Between 1996 and 2004 incidents resulting in injuries at Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company (GLDD) declined by 40 percent under a safety plan guided by Dave Simonelli and Glenn Thomas but they were concerned that accidents and even deaths were continuing to happen. Improvements in their safety record had become difficult to achieve.
Simonelli is vice president Risk Management and Technical Operations and Thomas is Corporate Safety Health & Environmental manager for Great Lakes.
Believing that it should be possible to avoid accidents altogether they started to explore the personal side of safety and consulted with JMJ Associates a high performance safety systems consultant based in Austin Texas. JMJ uses a proactive program for job site safety dubbed Incident and Injury Free – IIF – in which the attitude of everyone on the job site is geared toward creating a safe environment and toward protecting the safety of each worker.
The company visited GLDD headquarters in Oak Brook Illinois in March 2005 where they held a four-hour meeting with company executives and managers to examine how the company could achieve sustainable changes in safety performance.
Five JMJ consultants then interviewed 95 employees at eight project sites including hopper dredges cutter dredges beach fill sites and mechanical dredges. They asked site managers field engineers and crew outside the presence of their supervisors what they thought about the Great Lakes safety program and quality of leadership.
“What we discovered made us take a step back” said Simonelli. The employees believed that the company valued production over safety and that if a worker was hurt he or she could easily be replaced from the union hall.
“The company swallowed its pride and enlisted JMJ to begin giving workshops at GLDD jobsites” said Simonelli. The first workshop in May 2005 was given to 45 members of upper and middle management including dredge captains project managers and maintenance personnel. JMJ presented their High Performance Safety® Commitment Workshop to this group.
A second workshop was given to 60 members of management the following month after which a program was set up to give the message to nearly 1000 company employees.
The High Performance Safety system focuses on forming a proactive commitment to create an incident and injury-free work environment. This differs from a program aimed at accident prevention in that “accident prevention” presupposes that accidents will happen since dredging is a dangerous environment.
The IIF culture believes that injuries are unacceptable and that everyone on the project will do what it takes to make the workplace safe that we are all responsible for taking ownership of safety for ourselves and for each other. Everyone in the company from the president to the newest deckhand must understand the importance of making safety a core value placing human life ahead of all other priorities.
In October 2005 12 employees volunteered to acquire the skills to be IIF orientation trainers and attended four days of training. These were Deck Captains Charles Edwards and Donny Joyner First Mate James “Woody” Hoffman Chief Engineer Rush Ingram Russ Zimmerman and Art Fletcher from the Oak Brook office Dredging Superintendent Bo Hannegan Project Manager Kevin Holt and Safety Department personnel Glenn Thomas Gail Johnson and Ed Tiearney.
Between October 2005 and April 2006 the trainers conducted 33 four-hour orientation workshops at GLDD project sites in the U.S. and overseas reaching 700 field and office employees. Work was stopped and everyone on the day and night crew attended the orientation.
The training centered around the Charlie Morecroft video a one-hour film about a worker who didn’t wear safety clothes and was severely injured on the job showing wide-reaching effects on him his family and his employers. Following the video the attendees broke into smaller groups to discuss the film and especially why people don’t speak up when they see a dangerous situation.
In the orientations the workers came to know each other personally and were encouraged to develop relationships with the idea that if you know someone you will care about them and be more likely to speak up if you see them in danger.
“In 2006 we had a 30 percent drop in recordable injuries” said Simonelli. “But we still have a long way to go. It takes a lot of work and a lot of commitment in every facet of life not just on the job.” He told about being in a Home Depot and seeing a precarious display where three small pipes were being used as a rack to hold a pile of boards. He found the manager and pointed out the danger.
“Ninety percent of accidents happen at home” he said. “The awareness of safety should not stop when leaving work.”
The message is getting to the crews and projects said Simonelli. A success story is GLDD’s project on the CB&I LNG plant in Sabine Pass. It involved five months of work a big cutter dredge and 70 people and there were no recorded injuries.
From March 15 to May 10 2006 Bob Aquadro senior consultant from JMJ Associates presented three one-day supervisory skills workshops to 60 GLDD project management personnel. The managers learned how to put the IIF principles into effect. The topics included assigning incident and injury-free work recognizing and reinforcing IIF work correcting at-risk work and key elements of pre-task planning.
During the job these principles translate into a weekly toolbox to keep workers aware of safety issues of each task. When performing a task such as changing a cutterhead everyone involved first discusses the task and signs off on it. Every worker from deck hand to chief engineer is encouraged to speak up if they see a dangerous situation.
“We let them know – if you stop a task we’ll back you up” said Simonelli. “If it is not safe don’t do it and don’t let a co-worker do it. The safety group is a resource not a safety police and if an incident occurs it is investigated for lessons learned not to place blame” he said.
Since all the contractors hire from the same union halls as union members become trained in one company they will carry the culture to other companies. Manson Construction Company is in the program and others are considering it.
The Dredging Safety Management Program (DSMP) which certifies individual vessels for Corps of Engineers contracts is moving along said Simonelli but the IIF is outside of that. It deals with culture and the attitude of people rather than written safety manuals.
Every month a Safety Leadership Team consisting of Steve Becker Brad Hansen Kevin Hold Richard Lowry Doug Mackie Jack Newman Steve O’Hara Bill Pagendarm Chris Robbers Dave Simonelli George Strawn and Glenn Thomas meets at the Oak Brook office to discuss the program and review plans for sustaining the IIF efforts.
A poster campaign launched in May 2006 distributes posters with a specific safety theme to each project site every month.
Since December 2005 an Action Alert Campaign has distributed regular alerts on safety themes including slips trips and falls; the use of a Jacob’s ladder for man overboard retrieval; exercise of caution when working inside a crane’s swing radius and use of designated areas on vessels for personnel transfers.
The idea that accidents are inevitable is rubbish said Simonelli. “We’re in control. People don’t have to get hurt and nothing we do is worth risking or injuring someone. At first this will cause more downtime but in the long run there will be less downtime. Our challenge for 2007 is to implement the IIF program in every project he said.
This article written by Judith Powers from an interview with Dave Simonelli and information from GLDD brochures written by Glenn Thomas Dave Simonelli and Richard Adams.