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October 30, 2012

A Dangling Boom
Filed under: safety — Tags: — nedpelger

One big wind gust from Hurricane Sandy left a crane boom dangling 1000′ above West 57th Street in NYC. This 90 story building will be the tallest in the city that includes residences. The New York Times calls it a “Trophy address for some of the world’s richest people.”  The top floor condos are being sold for $90M US each.


The 30 second video above gives a great sense of standing on the street and seeing this catastrophe. Nearby buildings have been evacuated and the electricity and gas turned off in the vicinity. They are concerned, of course, about the boom falling and creating a natural gas explosion.

Hat tip to my brother Jim for sending this info from way out in Montana. We both stayed at a hotel nearby in the luxurious 1990s. Glory Days.


August 15, 2012

Risk Analysis: Don’t Fool with the Bull
Filed under: safety — Tags: — nedpelger

As you must have heard, it’s Shark Week. The Discovery Channel dedicates a week to the immense scariness of sharks. In truth, from 2003 to 2008 in USA, 4 people were killed by sharks and 108 by cows. So cows are 27 times more dangerous than sharks.  So a BoingBoing columnist declared this Cow Week and will be writing an article about a cow related death each day.

Recently the Times of India reported Bhoop Narayan Prajapati, a 65-year-old resident of Deori Township in the Sagar district of Madhya Pradesh, was gored by a bull and later died of his wounds. Turns out Bhoop had been fueding with this bull for over six months. He hit him with a stick and was gored. Then the bull started hanging around his hut and Bhoop threw a cup of hot water on him. The next day the bull came back and gored him. But then it gets weird:

Much to people’s surprise, the bull reached the hospital following Prajapati. Deepak Chourasia, a town-dweller, said that when the mortal remains of the old man were being consigned to flames the bull again sprang a surprise by arriving at the crematorium.

That bull wanted to make sure he finished the job.

As you think about Shark Week and Cow Week, think about the risks in your life and your business that you mis-allocate. In what areas do you worry about insignificant risks and what are the real risks you should be focused on? The only way to get that answer is through study and analysis. Take time to think about the risks that matter.


March 2, 2012

Friday Fun with Safety First
Filed under: safety — nedpelger

I was on a job site yesterday and complaining that the steel erectors weren’t tied off when placing deck. Upon looking further, though, I realized they had their harnesses connected in innovative ways. The owner of their firm noted that they always stay tied off, even though it often makes their work more difficult, and sometimes less safe.

As I thought about safety and unintended consequences, this video illustrates the concept in a way that will make you laugh.


Be sure to pay attention and work safe. If you another minute, watch this incredible batting practice display. This guy is good.



December 20, 2011

Your Distracted Driver Obligations
Filed under: safety — Tags: — nedpelger

If you help manage construction projects, you are a distracted driver. All the changes and struggling that happens on a project doesn’t flee from your brain when you get behind the wheel. I got pulled over by a state trooper last year and he said he’d been following me for a mile with his lights on and I hadn’t noticed. He thought I was drunk. I explained I’d just got out of a construction job meeting, he saw rolls of blueprints in my vehicle and he just shook his head and gave me a warning.

Our level of distraction dramatically increases, though, when we chat on our mobile phones while driving. Texting while driving is even worse. Tudor VanHampton’s ENR blog asks, “Are You a Distracted Driver?” We all know we are. We also understand the danger of the physical world…how quickly our lives or our friend’s lives can end on a construction site or in a car accident. VanHampton writes:

The National Transportation Safety Board has asked states to “put the brakes on distracted driving,” and it will be interesting to see if more construction companies adopt policies banning the use of cell phones and other portable devices while their employees are driving vehicles or operating equipment.

The NTSB’s recommendation stems from a construction work-zone pileup in Gray Summit, Mo. A pickup truck driver merged behind a heavy-duty tractor, which had slowed to enter a work zone, and struck the larger truck’s backside. Two school buses piled on top of the pickup, which flipped on top of the tractor.

The research clearly shows that talking on the phone, even hands free, impairs driving ability. Anyone who honestly evaluates their own driving while using a mobile phone will agree to some level of distraction. So what obligations do we have if we make that conclusion?

  1. Never check email or text while driving, the information pulls you in and the distraction level quickly becomes dangerous.
  2. Don’t initiate phone calls while driving. We all want more hours in the day, we all want to get more done, but is it worth hitting a child with your car?
  3. I’m still struggling with this one, but I think our final obligation is to not answer our cell phone when driving. Don’t look who’s calling, don’t just have a quick chat. If it’s truly important, pull over and talk.

So if we truly value safety, we need to consider the elimination of cell phone use while driving. It’s the right thing to do.

I dedicate this post to Jared and Jacy Good, who lost both their parents in a car accident because of a distracted driver using his cell phone. Jacy struggled from the edge of death through months of surgeries and rehab. She has become a safe driving advocate. Here’s her story.


The take-away? Distracted driving kills. Safe driving starts with you.

Here’s the sign Jacy wears on her coat, to give folks a quick insight.


May 23, 2011

When Lives are Cheap, Rotten Worker Safety Follows
Filed under: safety — Tags: — nedpelger

The photo below amazes me, even for India.  They are constructing a shopping mall in Bhubaneswar, India.

It took me a bit of looking to see what was happening. They are building the scaffolding and have step-ups perpendicular to the building to hand up scaffold poles. The workers stand on a small piece of wire mesh (perhaps 12″ x 36″) that straddles two horizontal poles connected on either side to upright poles.

The structure has no stability to resist any type of sudden wind or storm. In fact, I’d imagine the workers could probably bring it down by all moving in the same direction at the same time.

We all complain sometimes about OSHA  and the American judicial system for going too far. This photo makes me glad that we have a system that keeps us focused on not acting stupid. I imagine there is a contractor in India saying, “But I have to do it this way. If I don’t, my competitor will and then they will have the job.”

Take a moment to be thankful if you live in a place that forces reasonable worker safety provisions. If you’re in one of these unregulated environments, think about the moral line you want to keep, then try to stick to it. Actually, we all need to do that. And no, it’s not supposed to be easy.


November 15, 2010

Construction Worker Oversleeps on Break, Murders Supervisor
Filed under: safety — Tags: — nedpelger

On a jobsite in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, a construction worker overslept his break by five minutes. When he returned late to work, his supervisor became irate, slapped him and told him he was going to dock him a day’s pay.

This strategy proved to be less than effective for the 30 year old construction supervisor. The worker grabbed a steel bar and beat the supervisor to death. The worker fled the site, but was later captured. He’s now being held for murder.

This incident reinforces the need to treat our co-workers, subs and subordinates (in fact, everyone on the jobsite) with dignity and respect. We will disagree. Consequences will need to follow actions. But we all benefit by staying cool and keeping perspective.

Don’t be a bully and don’t be a jerk. The going around and coming around may happen sooner than you think.


November 2, 2010

How Safe is Safe Enough?
Filed under: safety — Tags: — nedpelger

Kevin Sensenig, VP and part owner of R. L. Sensenig Co (roofing), fell through a decayed roof deck and died yesterday. We’ve worked with Kevin and Sensenig Roofing on many projects, he’s a great guy and they do wonderful work.

Starting a project at the Hill School in Pottsville, PA, Kevin apparently was walking on the roof, showing one of his crews what needed to be done. Kevin ran operations. According to the Reading Eagle article, the guys on the crew were wearing fall protection harnesses and tied off. As Kevin and the foreman walked the flat roof, the deck collapsed and Kevin fell 50′ to his death, while the foreman hung from his fall protection. The approximately 6′ x 9′ area of collapsed roof is shown in the photo below.

Most of the news articles lead with the fact that Kevin wasn’t wearing a fall protection harness. He was walking on a flat roof, not near an edge, few people I know would have been wearing a harness in that situation. He wasn’t on the work crew, he was giving them initial directions. But yet, in this instance, wearing the fall protection harness would probably have saved his life.

So how safe is safe enough? We work in a dangerous business. We are up high and in enclosed spaces. We build things that are stable when complete but not while being built. While everyone praises safe work, how much inconvenience will we accept? That’s the struggle we face every day. I know Kevin’s tragedy motivates me to struggle to push for more safety measures.

I’ll be praying for the Sensenig family to have a strength and a peace through this challenging time. I’ll be praying for me to have wisdom to push for the best decisions on our job sites.

Dereck Hench, the construction supervisor I work with every day, spoke of Kevin Sensenig with the highest respect. We all will miss him.


September 17, 2010

When Things Go Wrong on the Jobsite
Filed under: safety — Tags: — nedpelger

Bill Rapetti was a master rigger on a NYC construction site and owner of Rapetti Rigging Services. He was rigging the 300′ tower crane that collapsed on 51st Street in 2008, killing seven and injuring another two dozen. The accident outraged the community and Bill was charged with manslaughter. He was found not guilty on all charges this summer.

We work in a dangerous business. We all make decisions every day that have a degree of risk. I found the following interview with Bill Rapetti in ENR this week to be sobering. I’ve just re-printed a few questions below:

“How did you prepare for the trial?

William Rapetti: By teaching [attorneys Arthur Aidala and John Esposito and Marianne Bertuna] the business. The prosecution didn’t have a clue so far as what really goes on. I retained them in January of ’09, and pretty much from that point on was teaching them. I took them to jobs, introduced them to guys in the field doing the work. They actually went on climbs, on erections and dismantling jobs. This industry, it’s got its own engine, and if you don’t really know how it runs, it’s hard to understand.

When were your licenses suspended?

WR: They took them Jan. 5 [2009]. I had to turn myself in. I spent 10 hours locked up, which was very traumatic for me. And when I got home, the [New York City] Dept. of Buildings knocked on my door 10 p.m., handed me a letter stating that my licenses had been suspended because I used the crane as a weapon for manslaughter. That was the night I came home from spending 10 hours locked up in the Tombs [nickname for the Manhattan Detention Complex]. Then they made the big “perp walk.” There were about 100-plus reporters. It was disgusting. They made me out to be a murderer.

What do you remember of the day of the collapse?

WR: It was a normal day, nothing out of the ordinary. There were minor problems that were easily rectified. I still didn’t like the [tie] beams. I made numerous calls to the design engineer. It was an uneventful day. The weather was decent.

And when it actually happened? One of the witnesses said you were repeating, “They were my friends. They had babies.”

WR: It’s still sore. I try to not think about it. It’s hard to explain. When you do this kind of work, it’s akin to being in a war situation, when you’re in a foxhole. These are the types of guys you would want to be defending alongside you. They each have their own stories. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t take a look at their picture or think about it.”

As you go about your work, “Remember, be careful out there!”


August 24, 2010

Do Jobsite Safety Incentive Programs Work?
Filed under: safety — Tags: — nedpelger

ENR has a good article this week about safety incentives titled “The Prize Predicament.” The article reminded me of my years running a GC firm. We always struggled with how to lower our Workman’s Compensation costs, so we focused on our lost time injuries and recordable accidents. Like many firms, we set up incentives to try to motivate everyone to work safer. We promised rewards for better numbers.

We got our better numbers, though I doubt we improved safety performance much. We inadvertently instituted a culture of under-reporting. As time progressed, we understood that minor incidents were going unreported, buy hey, our numbers were better. As I read the ENR article, I got the sense that we weren’t alone.

OSHA seems to be taking aim on these safety incentive programs for that reason. By penalizing employees who report accidents, actual workplace safety heads in the wrong direction. While some firms certainly make efforts to run the incentive programs ethically and effectively, I think that the overall approach is wrong-headed. Paying people a little extra to do what they should be doing anyway doesn’t pass the commonsense test.

Effective supervision and management can improve jobsite safety by establishing a culture of safety. One time programs and easy fixes won’t work. The photo above shows BR Kreider and Sons, an excavation firm I’ve worked with for years, installing a water line. They’ve made jobsite safety a priority throughout their company for many years and have a good, safe culture.

It’s too easy for management to develop safety programs to motivate employees like training animals. A more all-encompassing approach, one which actually changes the culture of the jobsite, will be the only thing that really works. Unfortunately, it’s easier to make up slogans and programs than to change company culture.


August 16, 2010

Wondrous Drillbit Impalement
Filed under: safety — Tags: — nedpelger

Ron Hunt of Tuckee, CA was standing on a six foot step ladder yesterday and drilling above his head with a 1 1/2″ auger bit. He lost his balance, threw the drill and then fell face-first onto the drill bit. The bit impaled him, entering through his eye, pushing through his skull above his right ear. His x-ray is shown below.

Hunt was airlifted to the Washoe Medical Center in Reno with the 18″ long drill bit still in his head. Fortunately, no one on the jobsite decided to hit the reverse button to try to remove it. When his brother and nephew got to the hospital, he was talking and joking, with the drill bit still as shown above.

Amazingly, he seems to have no brain injuries, though he has lost his eye. The doctors noted that the bit seemed to push the brain aside, rather than impaling it and causing major trauma. Though he has some pain, he doesn’t seem to have any speech or motor function problems.

At this time, the worst part of the accident revolves around insurance. Hunt was working as an independent contractor and doesn’t appear to be covered by Workman’s Compensation. Friends and family are raising money to help cover his extensive medical costs. My guess is that an accident like this will have him ending up on someone’s workman’s comp, though not without a fight. My friend Randy noted that CA will probably now outlaw drill bits as a public safety hazard.

As I consider the photo above, I’m in awe of our human bodies. We are truly “Fearfully and wonderfully made”. You think about that…and be careful on ladders.

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