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Published: November, 2019; Vol 16, Num 6

Signatory Spotlight:

At Mid-States Precast, Worker Safety Takes Many Forms

OSHA holds Safe & Sound Week every year to recognize the successes of workplace safety and health programs and spread ideas about how to keep workers safe. To find out how one LIUNA signatory contractor took part in this voluntary, national event, I talked to Jeff Morris, the Safety Auditor at Mid-State Concrete Industries. An employee at Mid-States since 2012, Jeff is also a member of Laborers’ Local 464 in Madison, Wisconsin.

What kind of work does Mid-States do?

We specialize in pre-cast concrete solutions primarily for schools, healthcare facilities, senior living centers, colleges and multi-family residential projects. All of our work in the field is done with three person crews of Laborers, and we may have two or three crews on a given job depending on the size. All of the precast beams, wallforms and other concrete is produced at our plant in Illinois, where we employ more than 140 workers, and all of them are Laborers as well.

How did your company hear about Safe & Sound week?

We have a good relationship with our area OSHA rep and he let us know about it. We’ve partnered with OSHA here in the plant and are one of only two precast companies in the entire U.S. to receive OSHA’s SHARP award, which they give out to small businesses with less than 250 employees. [Editor’s note: SHARP is OSHA’s Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program.] We’re very proud to have received that award twice, which our area OSHA rep compared to winning a gold medal in back-to-back Olympics. It’s that hard to do.

How did Mid-States get involved with the SHARP program and end up receiving that award?

Receiving the SHARP award wasn’t the original goal. In 2010, we had a worker get severely injured at the plant. We shut that part of the plant down and to this day we still don’t use it. That event really stuck with us all, including our owners, and they wanted to make sure nothing like that ever happened again. We partnered with OSHA after that incident and bulked up our safety program, and the improvements we made in those areas led to our first SHARP award.

Are there any other changes you’ve made at the plant due to past incidents?

In 2014, we had a worker get injured while pulling bolts out of forms, and when we looked into why that happened, we determined it was fatigue. Our staff had been putting in 18 hour days during that time, and this worker was on his third long shift. After that determination, the company instituted a policy that no one would work longer than 10 hours at a time. That’s unheard of in our industry. We even had other companies telling us there’s no way it would work. But we were determined to make it work to improve the safety of our workers on the floor. It’s been five years since then, and business is great and our workers are safer for it.

Getting back to Safe & Sound Week, what activities did you hold for that event?

We stopped all work at the plant and had an all-hands discussion. Our team talked about the importance of speaking up if anyone sees a safety hazard and gave workers a chance to offer recommendations on what we could do better. For us, Safe & Sound Week was another opportunity to get together and discuss safety, which we already do on a weekly basis with our toolbox talk program.

What hazards and safety procedures are you covering during those toolbox talks?

We have a pretty intense personal protective equipment program, so we discuss PPE quite a bit. On the shop floor, every worker has to wear a hard hat, safety glasses and steel-toed boots. We have certain areas that require ear protection, and we also require kevlar gloves and sleeves when workers handle wire mesh or similar materials. Earlier this year, we participated in OSHA’s Falls Stand-Down for the third year in a row. Even though our workers aren’t too far off the ground, we want to make it clear that falls are a serious risk even at five or six feet.

Are there any other initiatives you use to increase worker health and safety at the plant?

Because of all the emphasis we put on safety, we don’t have many recordables. In one recent stretch, we went from December to August of the following year without one. So we track near misses, and at the end of every month we gather everyone together and discuss the top three types of near misses for that month. We’ve tried to build safety into everything we do. It’s even reflected in our job titles. For example, my boss is our Vice President of Quality and Safety. We believe it’s important for workers to see that in our minds, quality and safety go together.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this new series featuring LIUNA signatory contractors going above and beyond to keep members safe and healthy on the job. If you’d like to have your company be part of this series, reach out to us by emailing lifelines@lhsfna.org.

[Nick Fox]