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AGC Safety and Health Conference: There's Got to Be a Human Element

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Last week, AGC hosted a safety and health conference in downtown Pittsburgh. Attendees enjoyed a variety of talks from industry experts, the chance to network with other professionals, and even a Pirates game sponsored by Zurich North America. Among the many topics discussed were the confined spaces in construction standard, safety culture, the value of certification, safety analytics, and safety programs in higher education. Overall, it was a great opportunity to promote safety in the industry -  something everyone can appreciate. As Todd Stevens of W.B. Moore, this year's grand winner of the Willis Construction Safety Excellence Awards, said during a panel, "Safety is not a proprietary thing. What we learn, we should share."

When discussing safety regulations and compliance, it’s easy to imagine the development of an "us v. them" mentality. But at the conference, it was clear that this isn’t exactly how the construction industry operates. Eric Kampert, director of OSHA’s Office of Construction Services, noted, "You guys are the ones out there making the changes. We’re just the catalysts." His statement indicates how safety in construction isn’t just important due to government policies, it’s important because companies care about the wellbeing of their workers. 

Eddie Greer, director of business development, Board of Certified Safety Professionals, an AGC of Texas Highway, Heavy, Utilities & Industrial Branch member, gave a presentation on the value of safety certifications in which he displayed the number of annual deaths in the industry in large text on the screen and said, "You should take great exception to that number. The issue is that we can’t put faces to that number. We’ve got to do something about that." Stevens emphasized that when dealing with injured workers, "There’s got to be a human element. Where’s the ‘I care that you’re a father’ element?"

It was also evident that there are significant economic benefits for safety. For example, Dr. Lon Ferguson of Indiana University of Pennsylvania reported that the school has a 75 percent placement rate for graduating safety sciences students, with an average starting salary of $56,000. Howard A. Mavity, a partner at Fisher & Phillips, a member of multiple AGC chapters, also stressed the linkage between morality and success when it comes to safety. He asked, "What is a safety professional’s job?" Some in attendance responded that it was to save lives, while others said that it was to protect one’s assets. Mavity’s follow-up question: "Is there a difference?"

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