Risky Business

December 1, 2010
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The ability to complete projects with one-person crews raises its own safety concern. KS Associates’ safety program addresses this issue as well as other situations.


It’s a project manager’s worst nightmare--an employee becomes seriously injured on the job. Although accidents can happen to anyone, the goal is always prevention.

Seven years ago, when Mark A. Yeager, PS, director of surveying services for KS Associates, learned that a colleague had been injured on a construction site, he went into action. The Elyria, Ohio-based civil engineering and land surveying firm had always been safety-conscious, but a review of safety policies revealed that improvements could be made. Yeager, along with other company leaders, decided to implement a more comprehensive and updated safety program that would provide specific guidance to field crews. “We started by establishing a safety committee that included field surveyors and project managers,” Yeager says. “We brainstormed and held in-depth conversations about safety issues, and we developed a list of the top concerns in surveying safety, specifically.”

These concerns formed the framework of a new field safety manual that would evolve over time to address the requirements of the many types of jobsites that the KS team encounters. However, finding the appropriate resources and implementing the resulting policies required research, creativity and communication among KS managers and employees. In other words, creating a successful safety program has been anything but accidental.

A KS Associates surveyor enters an underground sewer, for which specialized confined-space safety training was required.

Being Resourceful

An initial search for surveying-related safety documentation and policies that could be implemented in the firm’s safety manual revealed little. “Surveyors deal with a wide variety of situations every day, but there aren’t many materials available that are specific to the surveying industry from a safety standpoint,” Yeager says. “We found plenty of materials for construction or traffic safety, which was a good starting point, but then adapted those materials to address our surveyors’ working environments and our firm’s needs.”

KS Associates turned to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC), which provides a variety of health- and safety-related programs and services to employers at no extra cost. Through a BWC library in Columbus, KS Associates was able to access numerous safety videos as well as sample policies, magazines and newsletters containing practical information that could be applied to surveying operations. The firm also tapped into BWC’s online resources and training programs.

For information pertaining to roadways, airports and railroads, KS Associates drew from materials compiled by agencies such as the Ohio Department of Transportation. And for guidance and interpretation on federal policies and regulations, the firm researched the OSHA Web site and called the local Cleveland OSHA office to ask specific questions. “A significant amount of research has been put forth in developing our safety manual. And, it’s a living document; we’re constantly adding to it as we find new resources and encounter new situations,” says Amanda Clancy, KS Associates’ human resource manager.

For example, working in and around water, in confined spaces and on hazardous waste sites has required the firm to implement specialized safety training and add corresponding documentation to the manual. “Anytime we are awarded a new project, we strategize to determine what safety needs we will have,” Yeager says. “Sometimes those needs are unknown until we physically visit the jobsite, but at least we’re always prepared as much as possible.”

The KS safety manual is just part of the firm’s overall safety program, albeit an important one. Monthly safety meetings provide opportunities to view safety videos, discuss subjects of interest and gain an in-depth understanding of how to handle situations that might be encountered in the field. Here, too, the firm uses every available resource--including calling on experts that can offer insight. “At one time we invited a police officer to present on surveying in an urban environment,” Yeager explains. “It’s one thing to show a video, but when you have a police officer with 20 years of experience giving real scenarios and getting surveyors involved in role playing, it has a lasting impact.”

The information provided during that session was subsequently added to the field manual in a section on urban safety.

Social media has been another useful tool. “For some topics, a 30-minute safety video isn’t available or desired,” Clancy says. “We’ve found helpful and interesting videos on YouTube and other online resources that we share during our safety meetings. These videos really focus on a topic and are a more interactive, effective way of relaying the safety message.”

Positive Reinforcement

Of course, relaying the message is just one part of the equation. Ensuring that safety procedures are followed in the field is ultimately what determines the success of the program. To encourage active participation, KS Associates empowers its employees to provide feedback about field conditions. “If a job site is different than what was anticipated, our surveyors know they have the right to call a time-out and stop what they’re doing, and they’ll have management’s support in that decision,” Yeager explains. “We then reassess the situation and develop a new game plan to address the safety needs.”

Yeager and other managers also make unannounced jobsite visits and conduct safety spot checks. Although the primary purpose of such visits is to make sure safety measures are being implemented--such as the correct use of safety cones, or wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment--they also serve a valuable secondary purpose. “With the advances of technology, we’re primarily operating one- and two-person surveying crews,” Yeager says. “The fact that we come out to visit lets the surveyors know that they’re not alone out there and that we’re thinking about them. If an issue arises that isn’t even safety related, we’re able to address it right then and there. The visits provide an element of care and connection as well as safety.”

Yeager believes there has been a shift in thinking on the part of the KS survey crews. “People tend to take safety for granted, especially when they have years of experience under their belts,” he says. “There was some reluctance at first to implement all of the procedures outlined in our safety program. But, over time, our employees began to see the value in it and understand that safety is something we take seriously. I think they appreciate that.”

KS Associates develops a safety strategy for every new project, whether it involves tunnel access, airport runway work or other environments.

A Winning Strategy

KS Associates’ efforts have paid off. In October, the firm was honored for the fifth consecutive year by The Lorain County Chamber of Commerce Safety Council for reporting no lost-time injuries for the entire year. KS Associates also received the Special Award, which is given to companies that reach the 500,000 mark for the number of injury-free hours worked (including full time, part time and overtime hours). Reaching these benchmarks has allowed the firm to achieve group rating status with the Ohio BWC--a move that provides a significant cost savings.

Far more important, however, is that the firm now has a proactive strategy in place to help protect its workers. “Employees are our number one asset,” Clancy says. “Keeping them safe, healthy and happy ultimately allows us to serve our clients in the best possible manner. Safety is, and will continue to be, one of KS Associates’ top priorities.” 

For more information about KS Associates, visit www.ksassociates.com.

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