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August 2013

Going The Distance

Meet a leading Oregon health and safety professional

Tony Barsotti

Company: TCM

Safety manager: Tony Barsotti

Workforce: 250

Common Hazards: Working at heights/falls from ladders, aerial lifts, walking surfaces; sharp edges/cuts, lacerations; material handling/musculoskeletal injuries

What is your background and safety philosophy?

All injuries are preventable and most injuries are a result of a failure of a management system. My journey as an advocate for eliminating exposures that can lead to injuries began with asbestos exposures working as a pipefitter in the 1970s. Since then, I have advocated for legislative and regulatory improvements and taught apprenticeship and journeymen safety classes. I transitioned to a full-time safety professional in 1994, when I worked for Hoffman Construction, primarily on Intel projects. In 2004, I went to work for TCM in a corporate safety role.

What are the unique safety challenges you face on current projects?

Our primary challenges are having enough time to plan and integrate hazard identification and methods of control into our overall project and short-interval plans. Other challenges come from poor levels of communication between different organizations on a project.

Ladder falls are a common hazard in your industry. How do you tackle this issue?

Ladders are an essential part of the mechanical trades. Though we minimize ladder use through aerial lifts where we can, our work is normally at an elevation above the drop ceilings. We have more than 300 ladders in inventory and our first line of defense is ensuring that ladders provided to the field have been inspected and are in "as new" condition. All of our foremen are OSHA 30 trained and are held accountable for having appropriate equipment for their crews and for the use of best practices. Additionally, we have field safety personnel who conduct audits to ensure practices are appropriate. While people do at times need reminders about ladder practices, it is rare that people are not aware of how the ladders should be used. More often, they have rationalized the choice to take the risk of improper ladder use. In those cases, some constructive coaching addresses the issue.

How do you keep your crews engaged in safety issues?

The primary way we engage our crews is through daily interactions with their foremen. Regardless of what we say in our new hire and project-specific orientations, the actual assessment of what is important to the company is derived from those conversations. As a result, we have facilitated several workshops and other leadership development activities for our foremen on the soft skills of communicating, including the importance of listening. We are currently participating with industrial/org psychologists from Colorado State University through a NIOSH grant to enhance leadership skills and help our supervisors understand their role in creating the safety culture of our organization.

What advice do you have for other safety and health managers hoping to make a difference?

My longstanding advice is to seek to understand. For work with the crews in the field, it is important to respect their dignity and the work being performed. It is critical to understand not only what they are doing, but why. Usually, this is best done by open and inquiring conversations. The other area where I believe we have an opportunity to help our organizations mature and improve their injury prevention efforts is by integrating hazard identification and control into all project delivery systems. This would include estimating, purchasing, pre-project planning, and the various project scheduling and coordination systems. These may be more challenging, but in the long run, it will help our organizations improve performance and reduce the amount of effort that safety professionals need to exert putting out fires.

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