Several VPP Firsts Achieved by Wis. Contractor

Fred Rideout, director of risk management for Oshkosh, Wis.-based C.R. Meyer, always has viewed OSHA as "a partner with industry." When C.R. Meyer became the first contractor in the nation to attain Star status in OSHA's new Mobile Workforce Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) Demonstration for Construction, Rideout said he gained "a full appreciation and awareness of how good that relationship can be."

"They were extremely helpful in teaching us what we needed to do and how we needed to do it to get from the Challenge Pilot phase to the VPP approval phase," Rideout said of the agency.

When C.R. Meyer, an industrial and commercial general contractor that employs nearly 1,000 people, attained Star status in September, it achieved two OSHA VPP milestones: It became the first contractor to be selected for the Star level of the Mobile Workforce VPP Demonstration for Construction, and it became the first company to achieve Star status directly resulting from participation in the VPP OSHA Challenge Pilot.

"We are appreciative of that, we're proud of that and we're also humbled by that," Rideout told OccupationalHazards.com. "But it also challenges us and it motivates us to improve in order to get better."

To qualify for Star status, C.R. Meyer, in the words of OSHA, "verified that it had implemented programs and procedures beyond those required under OSHA standards, with extensive involvement by both management and employees." Among the systems and successes that helped C.R. Meyer earn Star status, the company:

  • Has incident and days-away-from work rates that are nearly 60 percent below its industry average.
  • Has strong management leadership and employee involvement.
  • Communicates its safety expectations and policies through its monthly safety newsletter.
  • Conducts daily site audits.
  • Holds leaders such as superintendents, supervisors and project managers accountable for safe operations by making safety a key criterion in their performance appraisals.
  • Tracks loss data "to see where we're at and to see what the trends are," in the words of Rideout. "And if we're able to identify the trends, then we can create solutions to those things and address and attack those things that are happening."
  • Has a safety committee.
  • Conducts detailed incident investigations and follow-ups and administers discipline if necessary. If, for example, a worker experiences a recordable hand injury and was not wearing his gloves – all employees on the job site are required to wear hand protection – the worker would be suspended for 1 day without pay, Rideout explained.

Other important safety strategies include daily pre-task planning meetings held by each crew; the use of a daily pre-task planning worksheet – which, Rideout noted, can be used for the daily pre-task planning huddles, for new-hire training and as a site audit worksheet – and daily job-site audits conducted by Rideout and his staff of 10 full-time safety coordinators.

Bridging the Gaps

According to Rideout, C.R. Meyer's path to VPP Star status began with an invitation from the Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin to participate in OSHA's VPP Challenge Pilot. OSHA describes VPP Challenge Pilot as a tool that provides employers with "a detailed roadmap that guides them on how to improve their safety and health management systems and meet VPP recognition criteria." C.R. Meyer joined the Challenge Pilot in November 2004 and graduated in August 2005.

Rideout noted that there are a number of gaps contractors must bridge to attain VPP status, as VPP – which OSHA launched in 1982 – "fits general industry very well" but isn't necessarily geared toward contractors and their transient work population, he said. VPP Challenge Pilot was one of the tools C.R. Meyer used to bridge those gaps; the other tool was the Mobile Workforce VPP Demonstration for Construction.

Rideout credited the latter program for helping C.R. Meyer identify its strengths and weaknesses and for giving C.R. Meyer specific recommendations on how to ensure that its safety and health management systems would pass muster with VPP audit team members.

"It's good for the construction industry to have programs like this, because it does and will improve your systems," Rideout said. "And when your systems improve, then you're providing a safer workplace for your employees."

The Next Goal

C.R. Meyer's VPP recognition is for its work sites in the state of Wisconsin. Rideout said that one of his goals is to duplicate C.R. Meyer's success in Wisconsin at its sites throughout the country.

"We are proud of this noteworthy achievement, and we understand the real challenge is before us," Rideout said. "We look forward to steady, continued improvement in our safety and health management system as we grow our program nationally."

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