A few years ago, Waunakee Remodeling had a very limited safety program in place.
“There was no coordinator. There was no training as such. We just provided some harnesses for the guys and said, ‘Hey, go use them,’” says Frank Wetzel, safety coordinator for the Wisconsin-based home improvement company.
That changed in late 2010 after the company was fined for lack of fall protection and improper use of ladders by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
“An OSHA inspector happened to drive by, take a photo and then the next thing we know we got a phone call and a letter saying we weren’t in compliance and this is what it would cost in fines, and what we had to do,” Wetzel says.
OSHA, or the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, was created by the Labor Department to ensure safe working conditions for employees through the establishment and enforcement of job safety standards, which can be realized through training, outreach, education and assistance.
Establishing a safety program to ensure the company followed OSHA safety regulations in compliance, signage and record keeping became a matter of need after that. In tandem with the company’s human resources department, Waunakee Remodeling decided to enlist a man with field experience to establish and coordinate a safety program.
“The company felt we could get the guys more in compliance if someone actually had done what they are doing,” Wetzel says.
Wetzel, who has been working in the remodeling industry for about 36 years, has a degree in marketing and design, but started out in the industry as a carpenter, then ran his own company for 10 years before moving to Waunakee Remodeling. To transition from the carpentry design department to the safety coordinator position, Wetzel underwent a 30-hour training program created by OSHA, which is part of the United States Department of Labor.
As safety coordinator, Wetzel manages the safety program at Waunakee Remodeling. He coordinates a monthly safety meeting for employees to train them on OSHA-related issues, such as fall protection, harnesses and ropes, and how to meet OSHA standards. He also goes out in the field every week to inspect job sites, looks for new ways to improve the company’s handling of materials to help keep employees safe on the job, and deals with OSHA-related questions or issues. He estimates each employee receives a few hours of safety-related training each month.
Periodically, Wetzel brings in speakers to train employees on important issues as well. For example, at a recent meeting, Wetzel called in the OSHA expert from their insurance provider to teach employees about the Hazard Communication Standard, or HazCom, switchover from Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to Global Harmonized System (GHS), an international system used to classify and label chemicals. Employees in the industry have to be trained in this area by Dec. 1.
“I brought in an expert and had him do the actual training, the definition of terms, the recognition and what to look for,” Wetzel says. “Since the guys see me on a weekly basis, having another voice, another face in front of them, is really is a great way of doing training.”
Hiring a safety coordinator and taking steps to adhere to OSHA standards reduces fines related to non-compliances issues and costs associated with work-related injuries—especially in the construction industry. According to OSHA, of the 3945 worker fatalities reported in 2012, 775 or 19.6 percent were in construction. Three out of five of those deaths were attributed to falls, being struck by an object, electrocution and caught-in/between.
But more important, according to Wetzel, is that his position helps create an environment that keeps employees safe.
“The initial investment in safety programs and in training guys, getting them to do things differently than they’ve done all their lives—that costs money, but it can be easily offset by one or two people not getting hurt,” Wetzel says. “It’s a cliché, but safety doesn’t cost, it pays.”
Since Waunakee Remodeling established a safety-compliance program, the company has reduced the number of work-related injuries in half, from 25 reported in 2011 to 12 last year. But changing the mindset of employees about work safety has not been easy, Wetzel says.
“You get a lot of pushback from guys that have done this all their lives and have never been hurt,” Wetzel says. “The optimist says great, you’ve never been hurt; the pessimist says, you’re due. That can get tough, but you have to stick with it because eventually guys see it paying dividends and notice that it really doesn’t take as much time as they think to do a job safely. [The training] starts to work, and that can be really gratifying.” –Amalia Deligiannis
Read these other stories related to staying compliant with OSHA: