Safety Net

Contractors know the hazards. Job-site accidents not only cause injury, but often result in law suits and insurance-rate hikes. Accidents also cost contractors work.

As a result, Chicago-area unions and union shops are supplementing OSHA training with programs of their own. "It's our job to make sure that what OSHA doesn't cover, we do," says Tom King, safety supervisor with Continental Electric Construction Company, a Skokie, Ill.-based electrical contractor.

In addition to in-house training, Continental urges employees to attend courses sponsored by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and National Electrical Contractors Association. The courses, held year round in Alsip and at Chicago's West Side Technical Institute, focus on both electrical hazards, including ARC flash and ARC blast, and general hazards, including falls and equipment-related accidents.

The union-funded Construction Safety Council, located in Hillside, Ill., holds a similarly global view. "We believe each trade should have an orientation to all hazards on a job site, regardless of who created them," says Council founder and Executive Vice President Tom Broderick, a construction veteran who holds a graduate degree in occupational safety. "Injuries often happen because of 'traps' left by someone in another trade."

With that in mind, Continental develops an accident prevention plan to identify all hazards unique to a project. Hospitals, for instance, pose a particular risk because they must maintain power while undergoing renovation. "For every job, we ask ourselves, 'What are the hazards and how do we intend to address them?'" says King. "What precautions do we take if we're working in working in a confined or elevated space?"

The approach has helped Continental achieve an average emergency modification rate (EMR) of .55 to .65, among the lowest in the industry. Continental also has won the Lake County Contractors Association award for best safety record of any area contractor for five consecutive years, as well as numerous safety citations from customers.

King isn't surprised. Safety, he says, is Continental's top priority, much as it is for the majority of Chicago-area union shops.