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At The Outset Of Construction Season, Chicago Rings In ‘Construction Safety Month’

Chicagoland AGC member James McHugh Construction Co.'s site for the Simpson Querrey Biomedical Research Center project

With 42 new high-rises underway along the lakeshore and a record-breaking number of new apartment units entering the pipeline, construction in Chicagoland is at an all-time high. More workers are on job sites and more new workers are entering the industry to meet the demand. At the start of this construction season, Chicago-area companies are calling for an industrywide effort to promote job site safety.

“The construction boom is creating new opportunities of all kinds, but in this fast-paced environment,  we can’t lose sight of job site safety,” said Dan Ruane, Pepper Construction Group's director of safety and CAGC safety committee co-chair. “With the density of workers — and the number of new workers — revisiting safety standards and concerns on our sites is more important now than ever.”

Ruane and other colleagues from firms across the region have signed on as members of the Chicagoland Associated General Contractors’ Safety and Health Committee, which has lead the city’s weeklong “Stand For Safety” event during Construction Safety Month since 2013.

Ruane said this year, the program — formerly “Safety Stand Down” — is expected to reach nearly 10,000 workers across hundreds of sites. During this year’s Stand for Safety, May 6 to May 10, participating employers will choose a day to shut down their job sites for about 30 minutes and host a toolbox talk on a designated safety topic, followed by an informal site lunch to inspire conversation. CAGC also hosts an awards reception, and this year has launched a new safety poster campaign. 

“These activities aren’t just about education,” Ruane said. “Our goal is to help build morale at the start of the season, and get job sites off to a productive, energized start. CAGC’s critical goal is to keep these standards and the necessary education around them on employers’ radar, so that all construction workers can return home safely each night to their families.”

U.S. worker fatalities on the job site have increased by 12% in the past 10 years, with fatal falls on job sites at a 26-year high. While enforcing safety protocols can prevent accidents for workers, employers know it is also critical for logistical reasons. Vince Vacala, vice president of construction firm Tyler Lane, CAGC board member and Safety Committee co-chair, said safety violations can lead to fines and litigation, and injuries can lead to lost workdays, inflating timelines and straining budgets.

Vacala pointed to the renovation of the Old Post Office — a project on which safety was a major concern, as the building had multiple code deficiencies and its state of disrepair created a job site full of perils. At the very outset, Chicago firm BEAR Construction worked with CAGC member Assurance Agency to undertake extensive site planning, ongoing site audits and safety training for the site managers and CAGC-member subcontractors, including Bernhard Woodwork Ltd., The Moran Group, Great Lakes Plumbing and Heating Co. and TOR Construction Co. In combination, these activities prevented an estimated $3M in potential OSHA penalties.

“If a firm rushes through safety training on a project like this, the outcome can be disastrous in all kinds of ways,” Vacala said.

While preventing safety violations can save time and budget, Vacala said good safety practices can also boost worker happiness and worker retention, which, in a time of competitive hiring, is all the more critical.

Last year, CAGC reported its Stand For Safety campaign reached a record 8,000 trades workers on 600 job sites throughout the greater Chicago area, and local companies Custom Contracting, CJ Drilling and Thorne Associates were honored with Safety Excellence Awards via CAGC's Safety Award program.

Ruane said every year, the industry decides on a different theme. Previous curricula have featured fall protection, pre-task planning, struck-by and caught-betweens and personal responsibility. This year’s program will center on safety leadership engagement.

“This year, we’re focusing on what role leadership can play in getting workers on board with OSHA standards and other safety practices,” Ruane said. “In other words, how can we help the office and field talk more about safety, and how can we help integrate these conversations more fluidly into everyday site culture?”

Vacala and Ruane said they hope more Chicago-area firms and other construction industry employers will join last year’s companies to make Construction Safety Month a widespread and ongoing tradition, and keep safety front of mind as they kick off a booming 2019 season.

This feature was produced by Bisnow Branded Content in collaboration with Chicagoland AGC. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.