Safety is a cut-and-dry deal," says veteran safety manager Harry Weidmyer matter of factly. "It's either done or not done. You are either providing training or you're not. You're doing recordkeeping or you're not."
His attitude toward compliance with basic OSHA standards is refreshing in a world where much of the language of safety has become cloaked in vagueness in order to avoid or minimize any potential legal liability. But despite such carefully obscure language, safety in the end is about people. People are hurt or not hurt, killed or not killed on the job. It is, as Weidmyer states, a cut-and-dry deal.
That may be one reason why Weidmyer, vice president of Risk Management for HRH Construction LLC, the ninth largest construction company in the New York area, sees so many advantages to partnering with OSHA as his company oversees the construction of Trump Riverside South Building A, a 32-story, 174-apartment luxury tower scheduled to be completed in December. HRH Construction entered into the agreement along with the Construction Trades Council and New York City Area Contractors.
"HRH's commitment to safety begins at the highest corporate level, and is carried out throughout the firm on every project site, with the help of our subcontractors as well as the support of industry leaders such as OSHA and the BTEA," he says. BTEA is the Building Trades Employers Association of New York City, which recently awarded HRH its 2003 Construction Safety Award for outstanding safety practices.
Weidmyer notes that his company benefited during this project from the Trump organization's support for job safety. "When you have a very positive client behind you, it just makes life a lot easier," he says, adding, "They don't believe in being second; they believe in being first."
In OSHA's campaign to change its image from draconian safety cop to national resource, the agency clearly seems to have a convert in Weidmyer. He talks about HRH signing a partnership agreement with OSHA as if it would be silly not to have his company working closely with the agency he calls "the dominant factor behind employee safety." In his view, the company and OSHA share a common belief in, and support for, occupational safety and so they should be working together toward that end.
The agreement calls for HRH to have the primary responsibility for safety on the project and to ensure that only contractors with an experience modification rating of 1 or less will work on the tower. The agreement required a pre-construction safety meeting with all the contractors, as well as a comprehensive risk assessment and monthly safety and health meetings. Among the specific safety measures called for in the agreement: mandatory fall protection for workers at greater than 6 feet; mandatory use of ground fault circuit interrupters; third-party certification and inspection of cranes, hoists and scissor/aerial lifts; the use of appropriate personal protective equipment; training; workplace surveillance; weekly safety and health audits; and a safety incentive program with individual employee awards.
Contractors were required to comply with the safety program and to provide a new-hire safety orientation, conduct weekly toolbox instruction, assign a qualified safety and health representative, and conduct weekly safety and health inspections for their portion of the job.
OSHA's responsibilities under the agreement include periodic attendance at safety meetings, help with safety training, incident trend analysis and offering limited-scope focused inspections with maximum good-faith recognition with respect to penalty reductions. In Weidmyer's view, he is getting experts who are looking out for safety issues at his project and providing free training.
Some safety managers complain about the lack of expertise or industry experience among OSHA personnel, but Weidmyer holds a generally positive view of OSHA inspectors. On an inspection, he notes, the actions of employees are apparent and easily documented with digital cameras or even video. He says his view of what is going on at a job site should mirror what the inspector sees. If there is a disagreement, he notes, employers have recourse in an informal conference with the inspector's supervisor.
Asked what drives HRH's commitment to safety, he answers it in basic humanistic terms a desire to have everyone come to the job site, admittedly a hazardous environment, and leave for home at the end of the day in good health. He stresses the importance of ongoing communication as the primary tool to ensure that contractors, foremen and employees understand what their role is in ensuring a safe operation. It may not be easy to erect a large building safely, but the need to do so, as Weidmyer would say, is cut and dry.