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Work Zone Safety Week 2020 – In the Time of Covid-19

Despite the sharp drop in traffic volume, work zone activity does not relent. And it remains as dangerous as ever. Distracted or impaired drivers are still on the road. In our role as highway workers, the risk is clear and unmistakable.

We have tried to educate and inform our staff about these risks. Most of us have a distinct appreciation for the hazard. It starts with basic Defensive Driving and Defensive Positioning. When we are outside the vehicle in a highway setting, the risk is amplified exponentially. We know that a protective distance and position is our best defense when boots are on the ground.

Achieving this protection is easy to say, hard to practice. Each year there are triple digit fatalities in and around work zones of all types. They are uniformly preventable by workers and motorists.

Our society is basically suffering from two illnesses. The Covid Pandemic is the 800 lb. gorilla in the room right now. But it will recede eventually. The other illness is more insidious – poor driving skills by motorists, focused on all kinds of things, except Defensive Driving.

 This illness is going to be a lot harder to control. In the rather sterile parlance of the US DOT, the class of “Unprotected Highway Users” includes pedestrian, bicyclists, motorcyclists, and US. Highway work zone ‘boots on the ground.’ The statistics for this class of ‘highway users’ are heading north at an eye-popping rate.

Symptoms of this illness include: oversized vehicles, cheap gas, distractions, generous speed limits, and poor driving skills. The result is pretty hair-raising for a pedestrian. Most of whom are not exactly blameless in this picture: wearing dark clothing, looking at their cell phone, bikes encroaching into travel lanes, etc. The end result is not good.

In summary, we know what the cure for this illness is. Defensive driving, high-visibility apparel, defensive positioning, focused attention on the driving equation, and a few other situational survival skills. Boring as they are, that’s the medicine. We can beat the Covid. That’s already in the works. The other illness is going to a lot harder to treat.

This week we remember the Highway Workers who sacrificed their lives in the interest of keeping roads safe. Their memory should inspire us to practice safety skills in all walks of life.

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O&M IS Critical Infrastructure

During these times of uncertainty, we have all heard the call from our respective Governors about “critical industries” such as healthcare and first responders. Our infrastructure is also “critical”. As for Maintenance: Rust doesn’t stop, potholes still form, debris doesn’t stop building up, trash and debris continues to accrue. As for Operations: the trucks, busses and automobiles that keep it all moving are still out there. Motorists will need our help, meaning the Safety Service Patrol (or whatever it is called in your state) must continue – all while maintaining our “social distancing”. Electronic tolling is increased, as most states have removed human toll takers due to the obvious concerns with viral transmission.

We have noticed that while automobile traffic has subsided, truck traffic is still present, if not increasing. Our clients have seen this lower traffic volume overall and decided to take advantage of the lower traffic volumes by INCREASING the amount of preventive maintenance by extending or lifting lane closure restrictions.

While future state budgets will undoubtedly be affected, we must continue to maintain our assets, even during an impending budget crunch. If not, as we have seen time and again, the cost to play catch up will be multiple times the cost of doing it right while we can.

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Pillar Partners With Rose-Hulman Ventures

Rose-Hulman Ventures recently featured PILLAR and reviewed our patented salinity measurement device, SAM. PILLAR President Mark Boenke, shares his expertise on how SAM will reduce harmful salt usage on public roads and highways. Boenke partnered with Rose-Hulman Ventures back in 2017 when PILLAR was trying to find the best materials to use for the SAM device that would not be damaged by the highly corrosive saltwater. SAM was first developed by Mark’s daughter, Bridget, as her high school senior year science fair project!

SAM is a salinity measurement device that reads the salt concentration, via electrical conductivity, in the water spraying off of the salt spreader’s back tire. If the salt concentration levels are too low to prevent the forming of black ice, the driver is notified to apply more salt. If concentration levels are adequate, the driver is notified that no additional salt is needed.

PILLAR hopes to bring SAM to the market by 2021. Be sure to check back in for updates on SAM’s release and all of PILLAR’s projects!

Read the full article.

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Keep Control of the “Fatal Four” At Your Jobsite

John Meola, PILLAR’s Safety Director was recently published in Construction Business Owner Magazine providing insight on the fatal four dangers that plague your job sites & how to avoid them.

Read the full article here.

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Top 10 Ways of Safely Getting Through The Day (and Life)

It’s as tough of a job as it is an important one – each year the National Safety Council tries to make a dent in the collective consciousness of America by celebrating “Safety Awareness Week.”

Because safety is often forgotten until we wish we remembered it, we should applaud this effort and practice a constant focus on safety in all aspects of daily living.

Consider the following top 10 list of ways you can help protect you, your family and others.

  1. Put the phone down: Does it seem like a good idea to be watching funny Facebook videos while driving 65 mph down the highway? No? Then you probably shouldn’t do it – it may even keep you from becoming a hood ornament. Call us old fashioned, but we even like to go up and down the stairs or cross the street while keeping our eyes looking at where our feet are taking us.
  2. Get noticed: Wear a high-visibility garment or article of bright color when you’ll be in close proximity of moving vehicles or machinery. This means you, pedestrians, joggers, dog walkers, or parents pushing strollers. Make it difficult for motorists to NOT see you. At least give your family estate attorney the leverage to say, “How could you not see them? They were wearing an outrageously bright safety vest!”
  3. Watch your step: The “slip & fall” accident category is the number-one cause of insurance claims around the world. Walking and using stairs properly are not automatic – concentrate while on the attic stairs, front stoop, driveway, and sidewalk.
  4. Sleight of hand: We work with our hands, so it’s no surprise hand and finger injuries are so common both on and off the job site. Safety authorities have issued rules for workers to use proper gloves, but the average Joe is not included in these requirements. Be aware of where you stick your hands and make sure the kids don’t play with doors or objects such as hinges, linkages, bicycle chains, etc. Even seemingly mundane acts can be dangerous. An ER doctor in San Diego wrote a book about safety – his worst hand offense was putting stuff in the dishwasher. Take no act for granted when it comes to safety.
  5. The eyes have it: Another common avoidable incident is eye and face injuries from foreign objects, such as hammering a nail, etc. Even a pair of reading glasses or sunglasses are helpful should a stick come flying at your face while mowing the lawn. A pair of impact-resistant, safety-rated, wraparound glasses – costing about $3 – can save you a lot of misery. It’s a small investment to not ruin your eyesight. Avoid the overuse of tinted lenses in low light conditions.
  6. Drive defensively: You can’t control what other people are doing in their vehicles, but you can make sure you’re paying attention to their poor driving. Use seat belts. Don’t be distracted. Leave at least four seconds of distance between you and the car in front of you. Use extra caution on two-lane, undivided highways – they’re at the top of the car crash food chain. Pay attention at intersections, not assuming that Mr. or Mrs. Jones is going to actually stop at that stop sign.
  7. DIY FYIs: “Do it yourself” efforts can potentially save you money, but they can also cost you your health and a trip to the emergency room. Whether we’re talking about projects in the yard or home, pay someone to do it if you don’t have the knowledge or skillset. You’ll feel better about spending money for a job well done than you will for a medical bill after a job went wrong.
  8. The calm after the storm: When storms hit, call the authorities rather than breaking out the chainsaw and trying to take care of it on your own. Trees down, electric lines, flooding, and other storm damages require homeowners to tread carefully and cautiously. Here’s a time to pick UP the phone rather than being a hero.
  9. OSHA Focus Four: The safety experts at Occupational Safety and Health Administration worked overtime to identify the top four fatal incidents: falls from heights; electrocution; struck by (practically anything); and caught in or between. The first two are fairly self-explanatory, while the second two are broader. Think of hazards in your driveway, highway work zones, mechanical pinch points, and using long-handled tools in low-clearance areas.
  10. Take a dip in safety: Precaution and common sense can make the difference between life and death around pools and bodies of water. The list includes proper supervision of children; avoiding alcohol; ensure life jackets are on watercraft; avoid being on or near water at night; make sure electrical appliances have a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI); and locking gates and fences around pools.

After a top 10 list of safety concerns, it may seem like life is too dangerous to enjoy safely. This is untrue, of course. All you have to do is pay attention to potential risks, starting from the moment your feet hit the floor beside the bed.

Have a great Safety Week as an introduction to a Safe Summer!

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Top 10 safety rules for the end of summer

John Meola, PILLAR’s Safety Director, penned an article for the Richmond Times-Dispatch discussing safety rules motorist should be aware of as summer comes to an end. 

Read the full article here.

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Safety Should Not Take Days Off of Work

The safety measures a company puts in place tend to be taken for granted. That is until an accident occurs and the issue is brought to the forefront.

June is National Safety Month, an initiative led by the National Safety Council (NSC) to ensure “No One Gets Hurt.” The month aims to reduce the leading causes of injury and death at work, on the road and in homes and communities.

Each week of the month highlights a different aspect of safety: Week 1, emergency preparedness; Week 2, wellness; Week 3, falls; and Week 4, driving.

Prepare for the Unexpected

As news reports confirm, there are many types of emergencies we must be prepared to face in today’s workplace: active shooter situations, weather and natural disasters, terrorism incidents and medical emergencies, among others.

It’s critical for employees to be prepared to act according to your safety policies before, during and after such emergencies. Having plans in place and reviewing them with employees will help everyone get on the same page and minimize the risk of worst-case scenarios in an emergency.

Don’t Slip on Fall Prevention

Did you know that the third-leading cause of injury deaths is falls? According to the NSC, almost 32,000 people died from falls at home and work in 2014. In 2013, more than 47,000 workers were injured severely enough from falls that they required days off of work. Half of all fatal workplace falls were from 20 feet or lower, according to Injury Facts 2016®.

The good news is that falls are 100% preventable if proper safety procedures are implemented and followed. A couple of tips to keep in mind:

  • Ensure you and coworkers are properly trained on equipment.
  • Make certain stepladders have locking mechanism to hold front and back open.
  • At all times, keep either two hands and one foot or one hand and two feet on the ladder.
  • The ladder should be one foot from the surface it rests on for every four feet of height; it should also extend a minimum of three feet over the top edge.

Decrease Distracted Driving

The most proactively safe companies are going above and beyond state laws to ensure employees are not driving distracted on company time. Knowing you are four times more likely to crash when operating a cell phone, NSC maintains that any company serious about eliminating distracted driving accidents implement a cell phone ban on both hand-held and hands-free devices.

The NSC points to one Fortune 50 company with a simple phone-ban policy that covers all of the bases. It states that employees cannot use cell phones if an employee is doing any of the following:

  1. Driving a company car
  2. Operating a personal car on company business
  3. Driving on company property
  4. Using a company-supplied phone
  5. Using a personal phone for company business

Although June is designated as National Safety Month, it’s a reminder that safety procedures do not take vacations. Following safety protocol is of utmost importance to your business and its employees 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year.

PILLAR’s safety team offers innovative and cost-effective solutions for your organization’s unique needs, including job-related safety meetings, distance learning opportunities, safety records management and on-site training.

For more information on PILLAR’s safety program, contact us online or call 276.223.0500.

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Top ten safety issues for contractors

After many years in the safety-consulting business, I have heard the loud chorus of employer complaints aimed at “Why do I need to do all this stuff?” To educate the contracting community, here is a brief summary of the Top 10 safety issues for contractors.

10) “No one told me I had to train these guys.”

Correct. You will not receive an engraved invitation from anyone on this topic. However, if you decide to open a construction business, you should be perceptive enough to understand, “There are rules in this game….”

Employer responsibilities for worker safety are actually fairly straightforward and relatively simple to meet. Visit the page. There are simple tutorials available paid for by your tax dollars. You could also call a local personal-injury law firm. They’ll be glad to advise you.

9) “We are the best at what we do.”

Along with trade proficiency, your employees should also have matching safety skills depending on your line of work. Most large general contractors are increasing the contractor safety program admission criteria to bid their jobs. Just doing the job on time, on spec. and under budget is no longer enough. Proof of safety performance is necessary.

8) “Don’t blame us; we didn’t create that hazard!”

OSHA and VOSH (Virginia’s safety police department) have heard this excuse a lot. They actually have an answer for it called the Multi-Employer Worksite Policy. This doctrine basically holds all contractors on a site accountable if their employees were “exposed” to a hazard. You can be found at fault if you were just near the hazard. Your defense for this allegation is called due diligence and documented communication to the responsible parties about the hazard. In the meantime, if necessary, move your people well out of harm’s way.

7) “He’s my best guy, but he just won’t follow the safety rules.”

This statement is self-contradictory. For a tradesperson to be truly proficient, he or she will understand and adhere to applicable safety practices. You should be highly supportive of that. Your “best person” may need re-education or the exit door. Whether you realize it or not, you have a lot at risk from a rogue actor.

6) “Now my insurance company is pestering me about safety.”

Welcome to the new reality. The insurance company wrote coverage for your operation, therefore it expects you to play by the rules. Even the simplest of claims can turn ugly, so prevention is the preferred avenue of relief. Blatant non-compliance could result in revocation of coverage or big premium increases at renewal. Or you may end up in the assigned risk pool; in which case, you will regret not having done more of this safety stuff.

5) “There was nothing we could have done to prevent the accident.”

Even the most conservative appraisals classify preventable incidents in the high 90th percentile range. Most, if not all, incidents are preventable. Incident prevention is a matter of degree and commitment, but, at the end of the day, there is a simple list of must haves to gain admission. Trust me: With a little effort, you can avoid this stuff. Acts of God notwithstanding.

4) “The cost of doing all this safety stuff will put me out of business.”

When properly understood and applied, safety compliance is actually a small component of doing business. You are either in denial or misreading the safety rules. Yes, the rules can seem voluminous. Once understood, they’re actually not all that onerous.

3) “We have a good track record; we don’t need all this safety stuff.”

This is a commonly heard refrain in the safety business. The translation of this remark is, “We’ve just been lucky, that’s all.”

Reliance on your luck as a substitute for a safety program is ill-advised. Yes, most tradespersons will exercise a healthy degree of caution on the job without you lifting a management finger. But more complex work or even just driving around in the company truck deserves reciprocal attention for the risks involved. If you have employee driver fleet units, you should regularly be preaching defensive-driving practices.

2) “We are not worried about workplace violence; we got that covered.”

Not so fast. There is a lot of liability attached to the issue of workplace violence. A couple of simple maneuvers can help protect your organization and also help educate employees for prevention. We will most assuredly see a lot more emphasis on this in the near future from the authorities. Interestingly, there is currently no OSHA requirement to do anything for violence prevention. However, prudent management should step forward and define the policy and procedure.

1) “I thought all this red tape was going to be reduced.”

OSHA and the DOL may be temporarily underfunded, but the ABA and trial lawyers have the best lobbyists and wealthiest power grid on the planet. You might skate on compliance if your GC and client are sound asleep, but the legal community never rests. At least the safety police will treat you fairly depending on your transgression. Tort law and claim adjusters will be less kind.

Statistically, our population is most at risk from walking or driving to and from work as opposed to on the job. Workplace safety is ingrained into our societal DNA at this point, and regulatory compliance is largely taken for granted.

Business risk management, which includes occupational safety, has long been a monolithic field. That state of slumber is due for an awakening, and it is happening very quickly. We will examine these implications further in a future piece, but in the meantime, for additional reading, check out:

This article was originally posted by the Richmond Times Dispatch

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Managers Manage Things, Leaders Lead People

Are you still using Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) metrics as your safety standard? Do you plan on being in this business 5, 10 or 20 years from now? If you answered yes to both, you have a value conflict. Why accept some random statistical average composed of questionable data as your standard when it is more effective to create personalized best practices and performance metrics?

PILLAR’s Safety Director, John Meola was recently published in Construction Business Owner magazine discussing 3 essential elements of a world-class safety program.

Read the full article here.

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Workforce Development & Your Company Culture

Understanding your employee demographics is a key attribute in a human resources program. It is a big part of what makes your organization tick, and getting it right can make a significant impact on your bottom line. Ask yourself if you plan on being in business five years from now, or 10?

In this brief space we offer tips and truisms that can help you manage the development process in the near and mid-term. If you haven’t noticed, the Boomers are retiring and the rules-based conformity mentality is going with them. The game has changed by an order of magnitude. In other words, the days of “Theory X Boss is Right” management are history.

Adjust your HR program and management approach

According to the Supreme Court, corporations are people. This judicial-political absurdity should be reflected in things like:

  • Regular company-wide family engaging events, (summer picnics, holiday parties, etc.)
  • Employee recognition programs
  • Refined and family targeted communications, suggestion programs, enlightened HR programs and policies, etc.
  • You may have been in business for 50 years, make sure your thought processes didn’t stay stuck in the comfort zone of the 80s.

Safety programs

These are often a good place to start the process because they are pretty much neutral territory and cover a wide swath of inputs.

  • Start an Employee Safety Committee, empower it, guide it but let the employees drive. Empower and enable it.
  • Put your name and logo on safety gear. In other words, own it!
  • Quit buying the cheapest PPE available, it sends the wrong message. The difference in cost in miniscule but the branding message is priceless

Don’t try to do everything alone

Inviting stakeholders to the party will help people feel as though their voice is being heard and that they can have an impact on the company.

  • This is also known as ‘Leadership,’ which is the gold standard in the safety and workforce development business.
  • Ideally, leaders should be developed through your ranks, not the want ads.

Peer Group Dynamic

This is a powerful tool when used properly, so make sure you review this process carefully.

  • Department managers are LEADERS first
  • Lead persons and working supervisors LEAD by example. They are the face of your organization – for both employees and clients.
  • Each employee must be recognized, respected, treated fairly and valued for their contribution to the group. Setting reasonable and achievable standards of performance and conduct is a basic element of this process.

Employee wellness

Promoting a healthy lifestyle is one of your best allies in developing your company culture. This means people who are relatively healthy are usually better workers, safer on the job, more productive, take less time off and return sooner following an illness or injury. In other words:

  • Offer wellness assistance such as smoking cessation; exercise and fitness initiatives, 5K walkathon sponsorships, dietary advice and encouragement, i.e. remove the soda pop from the vending machines, replace it with some kind of hydrating beverage, etc.
  • For the enlightened of our readers, offer health club memberships or discounts.

Refine your hiring practices

Post a job description that defines the necessary criteria for a successful employee not just for the job you are trying to fill, but for the longer range.

  • Configure some questions to determine if the applicant has an aptitude for self-study, learning, advancement, promotion or learning, etc.
  • This translates to: community college course work; membership and participation in trade associations; a track record of achievement; innovation, invention, etc.
  • When you hire ‘average,’ why would you expect any other result? It’s tough to be selective in an economy with 96% employment, but unless you are desperate (not a good sign), ramp up your criteria.
  • It’s not all about the money, but obviously you need to be competitive in the wage market. The peripherals we mentioned above can make a huge difference in how your employees perceive the culture and future of the people they work for.

Accommodate non-English speaking employees

Set up a simple version of English as Second Language (ESL) teaching.

  • A half-hour a week in the breakroom with a bi-lingual instructor can set up the dynamic.
  • You are not teaching physics, just the basics. Move the classes along based on aptitude and participation.

Carefully construct a company benefits program

These can often become the quick-sand of the HR program. Your program should at least match the industry average, as meager as it is.

  • If you can afford it, offer the buy-up option. As we know, this is an expensive outlay but try to configure it to show you’re at least trying to stay in the game.
  • This is also a highly a competitive playing field so unless you’re a math expert, use a trusted advisor to configure your employee benefits program.

Summary: Stay in business and grow

What we have seen is that the ‘C Word’ (CHANGE) has become ever more critical in the overall scheme of how a business is going to succeed.

We all can’t be General Motors, but we should be managing our enterprises according to best practices. These should be pointing more toward PEOPLE in the service economy, and people want to see their reflection in their workplace, not a number or a machine.

In other words, we should be looking to HUMANIZE versus mechanize.