Safety Matters - Construction Safety and Health Update

Safety in the Spotlight

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For more than three decades now, AGC has recognized member companies that exemplify a true commitment to safety through the Construction Safety Excellence Awards. This year, however, individual accolades were on the line, as AGC expanded its awards program to honor safety and health professionals and front-line supervisors and field personnel.

Matt Hendrie utilized a complex safety system on the Post Office Canyon Bridge. PHOTO COURTESY OF J. BANICKI CONSTRUCTION

Sponsored by Milwaukee Tool, the two new awards recognize individual employees who have helped member companies achieve an exceptionally high degree of safety excellence. The awards were presented at the annual AGC Construction Safety & Health Conference in Glendale, Arizona, in January.

Eric Simmons, corporate safety director for San Diego-based Helix Electric, a member of multiple AGC chapters, won the first annual Construction Safety Professional of the Year award. To be eligible, nominees had to be a corporate, regional or project safety and health professional at an AGC member company.

Meanwhile, Matt Hendrie, a project superintendent for Phoenix-based J. Banicki Construction Inc., an Arizona Chapter-AGC member, won the inaugural Construction Safety Champion of the Year award. Nominees included foremen, superintendents and project managers from AGC member companies who supervise work and are responsible for implementing safety policies among their direct reports and skilled-trade partners.

Kevin Cannon, AGC’s senior director of safety and health services, says expanding the awards program reinforces safety as “the No. 1 priority for the construction industry.” Safety and health professionals “play a critical role” in establishing a culture of safety at their companies, he adds, and jobsite supervisors are “where the rubber really meets the road,” implementing those safety programs in the field.

“We felt that it was important to recognize those individuals for helping to maintain a safer industry,” Cannon says. “This gives us an opportunity to recognize more of our safety leaders, and it allows AGC staff to learn about the great things that individuals within our member companies are doing to put safety at the forefront.”

Nominations for next year’s individual safety awards will open Oct. 1, with an application link posted on the AGC’s website, and the deadline for submission will be Nov. 4. The awards will be handed out at the AGC Construction Safety & Health Conference in New Orleans next January.

The numbers prove that Eric Simmons and Helix Electric are committed to safe jobsites. Despite employees working 3.51 million hours last year, the company recorded only one incident resulting in days away from work and a total of four incidents requiring a job transfer or restriction.

Simmons, 46, got his start in construction as a teenager working for his uncle’s company, Simmons Electric, in his native Las Vegas. He’s spent 18 years with Helix Electric, beginning as an electrical superintendent before becoming a senior project manager. During his time in operations, he gradually was tasked with more and more safety-related responsibilities, sparking his interest in the subject and leading him to go back to school.

Simmons now has a bachelor’s degree in occupational safety and health and a master’s degree in that field and environmental management from Columbia Southern University. He also has an MBA in human resource management from Capella University and is about a year away from a doctoral degree in education, with a focus on performance improvement leadership, from that same institution.

Since becoming corporate safety director in 2017, Simmons has overhauled Helix Electric’s safety policies. That includes creating a dropped-object prevention policy, a drone policy, updating the company’s written health and safety program, establishing a COVID-19 policy, updating its jobsite inspection processes, revamping its orientation processes for new hires and new-to-site workers, translating training materials and forms into Spanish, hiring bilingual staff and enrolling safety managers in language training.

Major initiatives include policy changes to prevent hand injuries. The company upgraded its glove requirements, provided training about selecting the right tools for the job and created awareness about hand placement, contributing to a 40% reduction in first-aid and recordable hand injuries, according to Simmons.

Simmons said his experience in operations allows him to tailor Helix Electric’s safety program to the needs of workers, keeping in mind the ways in which they actually perform their work.

“We really pride ourselves on keeping our teams safe,” he says. “One of the things that helps me to be successful is that understanding and the perspective that I bring. I’ve been out there on the job turning tools, trying to get the work done, so I understand the pressures and the constraints that our tradespeople are under. I understand the environment that they work in.”

Simmons says Helix Electric recently launched a pilot project using QR codes for near-miss reporting. The QR codes allow workers to submit near-misses through a portal using their smartphones, simplifying and expediting the process. The information is then texted to the safety team and imported into a database to track events and trends more efficiently.

The QR code is displayed on a hard plastic card given to each employee, and it includes the definition of a near-miss and instructions for how to submit an incident. The other side of the card displays the company’s dedicated safety hotline number and safety email address so employees can submit suggestions, questions and concerns directly to the safety team.

For the past few years, Simmons has served on the national safety committee for the Independent Electrical Contractors, and he’s a member of the IEC’s codes and standards committee. He also belongs to the San Diego and national chapters of the American Society of Safety Professionals and serves on the safety committee of the AGC’s San Diego chapter.

“Safety is not proprietary, and I think all safety professionals should find ways to give back to their communities and the industry to improve safety for everyone,” he says.

Matt Hendrie, 51, helped J. Banicki Construction have a banner year in 2021, with no recordable safety incidents despite 185,000 employee hours worked. He joined the company in 2015 and has been the lead structural superintendent on at least one bridge or structures-intensive project in each subsequent year.

Hendrie began his career as a laborer in New York City before joining the local carpenters’ union. In 2008, he relocated his family to Arizona and worked as a structural foreman for Royden Construction, Ames Construction and Kiewit on bridge projects throughout the Southwest before joining Skanska USA as a structural superintendent in 2012.

Hendrie says he’s committed to maintaining an “injury-free environment” by building a safety of culture, working with structural foremen and carpentry crews to craft detailed job-hazard analyses. During construction, he leads a morning safety meeting to go over the day’s work and identify potential hazards.

Hendrie says it’s possible to have injury-free jobsites as long as construction companies implement the proper planning, best practices and safety engineering controls. The statistics support that notion, as J. Banicki Construction has improved its safety record in each of the past three years.

“I never expected to win this award, but it was cool to be recognized,” he says. “As a company, safety is our priority every day, and I think we go above and beyond. Making safety a team effort, with everyone responsible for each other, and not an individual effort, goes a long way. When the guys are looking out for each other, it makes a big difference.”

Last October, Hendrie helped J. Banicki Construction complete the Post Office Canyon Bridge project on State Road 73 near Whiteriver, Arizona, for the state Department of Transportation. The project included the complete bridge-deck replacement of a 170-ft-long, single-span, steel-plate girder bridge. The bridge spanned a 125-ft-deep canyon with shear vertical cliffs immediately off the abutments, presenting major safety hazards.

All demolition and construction had to occur from atop since there was no access from the rocky canyon below, so Hendrie mandated 100% tie-off at all times. Prior to demolition, the company installed an engineered wood safety deck in the bottom flanges of the girders to support workers and contain demolition debris. After that, workers maintained 100% tie-off by using a horizontal lifeline installed with beam straps along the interior diaphragms.

During demolition, workers maintained 100% tie-off using ULTRA-SAFE anchors and retractable lifelines. Tie-off for new bridge deck construction was implemented with an engineered vertical safety stanchion system that Hendrie developed and fabricated. The vertical stanchions clamped to the shear studs on the top flange of the girders, and horizontal lifelines were installed through the stanchions.

Since the project took place on the White Mountain Apache Tribe reservation, members of that tribe had to account for half of the craft workers employed, but many of them lacked bridge or carpentry experience. To address that challenge, Hendrie paired each tribe member with an experienced Banicki carpenter, creating a mentorship and apprentice program. He also trained the tribe’s craft workers in many aspects of bridge construction, emphasizing safety best practices such as daily harness and tool inspections.

“Due to Matt’s meticulous safety planning and execution, zero recordable incidents and zero falls or near-misses occurred on this project,” says George Lane-Roberts, Banicki’s business development manager. “Matt’s success in training members of the tribe to work safely was a pleasure to witness and an endeavor that the chairwoman of the tribe greatly appreciated.”


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