This March, on a visit to Southern California, I met up with Shea Homes safety officer Rod Plunkett over breakfast at the Green River Golf Club, in Corona, Calif.
I’m not a golfer, but we weren’t there to play golf. Plunkett had invited me to hear Moe Davis teach a class on safe practices for hot-weather construction. Plunkett and Davis are founding members of the Southern California Builders Safety Alliance (SBCSA), a group of safety officials and other executives from some of California’s top builders (who, as it happens, are also some of the USA’s top builders). In that capacity, Plunkett has spent a lot of time on the jobsite, and he has a few stories of his own to tell about hot weather.
Plunkett recalled the time a Cal/OSHA inspector quizzed a worker on a Shea jobsite. “It was one of the plasterers,” said Plunkett. “He was hosing the building down to get ready to put the color coat on. And Mike Alvarez from OSHA asked him, if he needed to replenish his drinking water, did he know where he could get more water. And the guy, standing there with the hose in his hand with water coming out of it, could not figure it out.” (For the record: Stucco, like any cement product including concrete and masonry mortar, requires potable water. However, there's a trick: Most construction-duty hoses have warning labels cautioning workers that the hose is not safe for human consumption of water. The worker should trace the hose back to the spigot and refill his container there.)
If understanding is a big problem, so too is motivation. The inspiration for the SBCSA, Plunkett explained, came in a conversation between him and Davis. “Moe Davis is the insurance broker for Pardee Homes,” said Plunkett, “and he does safety inspections and training for them too. His company was our insurance broker for some years too, and he and I are good friends. Well, a few years ago there was a shortage of stackers—guys framing roofs and rolling trusses. So the stackers were coming to the jobsite and saying that if we wanted them to do fall protection, they would walk across the street where some other company was building. And everybody needed the labor, so people were turning a blind eye to safety, and doing whatever they had to, to get the labor on their site.”
“So Moe and I were talking,” said Plunkett. “And we said, if we’re working on the same side of the street and we both tell the piece workers, ‘We’re sorry, this is OSHA’s minimum standard and you are required to meet it,’ wouldn’t it be cool if they did go across the street and the other builder said the exact same thing? If the trades knew that all the builders were consistent, and they always had to perform to the same minimum OSHA standards, there wouldn’t be any games being played.”
Mitch McKibben, a consultant from Cal/OSHA, introduced Plunkett and Davis to Pulte Homes manager Brian Rusaw (now working for CalAtlantic Homes). “I invited Brian Rusaw to a Shea Homes safety council meeting, and after the meeting Moe and I told Brian about our idea, and he said he was in. So then we had Alliant, Pardee, Shea, and Pulte.” That was the beginning; since then, the Safety Alliance has grown. The roster currently includes representatives from Beazer Homes, CalAtlantic Homes, K. Hovnanian Homes, Pardee Homes, Shea Homes, Toll Brothers, Warmington Residential, Brookfield Residential, Meritage Homes, Richmond American Homes, The New Home Co., and Griffith Co. (developers of a safety management software tool called Safety Mojo).
“We took a couple of years to find our footing,” said Plunkett. But now, the group has a focused program. Each quarter, it sends two-person teams out to member jobsites to assess safety compliance in a particular phase of the job. One person makes observations; the other, armed with a tablet computer, enters data into Safety Mojo software. Back at the office, the group crunches the collected numbers from all the member sites, searching for trends and patterns.
Cal/OSHA’s early emphasis on heat injury prompted the Safety Alliance to conduct a special training on that topic in March (see "Working Safely in Hot Weather"). But the group’s own jobsite audits this spring focused on fall safety. “Through all of our observations,” said Plunkett, “everything was pointing to scaffolding as the top issue.” So in late May, the group invited builders, scaffold erectors, and all the trades that use scaffolding on the site back to the golf club for an industry-wide training session with a focus on scaffolding rules. Look for more on that topic in JLC this summer.