Contractor Q&A: Safety Training and Education


Words: MASONRY Magazine
Photos: Tiffany Tillema

Editor’s Note: In all of our Q&A installments we try to cover relevant information for our readers. This month, we’re covering the ins and outs of safety training and education. We spoke with Tiffany Tillema and Pam Bowen on their experiences on the topic. We would like to thank both Tiffany and Pam for their time and the information they provided to us.

What Kind of safety classes/education days do you offer for your employees and new hires?

Tiffany Tillema Senior Manager, Tillema & Sons Masonry LLC.: Of course, we have the usual weekly toolbox meetings which should be the norm for any company. These meetings are an important way to identify problems and network solutions. Communication with field workers, foremen, and the operations manager during these meetings give me valuable insight into our safety program and whether it is working or where we need to improve certain areas.

Monthly or semi-monthly I try to come up with a video about safety. This is something different and fun for the guys and gets to the point instead of the same old boring talks all the time. After I create the video, we watch and discuss it, before I will post them to YouTube, where they can be reused in the future. I have kind of let the monthly video program slow a bit since COVID-19 but will be reimplementing the program again soon.

We have also had half-day hands-on classes to assure that everyone knows how to use equipment properly and safely, such as fall protection where we put on a harness and drop ourselves about 3 ft off the ground, then self-rescue. Self-rescue is harder than you think. Hands-on training days are a great way to learn skills including safety.

Pam Bowen, Safety Director, Coastal Masonry Inc.: Most of the training the workers get I conduct myself because it is geared towards what they will do. I think that type of training is the most effective, it should not be generic. When I train employees, they will also get our company policies because sometimes we go above the OSHA standards. If I have Spanish speaking workers that need to get trained I bring in one instructor that I have formed a relationship with for the last 15 years that I know is going to provide them with the proper training.

  • All workers receive an OSHA 10 hour course and the Supervisors receive an OSHA 30 hour.
  • Supervisors are trained on 1st Aid/CPR
  • All new workers receive Fall Protection Training and Fall Protection Gear, as well as the Do’s and Don'ts of their gear. 
  • Orientation on company policies like 100% Safety Glass, 100% Hard Hat, 100% Steel Toed Boots, and our 100% wear of their harness, reporting of their injuries, etc. All new employees receive an employee handbook and are given the chance to ask questions.
  • All forklift operators are trained.
  • All workers are trained on Block Buggy’s and Electric Pallet Jacks and they must have a certification that will last three years since these follow under the forklift standard.
  • All Riggers/Signal Person are trained.
  • All Flagmen are trained.
  • All workers are trained on Scaffolding.
  • All workers are trained on all tools and equipment Mixers, Saws, Chop Saw’s, etc.
  • All workers are trained on Silica and Respiratory.
  • All Swing Stage operators are trained.
  • Boom and Aerial lift operators are trained.
  • Mass Climber Operators are trained.

Lastly, hands-on training, I spend the majority of my time in the field and spend time with the workers showing them how to integrate safety into their processes. I am hands-on with them showing them how not to handle blocks too many times, how to stage their equipment, and how to set up their zones to run efficiently etc.

What does the training procedure look like for new hires prior to them working on the job?

Tiffany Tillema Senior Manager, Tillema & Sons Masonry LLC.: I normally have new hires come into my office before starting in the field. I will ask specific questions on safety as I find many new hires have little to no safety training. From there I know that particular employee's specific needs and will pass that along to my operations manager and foreman. I also make sure they have the necessary PPE, that it is compliant and they understand how to use it.

Before they leave my office they get the employee handbook and a safety packet both of which are signed and acknowledged before the first paycheck is issued.

The safety packet has a written safety policy that outlines the procedure, reporting, and disciplinary actions for willful noncompliance. Along with the policy the packet has an emergency contact form that also must be returned. I also show them where our MSDS and HAZCOM folders are kept. I make sure they know what is in the HAZCOM and they are allowed access to it anytime. They may also receive a copy if they want it.

If I hire someone for a specific job such as driving a tractor or a mixer I make sure they receive the proper on-site training.

Pam Bowen, Safety Director, Coastal Masonry Inc.: The workers go through an orientation with me for a few hours, then I will gear them up and train them on fall protection and the use of their gear. Then they will get an onsite orientation once they arrive at the project. Then the foremen will provide training of the tools, equipment, and procedures they need to follow.

With COVID-19 regulations now in place, how have your safety measures changed or increased?

Tiffany Tillema Senior Manager, Tillema & Sons Masonry LLC.: Unfortunately, Texas has been quite lackadaisical concerning COVID-19 and that is probably why we are a hot spot right now. Texas has some regulations but they do not enforce them. That makes us, the employers, directly responsible for the safety of our employees. we decide what is feasible for each site and enforce our own basic COVID protocol. I know in some places masks are required on the job site. There is no way we can enforce that here. With our humidity causing a 105-degree heat index, we would have guys passing out even if they DID follow the regulation. Distancing on the scaffold is slightly easier. Slightly

I provide sanitizer at the watering station, where I provide individual water bottles in an Ice chest as opposed to a water cooler which makes it safer. I ask that they sanitize their hands before reaching to get water. If I provide the Port-o-Potty I will also have a sanitizing station there so they can kill germs before and after using the restroom. I provide sanitizing wipes to use on shared equipment such as saws and tractors, and as of late I have bought or rented extra equipment to avoid cross-contaminating. The extra equipment is more expensive at first but if it keeps my guys safe it will be worth it.

Finally, I make sure all employees are familiar with possible exposure-response and they get a copy of the checklist. I also have notification of exposure paperwork ready just in case. The MCAA website is a great resource for COVID safety and the paperwork I mentioned.

Pam Bowen, Safety Director, Coastal Masonry Inc.: We monitor all our worker’s temperature, they have to complete a COVID-19 form every morning stating that have not been exposed to anyone with the virus, they have not been out of the country or state, they do not have any signs or symptoms, etc. All the workers are wearing face coverings, separation of 6’ when possible. If there is a worker that has COVID-19 through contact tracing workers are being identified and contacted. 

The workers are then sent for testing and tracked. We have provided hand sanitizers and hand soap so they have a way to keep their hands cleaned. They have all been trained on COVID-19 so they know what to look out for. I have put signage on their gang boxes that remind them to keep their faces covered, wash their hands, and to stay 6’ from each other. I have put other signage on their gang boxes pertaining to the virus from the federal government and CDC. We also have had to change the way that we provide water to the workers.

What kind of regulations do you have in place to keep everyone safe on-site?

Tiffany Tillema Senior Manager, Tillema & Sons Masonry LLC.: Education and training are the number one ways to keep everyone safe on site. If we don't make sure everyone knows the regulations and follow them we cannot ensure everyone's safety. There are many regulations that are followed on a jobsite I will go over a couple I find are important.

PPE use is one that I definitely enforce. Everyone must have appropriate footwear, hardhat, and safety glasses, with no exceptions. Fall restraints are also required when the job calls for it. I have heard the excuse that preparing the harness will take longer than the job, that excuse does not work with me. Do it anyway.

I also have checks and double checks of all equipment every morning. For example, someone checks the scaffolding before we start the job. He writes the date and time on the scaffolding tag. Then I have my foreman go behind that person and double-check. He will also sign the tag. It may seem like overkill but it has saved us from accidents before. The same regulation is used to inspect all the equipment being used that day. On my side, I need to see two signatures for everything.

Pam Bowen, Safety Director, Coastal Masonry Inc.: Training, fall protection, scaffolding, silica, forklift, rigging, ladder, PPE, hazard communication, respiratory, material handling, housekeeping, electrical, hand and power tools, fire protection, etc.  

What happens when the regulations are not followed?

Tiffany Tillema Senior Manager, Tillema & Sons Masonry LLC.: Depends on which regulation is not followed. There are consequences ranging from a write-up, a visit with me in my office, or immediate termination. My write-ups have the regulation that was broken and what steps to follow to prevent the situation again. There are a few that require immediate termination of reckless behavior, something that causes an injury to someone else, and sexual harassment is a few.

Pam Bowen, Safety Director, Coastal Masonry Inc.: 

We follow company disciplinary policy: 

  • Oral Warning
  • Written Warning 1
  • Written Warning 2
  • Suspension
  • Termination

A lot of times if I just speak to them with respect, appeal to their hearts, and let them know that I care about them and want them to go home to their families it stops their behavior. They all know that I will get their family members involved if it pertains to fall protection issues so I really don’t have those issues anymore. They know that I am a straight shooter and don’t play when it comes to their lives. 

Everything I tell them about risking their lives for whatever they make an hour is not worth the risk. I explain that when they don’t follow the rules that it is a selfish act and their families are the ones that will figure out how they are going to survive without them. I ask them if that is what they want for their loved ones. This approach has worked out well for me but if they have behavior problems and they don’t want to fix them they know the warnings will come.

How do you stay up to date with new OSHA rules and regulations for jobsites?

Tiffany Tillema Senior Manager, Tillema & Sons Masonry LLC.: That is an easy one. The MCAA website is probably the best resource for that information. They are really good at keeping up with any new rules and regulations that OSHA has. They are also very good at following through with OSHA when there are questions or regulations that are unfair or are not easily understood and passing on the answers to us. We really appreciate that resource. I also consult OSHA's website from time to time as well.

Pam Bowen, Safety Director, Coastal Masonry Inc.: Attend our local Association meetings, OSHA website, Training, etc.

What is an efficient system for handling employee questions about procedures?

Tiffany Tillema Senior Manager, Tillema & Sons Masonry LLC.: Hopefully we have done our job and there are not many questions. However, they are encouraged to ask if they have them. We want everyone to understand and apply our safety measures. We want them to go home in one piece. No question is a dumb question especially when safety is involved.

On the jobsite, I encourage them to ask My foreman as they are usually my on-site safety person as well. If they still have questions they can contact my operations manager or me by phone or by coming into the office. They have all the needed phone numbers listed in their safety packet. They also have access to safety manuals, MSDS sheets, and other safety information. including OHSA and State contacts, at the office.

Pam Bowen, Safety Director, Coastal Masonry Inc.: Open line of communication. They are told to bring questions to their supervisors and give them the opportunity to fix and answer their questions. Then if they still are not satisfied with the answers they can reach out to me anytime. I spend the time and listen to the worker’s concerns and provide solutions and hands-on training. I also make sure I follow through and resolve their concerns and questions.

What written materials are provided If any?

Tiffany Tillema Senior Manager, Tillema & Sons Masonry LLC.: As mentioned they each receive a complete safety Manual to keep. The last page is signed and returned to me acknowledging they read it. The safety manual can also be found at the office along with our HAZCOM and MSDS. They are displayed where they are easily found. They are accessible at all times. I also have resources that can be printed out if they need extra information on any safety subject.

Pam Bowen, Safety Director, Coastal Masonry Inc.: Foremen’s manual with all required forms. Toolbox talks manuals, Owners manuals, and spec sheets.

Is there regular testing with COVID-19 in Place?

Tiffany Tillema Senior Manager, Tillema & Sons Masonry LLC.: No. Some General Contractors offer it but we do not. I do let my guys know if they have any symptoms of any illness (not just COVID) they need to stay home, see a doctor, and get tested. If they have a fever or flu-like symptoms I need a note from a doctor saying they tested negative before returning to work.

Pam Bowen, Safety Director, Coastal Masonry Inc.: No, all of our office personnel were tested because there was a worker in the office with the COVID-19 virus.

Do you have a safety program incentive for 100 days without accidents?

Tiffany Tillema Senior Manager, Tillema & Sons Masonry LLC.: Weekly they get a sticker on their paycheck envelope. I know it seems silly but the one week I forgot to give them a good job sticker they were very upset. Monthly I design and give out hard hat stickers or vehicle decals. Every six months the reward is a non-monetary gift (t-shirt, gift card, coffee cup, etc.) Yearly we have employee appreciation dinner and starting this year everyone who was 100% accident-free goes in a drawing for a large prize (T.V., Roku, new trowel, etc.)

Pam Bowen, Safety Director, Coastal Masonry Inc.: No. I feel Safety is personal and everyone has a personal responsibility to work safely and it is part of your job! I do give out things from time to time if I see someone really stepping up on safety activities or if someone brings something up that can save lives. I guess I do more on the spot recognition. 

Are there any OSHA regulations that have been difficult to adapt to and why?

Tiffany Tillema Senior Manager, Tillema & Sons Masonry LLC.: Keeping up with standards can be overwhelming. They constantly change and we must adapt quickly. I hired someone in the office recently that will hopefully help with that. Specifically, I would say the standards on silica have been the hardest to implement in a practical but non-invasive way. 

It can be expensive to buy new equipment every time a standard changes. It also can be hard to motivate some employees (older ones especially) to change the way they have done something for years. I just try my best to have what they need, train them to use it, and try to motivate the change among employees. 
Pam Bowen, Safety Director, Coastal Masonry Inc.: This just came to my attention a few weeks ago. Controlled Access Zones, because for the overhand bricklayers their controlled access has to be back 10 to 15’ from the edge which requires the workers to bend up and under the rope all day trying to get all the material and equipment in the zone for the mason. This also requires the workers to move more things by hand versus using the equipment. I am still working on a solution to this issue.

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