Being in charge of safety at a big general contractor is too often a thankless job. After all, how can anyone hope to tally up the number of accidents that a particular precautionary measure has helped prevent?
But Hunzinger Construction can point to at least one instance when Kevin Sandkuhler’s work as vice president of safety management has made a big difference. Following his advice, Hunzinger bought a new table saw with special safety features for its shop.
The saw prevents accidents by engaging a braking mechanism and retracting its blade when its sensors detect that a finger, hand or arm have come in harm’s way. By stopping disaster literally seconds away from when it would have otherwise happened, the device can provide an accurate count of mishaps avoided. Within its first two weeks, it was shown to have prevented an injury that would have resulted in amputation.
Sandkuhler said no one should underestimate how much the construction industry has done in recent years and decades to improve its safety record.
“From when I first got into it, it’s like night and day,” he said. “Contractors seem to get it. And I think, within our company, our success is in part because I train superintendents to be safety people. And that’s what they do out there on jobsites.”
Of course, Sandkuhler wouldn’t be much of a safety official if he thought the work were all done. He said union contractors like Hunzinger could do a lot by making sure the people they are recruiting from local hiring halls have experience relevant to the specific type of work they’ll be doing on a given job.
The mere fact that someone’s a carpenter, for instance, is no guarantee that he’ll have familiarity with a particular type of carpentry work.
“Union contractors tend to hire guys by trade,” Sandkuhler said. “But I think it really comes down to getting the right people on the right jobs.”