Demolition work is some of the most potentially hazardous work LIUNA members perform. On top of all the usual construction hazards like falls, silica dust and buried utilities, demolition work also brings the potential for building collapses and exposure to asbestos, lead, mold and other hazardous substances on site. Much of this work happens indoors or in partially enclosed spaces with less natural ventilation than work outdoors.
To find out how an experienced contractor protects the safety and health of workers from the serious hazards on demolition projects, we sat down with Precision Environmental & ProCut, a LIUNA signatory contractor based in Cleveland, Ohio. The company is involved almost exclusively in demolition and abatement work and typically employs about 150 Laborers at any given time depending on how many projects are underway.
“They work hand in glove with us to keep our Laborers safe,” said Terry Joyce, Business Manager of LIUNA Local 310 in Cleveland, Ohio. “I can’t say enough about the great partnership we have with Precision.”
It didn’t take long to find out why Local 310 and Precision work so well together. From talking to Joe DiGeronimo, Vice President of Precision Environmental & ProCut, it’s clear there’s a mutual respect and appreciation for the trained workforce LIUNA provides.
“We’ve not found any better workers than the Laborers in Cleveland. Increasingly we’re traveling with that talent to other areas,” said DiGeronimo. “Demolition and abatement has been part of Cleveland’s history for 50 years as the city has reinvented itself. Whether it’s demo work or brownfield sites, the workers are familiar with these kinds of jobs.”
On the topic of where Precision Environmental stands on worker safety and health, DiGeronimo was quick to point out that it’s always been how the company does business.
“Being from the environmental and abatement world, we’re accustomed to following strict engineering controls and using respirators on a daily basis. We’ve had a respiratory protection program for 30 years, for example,” said DiGeronimo. “It’s made us a better company and it’s better for our members. Project owners are now evaluating contractors based on how they take care of their people. General contractors want to know what your safety program is, they want to know what your training program is.”
To build and maintain that strong safety program, Precision employs four full-time safety personnel, including Ray Wiecek, Precision’s Risk Management Director.
“As safety professionals, we’re fortunate to have buy-in from the top. Our workers get first-class safety equipment – half-face and full-face respirators, PAPRs, fall protection, gloves, you name it,” said Wiecek. “We build on that with daily tailgate safety meetings around equipment like cranes and scissor lifts as well as regular refresher training on asbestos, lead, PCBs and other hazards. After our safety orientation, every new hire gets mirrored up with a more experienced worker. We’re proud to be at 700 days and counting since our last lost time injury.”
Regular toolbox talks, jobsite walkthroughs and matching personal protective equipment to the hazards present are all important parts of a strong safety and health program. However, the team at Precision is taking their program much further. These measures include:
- Pre-planning on every job: The safety team has a seat at the table before the job ever starts. Weekly and monthly safety meetings with management are an opportunity to proactively discuss potential safety issues on upcoming projects and plan around them.
- Near-miss reporting: Precision encourages workers to report near-misses, then performs root cause analysis to understand how it happened. This reporting isn’t done to place blame, but to stop potential hazards before they turn into injuries.
- Building a strong safety culture: The safety professionals at Precision know that when everyone buys in, safer jobsites are the result. That takes open, honest communication between workers, supervisors and management. Precision challenges older employers to engage with younger workers to build that sense of teamwork, and gives supervisors an open forum to voice what they need from management.
When asked for an example of how his team goes above and beyond what other companies are doing, Wiecek gave an example about near-miss reporting. “When workers take the time to fill out and submit a near-miss form, we want to recognize that. The safety team writes a detailed letter to the employee thanking them, and all four of us sign it, then we mail it to the person’s home with a gift card. We want that letter to be something they are proud to show their spouse or kids. We want them to know they work for a company that cares about their safety, and the worker is a part of that.”
Protecting the safety and health of workers on demolition jobs is no simple task. However, companies like Precision Environmental & ProCut are proving it’s possible.