February 3, 2006

Partnership Seeks to Prevent Work Injuries at C.U.

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The construction of Cornell’s Life Sciences Building, scheduled to last through 2007, is a complex and dangerous undertaking. With goals of enhanced safety and health for workers, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) formed a partnership with the construction manager Skanska USA Building Inc. and 14 building and trade unions. The partnership seeks to eliminate accidents and injuries.

“This is the first OSHA partnership with a construction company in Central New York,” said Jack Brown, senior project manager at Skanska USA Building Inc.

The partnership was initiated six months ago, when Skanska approached the OSHA’s local office. After an initial review meeting with local labor authorities in the area, OSHA and business authorities drafted a partnership agreement. A document was created and sent to the state office in New York City, and then the national office in Washington where OSHA approved the agreement.

“We scheduled a signing, which took place on February 11, between Skanska, OSHA, and the 14 business unions from different locales,” Brown said.

Partnerships with OSHA are commonplace for large-scale projects like the Life Sciences Building, a five-story, 280,000 square foot building with a 500-foot tunnel. The building will require 20 subcontractors and 1,500 workers from various trades.

“If you have a large hundred million dollar project with fairly difficult construction, we try to do a partnership. Skanska uses it more as a collaboration tool between us and the OSHA professionals who are experts in the field of safety,” Brown said.

One of the partnership’s goals is for OSHA to offer Skanska feedback and risk analyses for work activities. Skanska will be better equipped to avoid construction hazards, overexposure to silica, as well as cave-in and tunneling accidents. They hope the partnership will lead to zero fatalities and an injury and illness rate 25 percent below industry average.

“Through this joint effort of government, business and labor, we aim to minimize risks to workers, reduce injury and illness rates and improve construction safety and health throughout the project,” said Patricia K. Clark, OSHA regional administrator in New York.

The most immediate outcome of the partnership will be the 10-hour OSHA safety course required for each worker within the first two months of site work.

“There is also a requirement that any supervisory person go through the standard 30-hour course,” Brown said.

During the next stage, Skanska will request feedback from OSHA regarding various work activities.

“We’ve already had OSHA in the office helping us review shoring plans,” Brown said.

Site-specific safety and health programs will be implemented for all contractors. Weekly safety and health inspections will identify and eliminate dangers; excavations will be thoroughly overseen and inspected.

With goals that promote safety and communication, one might ask why the recent partnership is one of a kind in Central New York. Brown believes the hesitation stems from misconstrued perceptions of OSHA.

“There is this perception that OSHA is like a big brother. There is a long history of OSHA coming in and fining people for non performance issues and nobody has really tried to ask them to help figure out what the safest and best way is to do the work,” he said.

With a project as complex as the Life Sciences Building, Skanska believes it will benefit from OSHA’s resources, thereby reducing the possibility of accidents and injuries.

Archived article by Jessica Liebman
Sun Staff Writer