Earlier this year, The Bentley Company, a Milwaukee, WI-based general contractor and construction management firm, received not one, but two local safety awards for posting the lowest accident/injury rate among firms logging over 100,000 hours of jobsite operations in 2003. Robert Stelter, COO, attributes the company’s safety record to a top-down management philosophy.
“It’s a focus that first starts at the top of the organization and goes down through our project management team and our leadership team in the field,” he explains. “We overlay that focus on everyone who works on the project.”
The Bentley Company is a sixth-generation family-owned construction firm founded by John Bentley in 1848. It employs roughly 40 full-time and up to 100 seasonal employees during peak construction months. Projects range from new building construction to a specialization in historic structure restoration.
Tom Bentley, owner and CEO, describes his company as a very “family friendly” organization. This is reflected in the company’s view on safety.
“We take it very seriously,” says Stelter. “Everyone comes to work at the beginning of the day and expects to leave with 10 fingers, 10 toes, two eyes, no broken limbs, etc. Part of our responsibility in the industry is to see that this happens.”
It starts with proper training
Safety training at Bentley begins before an employee sets foot on a jobsite. “We orient everyone to the safety programs when they’re hired,” explains Joseph Widmann, vice president, senior project manager and safety director. “There’s an attachment to the application for employment. When they fill out their W-2s, we bring them up to speed on safety requirements.”
The Bentley Company also works with the Greater Milwaukee Chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) to provide safety training and certification. “Almost all of our superintendents and project managers are OSHA 10-hour certified,” says Stelter. “The 10-hour certification includes all the major aspects: excavation, fall protection, electrical hazards, scaffolding, concrete, masonry, trenching, etc.”
In addition, superintendent meetings are held at the office on a monthly basis.
“Superintendents are the guys on the site all the time. They are the real key to safety,” says Tom Bentley. “The monthly superintendent meetings are where we pull them together and remind them that safety’s part of it. You can give them the program and they can have the certificate that says they’re trained, but they can forget about it three months later. So it’s a constant reminder, a continuing education.”
Once at the jobsite, all workers participate in weekly “toolbox talks”. “Each week, we emphasize a different safety topic that’s appropriate to the current activity on that project,” says Widmann.
Operator training is also a core part of the process. “The primary two pieces of equipment we use are forklifts and skid steers,” notes Widmann. Forklift training is supplied by the AGC of Greater Milwaukee in accordance with OSHA standards. “We go to the manufacturers to get assistance for training our operators in the safe operation of skid steers,” Widmann adds. This training is typically provided through the local Bobcat dealer.
To further reinforce safety among employees, The Bentley Company has established a two-part safety incentive program. The first part is company wide. A cash prize drawing is held among employees who are without injury and attend quarterly safety meetings. Employees attending three out of four of these meetings are also eligible for a larger yearly drawing.
The second part rewards individual safety achievements. “Employees are rewarded for each 1,000 hours they work without injury,” says Widmann. “Currently, some workers have up to 8,000 hours without an injury.”
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