Safety Conference brings professionals together for third year

The third annual Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust (SMOHIT) Safety Champions Conference brought together more than 60 training coordinators, business agents, business managers, contractors, safety directors, the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) and SMOHIT executives and strategic partners from across the country Feb. 25-27 in Scottsdale, Arizona. The two-day event featured keynote speaker Phillip Ragain, director of research and development for The RAD Group, and the discussion, “What is Safety Culture?” on day one. On the second day, Linda Goldenhar, Ph.D, director of research and evaluation for CPWR Foundations for Safety Leadership, addressed “How to Operationalize Safety and Make it Work on the Ground.”

The main idea was this: “To have someone remind another co-worker to be safe and the response to be ‘thank you’ and not groans,” said Mike McCullion, Sheet Metal Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) director of market sectors and safety.

“This whole room is full of leaders and that’s what it takes to create a safety culture,” said Randall Krocka, SMOHIT administrator. “Let’s work together to make safety number one in our companies and our industry.”

SMART Gen. Pres. Joseph Sellers Jr. opened and closed the conference.

“How do we get the message that safety matters into the workplace?” Sellers said. “We need to instill awareness and the desire for fundamental change in the next generation. We need to engage on a daily basis to prevent injury, illness and death.”

Ragain, who has served as the keynote speaker for two Safety Champions Conferences, began with the personal story of how he worried about his dad who worked on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. At 6 years old, he understood his father’s job was dangerous.

Now, he wonders, “Was that really OK? Is that the way things should be?”

Ragain put things into perspective with the Ladder of Safety Culture Maturity — dysfunctional, reactive, compliant, proactive and exemplary. Conference attendees broke into work groups to discover on which rung on each company stood.

The exercise made Jamie Roark, safety and risk manager at Dee Cramer, Inc., think about how his company could be and do better at providing a safety culture.

“You think your company is at a certain spot, and when you listen to other speakers and people in the industry you realize maybe you’re not. I don’t think we’re far off. If you set your bar and you stagnate, at some point you have to make new ones,” he said. “I will be looking at and discussing with the executive staff the steps we need to take to get closer to being exemplary.”

What seemed to take the air out of the room was an example Ragain used, the tragedy of the Space Shuttle Challenger, which exploded over the Atlantic Ocean in 1986. A documentary showcased how engineers low on the totem pole advised their superiors of the danger of an explosion, but the launch went on to tragic results.

Breakout sessions were used to discuss just, engaged, flexible, reporting, informed and learning, the Six Cultural Dimensions of a Mature Safety Culture. Discussions also included blame and finger-pointing and how it impacts employee behavior; the scale of accountability; coachable moments; balancing risk; and local rationality, answering the question, “Why would it make sense to do that?”

“I loved the engagement,” said Mark Landau, business manager for Local 83 and ITI trustee. “The video was very powerful. You had to go back to it. It really made me think.”

“I have the responsibility to communicate to my co-workers,” added Irving Guzman, a journeyperson with McKinney’s and Superior Air out of Local 5. “It’s better to say something and prevent something from happening. Don’t be afraid of getting into trouble.”

On the second day, Goldenhar discussed studies on jobsite safety in the construction industry, which were rare before 2013. From the research, she found eight leading indicators of a strong jobsite safety climate: demonstrate management commitment; align and integrate safety as a value; ensure accountability at all levels; improve supervisory leadership; empower and involve employees; improve communication; training at all levels and encourage owner/client involvement.

Goldenhar also discussed the Foundations for Safety Leadership, a 2.5-hour online leadership educational module, which was designed to improve frontline supervisory leadership and covers material not included in OSHA 30 curriculum.

“I thought it was very informative and a great overview of the industry trends involving safety,” said Ralph Natale, safety director for Kamish, Inc.

Goldenhar and Ragain, as well as SMACNA, provided materials attendees could take home and use in their shops, schools, job sites and offices.

“I’m going to encourage employers in SMACNA to attend this conference next time,” Landau said. “I also learned there are other resources. I have every intention of making copies and sharing them with people. I’m going to hand them to my employers, so they can see what they need to do to improve safety.”

In closing, Sellers took questions from the audience, which had an overall safety concern with opioid and drug addiction, which SMOHIT is tackling local by local through the SMART Members Assistance Program (MAP). Sellers took the time to inform members about the crisis help line, set up during the hurricanes and mass shootings in the fall, that will remain open for at least another year; as well as how to receive training to help members and family members dealing with addiction, depression and suicide.

“SMOHIT is developing a SMART MAP-only website with contact information and resources for everyone who’s gone through the training,” Krocka said. “All communication will be extremely confidential.”

“There’s not one person in this room who doesn’t feel the pressure of opioid addiction and suicide prevention,” Sellers said. “We need to be more proactive in the way we communicate with the younger generation of sheet metal workers. We need to communicate differently. From journeymen to supervisors, it’s up to all of us to figure it out.”

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