk at I-95 in Norwalk a bunch of workers came to tell me where we could do better, where they have concerns. They even told me about precautions they take that aren’t in our procedures. They identified ways to reduce or control risk. They see that the decisions they make directly impact the ones they love. That was really gratifying,” says Ferry.

At the conclusion of the week, Vice Chairman Greg Oneglia sent an company- wide e-letter that reiterated the “see something say something” focus, encouraging everyone to “be a pest” when it comes to workplace safety by planning the task, evaluating what it will take, planning through the lens of safety, and only then beginning the task.

Safety is a family matter at heart. One of the most important Safety Week initiatives was to communicate the commitment O&G has to safety in every arena in which it competes. “The Oneglias came to the jobsites and facilities during the week, at all hours, to show their commitment to Safety Week. They wanted to speak at the stand-downs,” says Ferry. That demonstration of concern by the Oneglia family for the broader O&G family “was hugely important.”

Brad Oneglia , Vice President Asphalt Division, participated in many of the week’s events. “My cousins and I, just like generations before us, grew up around our jobsites and facilities. We have come to know many of our employees and their families. Doing all we can to ensure they’re able to return home safely every day is a responsibility all of the Oneglias take very seriously.”

Saturday of Safety Week brought a family-oriented event open to the community. Touch-a-Truck at South Main in Torrington was a chance for families to watch their children delight in all the heavy equipment on display. “We wanted Touch-a-Truck to tie Safety Week to what it really means,” says Ferry, “and that’s your family, your loved ones, your friends – that’s why you work safely.”

For Safety Team member Caswell Sewell, Touch-a-Truck was a great ending to a well-organized, very busy Safety Week. He was impressed with the attendance and the participation at each of  the toolbox talks he ran at eight different locations. Sewell brought ten of his eleven grandchildren to Touch-a-Truck.

“It was especially nice to see all the Oneglias there,” he said, smiling. “You could see their genuine interest in the people and the concern for safety. My grandkids were climbing all over that huge equipment – it’s going to leave a lasting impression with them.”

With the benefit of more time for planning and the evaluation of what had the most impact during Safety Week 2015, Ferry is confident that its reach and effectiveness will increase in 2016. The team envisions additional instructive materials to hand out, more posters, coordinated website announcements and daily e-blasts with information applicable to safety at home, field, office, plants and facilities. “We do many great things that we’ll keep improving on and with a lot of focus from everyone in the field we’ll keep improving our safety culture.”