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By David Duke, CHST

No Safety Silos

Safety and productivity don’t have to be mutually exclusive


onstruction is a fast-paced business in which safety has an integral role. Despite their directive to reduce risk, construction safety managers should not turn a blind eye to production. In the early days of starting my career as a steel fabricator and welder, I was sent to a job to erect handrails and stairs. I had very little foreman experience, but I was a smooth talker. And despite my lack of experience, the crew began looking to me to get direction and answers from the superintendent. Safety was certainly not my focus—back then I didn’t even know what a lanyard was. However, I was fortunate that the onsite project manager took me under his wing, teaching me enough to successfully complete the job with zero injuries and on time. David Duke is Field Safety Director, CHST, for Cooper Steel, Shelbyville, Tenn. He is responsible for providing jobsite audits and training for equipment, rigging, signaling, and safety practices. He is a member of the Board of Certified Safety Professionals and the American Society of Safety Professionals. In addition to years of safety and management experience in steel fabrication and erection, he also has worked in the racing industry as a safety official for NASCAR, so he knows a thing or two about being fast and safe at the same time.

David Duke (right) looks at a job safety analysis and drawings with a jobsite foreman.

His main advice to me: “Son, if you have any sense about you, you’d get into safety. That’s where you can make a difference, have a long career, and not punish your body.” Now Jerry Long and I are co-workers at Cooper Steel, and to this day, I thank him every chance I get for that advice. Soon after my first project ended, I was selected to attend a 30-hour OSHA class. At the time, General Contractors were starting to require at least one member of each Field Crew to possess a 30-hour card. This opened the door for me to serve as a third-party safety consultant on a large job in Fort Dodge, Iowa. What was supposed to be a one-month project, turned into 10 months, after which I was hired by Cooper Steel in a newly created position of Field Safety Manager. New to Cooper Steel, and still fairly new to safety, I went about things the only way I knew how—get my hands dirty, learn, and do whatever it takes to succeed. Because of my past experience as a foreman, I was also occasionally tasked to be On-Site Project Manager. This is where the worlds of safety and production collided.


Safety vs. Productivity When I would show up on a job site and tell the superintendent that I was the Project Manager and the Safety Manager, I often got confused and untrusting looks. People assumed production and safety were mutually exclusive of each other. And for a long time, I believed this myth myself. How can someone in charge of making sure the job got done FAST, also be the person that is looking out for SAFETY, which seemingly slowed things down? All that changed for me on a multi building complex with precast and tilt walls, insulated panel walls, multi levels and pits. Multiple trades were working in very close quarters. Our plans were designed to prevent the crane operator from having to lift any materials in the blind, which is considered a Critical Lift. However, those kinds of plans rarely pan out the way they’re supposed to, and we were left with installing materials through an access hole in the roof structure. The GC required all Critical Lift Plans to be submitted 48 hours in advance of the pick being made. Tempers were already peaked

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