Safety is the foundation of every MWH project. Recognizing the importance of ensuring the well-being of every individual on the job site, MWH proudly sponsored Safety Week 2023 in May. The core ethos of this annual week-long event is understanding that safety is not just a series of procedures and protocols but a culture that empowers every person on-site to be safe and aware of their surroundings. By joining forces and setting aside competition, MWH and over 70 other construction firms demonstrated their commitment to celebrating the hard work and dedication of those prioritizing safety as the foundation of their work.
Stronger & Safer Together
This year’s Safety Week focused on strengthening the construction industry’s safety culture and performance by reinforcing the resolve of every individual to be entirely focused on safety. Craft professionals, project leaders, and business executives were empowered to speak up and act on any potential risks, emphasizing the importance of collective responsibility. Safety Week also advocates for improved safety processes, mental health resources, and equipment standards to reduce the risk of injuries and create safer work environments. Building a holistic safety culture encompasses physical well-being, mental health, and a focused mindset.
MWH’s commitment to safety extends far beyond Safety Week, emphasizing the need for continuous improvement and a steadfast dedication to safety on every job site, every day. Senior managers were encouraged to lead from the front by attending and engaging in weekly safety meetings, pre-shift meetings, Improve It walks, and Stretch and Flex sessions. By evaluating the effectiveness of safety culture at each job site, senior managers can provide valuable feedback to improve safety practices companywide. This hands-on involvement of senior managers underscores MWH’s commitment to fostering a safer industry and reinforces the importance of safety at all levels of our organization.
“The efforts that we put into Safety Week are for our people. In construction, success is not just measured by the finished project but by the stories of lives protected.”
Lendel Del Cid, GSP
Regional Health & Safety Manager, Slayden Constructors
Life-Saving Daily Topics
To understand the importance and impact of this critical week, we spoke with MWH Regional Health & Safety Manager Luke Tallant, CHST, and Slayden Regional Health & Safety Manager Lendel Del Cid, GSP.
“Safety Week is a good platform for spreading knowledge and cultivating a strong culture of safety that lasts. Each year for Safety Week, we always try to bring in vendors or outside resources to spend 20 to 30 minutes with the crews,” Luke Tallant explained. “We shut the jobs down and do nothing but talk about safety and the daily topics.” Safety Week 2023 covered various topics to promote safety awareness. MWH, Slayden, and Methuen crews across dozens of job sites took part in daily activities and toolbox talks, which provided valuable insights and practical guidance to empower all those on-site to make safe choices.
DAY 1: ENGAGEMENT
The week began with reflective sessions on the mission of Safety Week and discussions of how to maintain a personal commitment to safety. “You can really tell that it brings safety to the forefront of everyone’s mind,” Tallant remarked while reflecting on how crew members act during and after Safety Week. “The efforts that we put into safety week are for our people,” stated Lendel Del Cid. Building strong teams who work safely is the most important job for everyone on every construction site, and those who are empowered to step in, speak up, and work together to stop anything that risks safety.
DAY 2: RISK IDENTIFICATION
Day two’s toolbox talk delved into the concept of risk identification. Participants were encouraged to acknowledge error-prone situations and utilize evaluation processes to identify hazards and critical task steps to ensure safety. “People have to be hyper-aware of their surroundings, because so much changes during construction, not just on a daily basis but even minute by minute,” mentioned Tallant. Not all hazards are apparent or easy to recognize, even to those who see and face them every day–some hide in plain sight.
MWH takes great strides to provide environments where employees are empowered to sharpen their safety skills, help their fellow team members, and maintain a safety-first mindset. Our Improve-Its Program implores field personnel to identify ways to complete tasks related to construction equipment and processes safely and efficiently. “If someone sees something in the field, they can honestly whip out their phone, take a picture, put it in the system, and in real-time, it goes to the people associated with that risk so they can get right back out there and fix or correct the issue,” Tallant remarked. These weekly safety submissions must be corrective or serve as a teaching moment and be high quality, meaning they must include a photo, a description, and a due date based on the severity or risk associated with the safety item.
“Improve-Its allow us to rapidly address safety concerns. They give us insight into what topics we should go over with each crew to increase safety awareness and preparedness.”
Luke Tallant, CHST
Regional Health & Safety Manager, MWH
Logging and categorizing Improve-Its are vital in identifying leading indicators needed to take a proactive approach to safety management and training. In 2022, MWH exceeded the goal of generating 10,000 Improve-Its. This year, MWH updated the Safety Improve-It and Safety Observation quota for project teams, requiring one Improve-It/Observation per person per week.
DAY 3: FALL PREVENTION
Safety Week’s Fall Prevention Day aligned with OSHA’s National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction. Falls are preventable, but in 2021 alone, 38% of construction industry deaths were due to falls from elevation (OSHA, 2023). “We brought in third-party trainers to do fall protection presentations where they bring a special truck and drop a dummy outfitted with an old harness that was known in the industry years and years ago,” Tallant commented. “This allows us to compare the old to the new technology that we have for fall protection with retractable and other critical features like that, which really opens everyone’s eyes to see the difference and the true impact of a fall.”
On Fall Prevention Day, Slayden Regional Health & Safety Manager Lendel Del Cid was on-site at the Geren Island Water Treatment Plant Ozone Upgrades project in Salem, OR—a project that requires working in confined spaces. “We had Ritz Safety do a confined space training, and while the trainer was explaining the importance of the air monitors and sufficient oxygen, one of our Superintendents spoke up to share a story.” Del Cid recounted how Kenny Pollard, a Superintendent who’s been with Slayden for over 30 years, shared a harrowing experience with 45 to 50 crew members listening, “he described how a former coworker went down in a confined space and how it could have been a life-threatening situation if all of the proper safety protections had not been in place. When stories come from someone other than the safety guy, it really hits home.”
Although Pollard’s story would be a stark reminder for almost any worker, the crew listening that day was particularly impacted because they had just celebrated one of their team members receiving a spot bonus for vigilantly monitoring air in a confined space. “Had the employee become complacent with the air monitoring procedure…it could have been very, very serious,” Pollard noted.
DAY 4: CONTINUE LEARNING
Interactive demonstrations led by experienced crew members empowered attendees to share their knowledge while promoting safer and more efficient work practices. “That day gave us the opportunity for seasoned veterans to speak up on some of their own experiences throughout their careers and be able to pass that knowledge along to the newer employees,” Tallant explained.
“Listening to seasoned workers like Kenny tell stories about unforgettable safety situations not only relates to the training but also drives home the idea that no matter how safe we think we’re being, we’re not going to do anything until we have every safety measure in place,” noted Del Cid. “We have to be prepared for the worst, even if we’re doing everything right.”
DAY 5: SILICA AWARENESS
On the final day of Safety Week, our toolbox talks shed light on silica exposure’s hazards and health effects. “Silica is always a big one for us because it’s still relatively new, even though it’s been about six years since the whole standard changed,” explained Tallant. Participants learned about preventive measures to minimize overexposure and protect their health.
Crystalline silica is a common mineral found in construction materials such as sand, stone, concrete, brick, and mortar. When materials containing crystalline silica are cut, ground, drilled, or crushed, a fine dust known as respirable silica dust is created. Because it’s 100 times smaller than a grain of sand, people can unknowingly inhale silica dust, potentially leading to the development of lung cancer, silicosis (an irreversible scarring and stiffening of the lungs), kidney disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
To limit exposure to silica dust, MWH requires all employees and subcontracted personnel to be trained in silica awareness and how to utilize the “Specified Exposure Control Methods When Working with Materials Containing Crystalline Silica” Table issued by OSHA. MWH also established and implemented a Written Exposure Control Plan, which guides field personnel in limiting operational silica exposure and documenting cases of worker exposure.
A Grateful End to the Week
“The end of the week is an opportunity to show our appreciation to the crews, not only for following our safety policies and programs but for all their efforts throughout the project,” Tallant remarked. “The most rewarding part of my job is seeing that even when I’m not on site, people still call when they have questions or concerns. They’re not afraid to reach out to the safety department, and that just goes a long way in showing that we have built that culture where everybody wants to be their brother’s keeper. They work together on a daily basis and use all the resources they have to make sure that they don’t put themselves or anyone else at risk.”
Agreeing with Tallant, Del Cid commented, “We celebrate our safety and our people. These kinds of milestone celebrations go a long way. They show our people how much we appreciate their dedication and hard work. In construction, success is not just measured by the finished project but by the stories of lives protected.”
Safety Week 2023 served as a rallying point for the construction industry, uniting companies, workers, and leaders under a common goal: building a stronger, safer industry. The collective efforts of MWH and over 70 other top construction firms exemplify the commitment to making safety a fundamental aspect of every construction project. Safety Week empowers individuals at all levels to be strong voices and make safe choices through engaging toolbox talks, interactive demonstrations, and hands-on involvement. By continuously improving safety practices and fostering a culture of shared responsibility, the construction industry can create safer work environments, protect workers’ well-being, and positively impact the communities they serve. Together, we build a safer industry for the present as well as the future.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (2023)
- National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction.
- OSHA’s Fall Prevention Campaign.
Author: Alexis Gee