Volume 45, Issue 10 - October 2010


Glazing Contractors Share Jobsite Safety Tips, and Concerns
by Megan Headley and Ellen Rogers

Even as construction jobsites are seeing fewer fatal work injuries (see “BLS Report Shows Decrease in Number of Private Construction Fatalities,” on page 26), glazing contractors received a stark reminder that safety should be a primary focus on every jobsite. On August 30, a 49-year-old glazier with Swanson Glass, suffered a fatal head injury on a jobsite in Iowa (see “Iowa Glazier Dies on Jobsite,” on page 25).

Jobsite safety training can take a variety of forms, with the most critical aspect being regular reminders and updated training for all employees.

Employee Training
For the glaziers with Massey’s Plate Glass & Aluminum, headquartered in Branford, Conn., every job begins with a safety talk. “Before we start we go over the job-specific hazard analysis,” says Phil Delise, vice president of Massey’s. “Once we put that together we assemble the troops. When we get on the job we go through, not only the safety protocol, but also the material safety data sheets (MSDS), and then we get into the more job-specific potential hazards.”

For the projects on which Massey’s employees work—as with any commercial glazing contractor working on high-rises—falls are the most common risk. “Based on the [building] layout you might have high hazard areas where you can’t get a boom lift in where you have to potentially work with coming up with a custom tie-off system,” Delise says.
Although many commercial projects are unique, training on the most common safety hazards—fall hazards being chief among them—should be a regular occurrence.

“We have several training programs that are ongoing,” says Ted Derby of LCG Facades, a glazing contractor in Salt Lake City, Utah. Among them, LCG takes advantage of a safety training program sponsored by the local chapter of the Associated General Contractors. “They have a pretty good program, especially for our jobsite superintendents,” Derby says. “They do safety training on an off-site basis … and they’ll guide the rest of us through what they learn.”

Accurate Glass Works, a glazing contractor in Boca Rotan, Fla., also relies on employees to disseminate safety training. “We also rely on our veteran employees to conduct specialized [training] on glass handling, such as the importance of wearing gloves every time you touch glass, even if the edges are polished,” says Bill Parker, general manager for Accurate Glass. Parker adds that the company offers weekly “toolbox talks” on safety, as well as training on CPR, first-aid and OSHA courses.

Danny Davis, principal of the subcontractor Arrow Glass & Mirror in Austin, Texas, says his company’s safety manager is responsible for attending OSHA classes and trainings and then scheduling training with field employees.

“We make sure [employees] are trained on all of the equipment we use, such as harnesses, lifts, etc. The safety manager is also responsible for documenting the training and making sure that training is part of our standard operating procedures (SOPs),” Davis says.

Dave Nohr, president of Glassworks in Muskego, Wis., says his glass installation company works closely with vendors that offer certifications and/or training on various equipment types such as forklifts and scaffolding.

“We utilize those vendor relationships,” Nohr says. He adds that they provide a higher base rate of pay for those employees who are certified. “The certifications also have to be maintained continually.”

LCG works proactively with OSHA to ensure there are no hazards in its fabrication areas. “We invite OSHA [representatives] to come to our shop and our fabrication facility—and they will do that at no charge—and make a recommendation list of things that need to be corrected. Once we’ve made the corrections we invite them back to inspect so that we can have those safety inspections logged in with OSHA and become part of a support approach rather than a negative experience,” Derby says. “We try and do that every six months.”

Accurate Glass provides employees with a safety manual that covers general construction worksite safety as well as areas specific to glass. “Our number-one rule is that every job is a hard-hat job,” Parker says.

"When we get on the job we go through, not only the safety protocol, but also the material safety data sheets (MSDS), and then we get into the more job-specific potential hazards."
—Phil Delise, Massey’s Plate Glass

Incentives for Safety
While regular training should keep jobsite safety awareness fresh on glaziers’ minds, some companies and industry organizations go further in promoting safety awareness.

For example, in 2005 the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), its signatory employers and the Painters and Allied Trades Labor Management Cooperative Initiative (LMCI) launched a program with the goal of instilling a new culture of safety in the workplace. 

“It’s called STAR: Safety, Training, Awards, Recognition. Basically it’s an incentive based program funded by the LMCI and our employers to reward workers for attending advanced safety training classes and maintaining a safe jobsite record in the workplace,” says Kevin LaRue, administrator, Painters & Allied Trades – LMCI. “Those who meet both of those criteria are invited to attend an awards ceremony at the end of the program year where they’re eligible to win a number of very nice prizes.”

LaRue adds, “It’s a win-win situation for everybody: our workers are safer on the jobsite and have the opportunity to get rewarded for it with some great prizes, and our employers enjoy a better bottom line since they’re seeing a reduction in costs such as workers’ compensation claims.”

When Massey’s Plate Glass’ employees go a month without injuries, the company offers incentives to keep them focused.

“On the larger projects especially where we have anywhere from 15 to 35 guys working, we have Massey paraphernalia that we like to hand out …” Delise points out, “We try to isolate that to a person that’s demonstrated [safe behavior] based on feedback from the foreman.”

Not all contractors are quick to latch on to these types of programs.

“We’ve talked about doing that but at this point we haven’t offered anything at this point,” Derby says. “We have a real high expectation that we’ll work safe, I guess.”

Some federal government officials have gone a step further by publicly airing concerns that incentive programs can promote a less safe environment, by rewarding workers for not reporting workplace injuries or illnesses. A November 2009 report on injury and illness recordkeeping from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) stated, “… These programs can discourage workers from reporting injuries and illnesses … in addition to missing the chance to win prizes for themselves, workers who report injuries and illnesses may risk ruining their coworkers’ chances of winning such prizes.”

Focusing on employees who have demonstrated particularly safe behavior—rather than the lack of reported injuries alone—can be one way to make these incentive programs work well.

The GAO report also stated, “… Because employers’ workers’ compensation premiums increase with higher injury and illness rates, employers may be reluctant to record injuries and illnesses. They also said businesses sometimes hire independent contractors to avoid the requirement to record workers’ injuries and illnesses because they are not required to record them for self-employed individuals. Stakeholders also told us employers may not record injuries and illnesses because having high injury and illness rates can affect their ability to compete for contracts for new work. The injury and illness rate for worksites in certain industries, such as construction, affects some employers’ competitiveness in bidding on the same work.”

That specifically occurs as a company’s experience modification rating (Mod) moves further above 1.0—the rating, calculated by organizations such as the National Council on Compensation Insurance, compares a company’s workers’ compensation claims to employers of a similar size in that industry.

Return to Work
When a loss-time injury does occur on a jobsite, many glazing contractors institute a return-to-work program that allows the employee to take on some duties and allow the employer to remain productive—and lower workers compensation costs.

“These are individually based upon what the physician tells us, such as a light work load,” says Nohr. “So the employee will be on a light work duty until the doctor tells us otherwise.”

Davis agrees. “Employees would go on a light-duty program until they are able to be back in full,” he says.
“We work with our insurance company on this and they work directly with the doctors on when the employees can resume work,” Parker says.

“It’s on a per-case basis,” Delise says of Massey’s program. “If we’re told that this person is available for light duty, we have to evaluate what that light duty restrictions are.”

Workers’ compensations claims can be a significant burden, especially for smaller companies, but should be reported immediately to the insurance company.

“It’s important to have a program in place and a safety director and to make sure everyone follows the rules,” Nohr says. “If you have a worker’s comp claim, don’t treat it lightly; immediately report it to the insurance company and follow their guidelines, because if you don’t then your liability just expands. Also be sure and follow through on the physician’s orders.”

Delise adds, “Our insurance carrier has a program where they would investigate any claims that are potentially questionable.”

Some installers may work with specialized groups, through their insurance provider or independently, that will “manage” a jobsite injury and any ensuing workers compensation claim. While these groups can be a resource for safety training and help reduce compensation costs, some see this as another path toward pressuring workers to under-report illness or injury.

“Like all consultants in every industry, some are better than others,” comments Lyle Hill, president of MTH Industries in Chicago. “Most good insurance companies have their own field investigators and they typically do an outstanding job … mostly because it’s usually going to be their money that gets spent.

“The bigger the underwriting insurance company, the better the investigators are going to be and typically the more aggressive, as well. They won’t waste much time on small claims but will work very hard (and creatively, I might add) to mitigate losses on a potentially large claim,” he adds.

Regular Updates
Delise offered a suggestion for reducing minor jobsite injuries based on research the company has done. “We’re finding out approximately 35 to 40 percent of the injuries we’re accounting have to do with some sort of stretching … where people were not in the position to properly move and lift,” he explains.

“One thing we’ve been trying to move toward with contractors [is a] … program where, when you start the job in the morning, everybody goes out and they do a stretching program, and that’s how they start the day. Now they’re alert, now they’re awake, they’re stretched and they’re ready to start the job.”

The downside, Delise says, is that the costs for reduced work time take off the company’s competitive edge when it comes time to bid. Still, he continues to recommend the program to GC’s and fellow subs alike.

Davis advises ensuring that employees are really using the information. “Have a safety manual for employees to read and sign off on that they truly comprehend what it says; daily safety updates are important as well. You want employees to understand that they are important and you don’t want them getting hurt,” he says.


Iowa Glazier Dies on Jobsite
Tom Fosdick of Swanson Glass, a commercial glazing contractor based in Des Moines, passed away on September 1 as a result of a head injury sustained on a jobsite on August 30. He was 49.

According to an article in the Press-Citizen, Fosdick died as a result of a fall while working on renovations to the University of Iowa Boyd Law Building.

The Press-Citizen article also reported that the general contractor on the project, Miron Construction, has a record of 19 workplace safety violations with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). A search of OSHA records found no such violations for Swanson Glass or KAS Investment, its Rochester, Minn.-based parent company.

KAS notes on its website, “Employee safety has been a leading point of emphasis for KAS Investment Co. since opening its doors 30 years ago. It is the policy of KAS to strive for the highest safety standards on our projects and in our shop facilities.”

As of press time, a representative from KAS had not responded to USGlass’ request for comment on the details surrounding the accident.

BLS Report Shows Decrease in Number of Private Construction Fatalities
Are workplaces and jobsites becoming safer? Possibly. According to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), preliminary results of its 2009 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) saw 4,340 fatal work injuries, down from 5,214 fatal work injuries in 2008. The BLS says the 2009 total represents the smallest annual preliminary total since the CFOI program was first conducted in 1992.

The construction industry, specifically, also saw declines last year in terms of fatalities. The report notes that while construction workers incurred the most fatal injuries of any industry in the private sector in 2009, the number of fatalities in construction declined 16 percent after a decline of 19 percent in 2008. However the BLS reports that economic conditions may explain much of this decline, as the total hours worked declined 17 percent in construction in 2009, after a decline of 10 percent the year before.

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