For most survey crews, safe work practices such as carrying relevant material safety data sheets (MSDS), wearing hard hats and reflective safety vests, avoiding insect and snake bites, and protecting themselves from exposure to the elements are just common sense. Or are they?
According to Gary Kent, PLS, who is involved with surveyor training, consulting, coaching, mentoring, client account management and project management for The Schneider Corp. in Indianapolis, no one should make any assumptions when it comes to safety.
“I’ve given safety presentations at conferences where surveyors in the audience didn’t even know what an MSDS was, and that’s disappointing,” he says. “Business owners have a moral responsibility to provide a safe work environment for their employees, and that means implementing an appropriate safety program with adequate training.”
Safety has always been a key part of Schneider’s corporate culture. The surveying, engineering and GIS firm prides itself on its safety record and its approach to protecting the well-being of its employees. But the company’s formal safety program didn’t start taking shape until seven years ago, when two of its largest clients in the construction field began increasing their safety requirements.
“It got to be a significant amount of work to keep up with what they were asking--such as developing a separate safety plan for every different project when we might have six projects going on at once,” Kent explains. “So we hired a person to develop our safety program.”
Under the guidance of the safety manager, Schneider invested substantial resources to develop a comprehensive approach that encompassed training, standardized safety practices, a warning and discipline system for multiple violations, and unannounced site visits to ensure that safety policies were being followed in the field. The firm’s efforts went a long way toward helping the company secure bids with demanding contractors as well as reducing the number of injuries sustained by employees.
Schneider’s owners and managers viewed the program as a win-win from both an employee protection and business perspective. So when an increasing number of construction firms in the Indianapolis region began participating in the Metropolitan Indianapolis Coalition for Construction Safety (MICCS) certification program, it just made sense for Schneider to follow suit. In 2005, Schneider became the first engineering and surveying firm to gain certification by the nonprofit safety organization, and in June 2008, the company passed the three-year audit required to remain MICCS certified.
“Had we not already been so rigorous in our safety efforts, the MICCS certification would have been a huge ordeal,” Kent says. “But because we had a good safety program in place, the certification really just fit in with many of the things we were doing already.”
Stringent Safety Standards
Formed in 1996 by several large construction firms in Indianapolis, MICCS is dedicated to achieving zero injuries on construction jobsites by promoting the adoption of stringent safety-related industry standards. Its members--as “participating,” “qualified” or “MICCS certified” contractors--include construction companies, users of construction services (owners), design professionals, and construction-related organizations and companies.
Any firm in the Indianapolis region that is interested in improving its safety performance can be a participating member of MICCS. To progress to qualified status, companies must have an experience modification rate (EMR) less than or equal to the national EMR contractor average of 1.00. (The EMR is a workers’ compensation insurance safety performance factor based on three years of loss [injury] experience compared to similar businesses of a similar size.) They must also have a three-year total recordable incident rate (TRIR) and a three-year Division of Applied Research and Technology (DART) score equal to or less than the national average.
Certification under MICCS is an extremely rigorous process that currently requires an EMR equal to or less than 0.9, a three-year TRIR and DART score equal to or less than 80 percent of the national average, and a comprehensive safety program review score (SPRS) greater than 75. (The SPRS is an online document that must be completed by the firm applying for certification. It provides detailed information about where in the company’s safety program or other document specific program information can be found, and it can take more than 40 hours to complete.) As the final step, a firm must also pass a third-party home office audit to become MICCS certified (see Figure 1, p. 32).
Many of MICCS’s standards are more stringent than the rules and regulations implemented by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Few firms are able to progress to the certified level. But those that are able to achieve certification reap significant benefits. Becoming a “MICCS-certified company” means that a company’s safety performance is among the top 20 percent of construction companies in the nation, which makes those firms more likely to be selected in bids where high safety standards are paramount. It also streamlines the prequalification process for many projects: Instead of owners hiring safety professionals to pore over each contractor’s safety statistics and programs, they can instead view validated safety statistics and information in mere seconds on exhaustive audits MICCS conducts on each participating company. For surveying and engineering firms, this simplification substantially reduces the amount of documentation required.
“Having MICCS certification is like having a Good Housekeeping Seal on a product,” says Jack Wolfe, recruiting and safety specialist for Schneider. “It tells subcontractors that the prequalification doesn’t have to be that in-depth−we’re already going above and beyond what any project requires for safety qualifications.”
The honor of being MICCS certified is reserved for those companies whose safety records and programs are extraordinary, and MICCS raises the bar every year in its efforts to reduce jobsite injuries to zero. But as MICCS notes on its Web site, “This critical goal can only be achieved by pushing us harder and harder to change the culture of our industry from believing that ‘accidents will happen’ to ‘accidents are unacceptable.’”
Putting Safety into Practice
As an MICCS-certified partner, Schneider puts a substantial emphasis on safety training and awareness. All new employees in every area of the company must participate in an orientation, which includes a safety overview. Every employee must sign a form stating that he or she has received and reviewed the company’s comprehensive safety manual, which is updated and reissued every year. Many of Schneider’s employees have completed OSHA’s 10-hour safety training, and the company’s goal is to have all of its employees complete the training in the next few years. Monthly corporate newsletters and weekly e-mails regularly highlight safety topics. Additionally, all survey crews must attend a weekly safety toolbox meeting to discuss issues such as road safety, weather awareness, first aid and CPR, and other relevant topics. Violations of safety policies incur verbal and written warnings and, if necessary, disciplinary action. Personal responsibility is paramount. “The company is doing everything it can on a corporate level to keep our employees safe. But ultimately, safety is every individual’s responsibility,” Wolfe says.
Implementing such a comprehensive program hasn’t been easy or cheap; besides the MICCS fees (which range from $400 to $600 per year, depending on participation level and membership status), Schneider has invested thousands of dollars into its safety program over the years. But Kent and Wolfe say that the payback has been substantial. As an increasing number of construction firms in the Indianapolis region have begun to focus heavily on safety, Schneider has remained well positioned to win bids on new projects. The company’s certification status allows it to use the MICCS logo on employee hats, T-shirts and other items, which has been a positive marketing tool. The firm has reduced its costs by streamlining its prequalification process for many project bids, and maintaining a low EMR (well below the 0.9 MICCS standard) has allowed Schneider to keep its workmen’s compensation and health insurance costs in check.
Most importantly, while Schneider has grown significantly in the years since it first implemented the program, its employees have had minimal safety-related incidents--despite working in numerous active construction sites and other hazardous areas. For Schneider, this benefit is paramount. “We’re certainly interested in doing what we can to reduce our costs,” Kent says. “But our people, our employees, come first.”
“An accident is a random act that happens to someone who’s put at risk,” Wolfe adds. “We’re asking our employees to put themselves at risk every day when they go out on the jobsite, whether that’s getting behind the wheel of a truck and driving out to the site or actually working on a construction site. So we have to provide them with the appropriate training and protective equipment to minimize their risk.”
A Positive Safety Paradigm
MICCS is a unique organization. To date, no other region in the United States has a similar safety certification program driven by the construction industry. But Kent believes it’s only a matter of time. “I would be very surprised if this idea doesn’t catch on. I suspect that similar organizations will be formed in other areas as companies see the success of this program in reducing injuries and fatalities,” he says.
If that happens, many surveying, engineering and construction firms will need to redouble their safety efforts. “If you’re not proactive in understanding and implementing all the safety requirements, then you’ll likely have to spend a considerable amount of time and money to qualify for future projects,” Kent says.
Ultimately, however, Kent and Wolfe believe that the MICCS certification--or any formal safety certification--is just a label.
“It all boils down to how serious you’re going to be when it comes to safety,” Kent says. “Having the MICCS certification is nice, but before we were even MICCS certified, we were still following many of the same practices. The MICCS certification is just a stamp of approval. Even if we didn’t have that certification, I don’t think it would change how we run our program and how concerned we are about employee safety. As an employer, it’s our responsibility to provide a safe workplace for our employees. Any company of any size should have the same attitude.”
For more information, visit www.miccs.org, miccscertification.org, www.schneidercorp.com or www.osha.gov.