Business and Finance

“We’re Not Cowboys but Concerned Contractors:” Council for Dredging and Marine Construction Safety Updates SSHO in Government Safety Requirements

Attending members left to right: Kevin Cannon of AGC of America; David Howard Manson Construction; Nazia Shah also of AGC; Co-chairs Devon Carlock and Albert Wong; Treasurer Michael Gerhardt; Glenn Thomas chair emeritus; Luis Bonilla of Weeks Marine; Alan K. Slifer Norfolk Dredging Company; and Tim Weckwerth also of Weeks Marine.

As the Council for Dredging and Marine Construction Safety (CDMCS) opened its meeting Co-chair Devon Carlock started with a safety briefing pointing out “the muster station is at the lamppost at the corner of Volt Street and Wisconsin” across the street from The George Town Club in Washington D. C. where the group had convened for its quarterly meeting on October 25. 

CDMCS was founded about 10 years ago and continues to gain momentum under the tutelage of the two Co-chairs Carlock vice president of safety & government relations for Cottrell Contracting Corp and Albert Wong senior program manager for Construction & Operations Safety at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters and Treasurer Michael Gerhardt assistant executive director of Dredging Contractors of America (DCA).

“One of the goals of the group” Carlock said “is to create uniform standards for safety including the hiring of qualified safety personnel.” This issue was raised extensively by Tim Weckwerth vice president of safety for Weeks Marine and his colleague Luis Bonilla health safety & environment manager and Alan Slifer safety & personnel director Norfolk Dredging Company. 

According to Weckwerth and Slifer concurred “There’s a lack of clarity about certification versus competency and the requirements vary from USACE district to district. This is leaving us with a shortage of qualified safety officers. And in the future it will get worse if we cannot have younger people working with us now as trainees. We’re recruiting top-level college graduates but because they are fresh out of school and don’t have adequate years of experience they don’t come into consideration for our job sites.” 

Michael Gerhardt informed the meeting that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations for dredging personnel have instituted an exception in its regulations for Site Safety Health Officer (SSHO). Gerhardt pointed out that the current EM385-1-1 Corps Safety Manual revised and published in 2014 does NOT require five years of continuous experience to be approved as an SSHO for dredging activities. It reads “Exception 1: For dredging contracts the SSHO requirements established in the standardized contract clause for dredging project site safety personnel shall be used as it is included in the current UFGS for Governmental Safety Requirements.” This exception states as follows: “The SSHO and a CDSO [collateral duty safety officer] must have a minimum of three years of experience within the past five years in supervising/managing dredging activities and other specific activities.” (For further reference see Safety Personnel Training Requirements for Dredging.)

This was an important point which was also addressed by Kevin Cannon of Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America in his presentation of OSHA updates. Other OSHA updates included information on crane operators drug testing disciplinary policies and new silicate exposure sampling procedures. 

Future Safety Focuses
The floor was then passed to Albert Wong who reported on mishaps and accidents. Hand safety continues to be a major challenge and he referred to the CDMCS new Hand Safety video that has just been released (see page 24). But Wong also emphasized the importance of ergonomics. “Ergonomics should be the next great focus. We should take a look at the third and fourth order of effects from previous injuries caused by a lifetime of lifting heavy items.” His warning to all was “don’t let it slide” and his advice was “Look at the claims you have to determine if you need to view ergonomic issues.” Weckwerth commented “Ask yourself if your employees could pass the physical tests they passed when they were hired years ago.”
According to Carlock other issues that should be addressed in the future are “the need for fatigue management plans and how the opioid crisis is affecting the industry.” This all speaks to the heightened awareness of the industry in recent years. Carlock remarked “There’s a perception that we’re dredging cowboys. But we’re not. We self-govern and we know that employees need PPE. Districts need to understand that we are concerned. We know we’re liable if things go wrong and we need as an industry and as safety officers to communicate better with the Corps.”

He continued “Toolboxes and company culture play an important role. The top tier management has to buy into safety and provide money for programs to encourage Stop Work Authority to upgrade PPE and to make sure there is an open channel to senior management. Plus don’t underestimate the value of drone surveillance and unplanned on-board visits from safety officers.”

The consensus of the meeting was that the industry has upped its training programs. “In fact” Carlock said “we exceed industry standards.” But he added we would welcome a qualification course for SSHOs or an apprenticeship or internship program to make the role of safety officers attractive to the younger generation and point the way for a career path within the industry. Glenn Thomas emphasized “We need to be present and represented and thoroughly involved” with the development of standards.

Luis Bonilla of Weeks Marine and H. Cooper of Dutra Group followed up with two other important reports. Bonilla presented the “Accident Report for the Fourth Quarter” covering a range of reporting on the Nature of Injury or Illness and Types of Incidents. These included statistics on length of service for the company dredging experience in general and employee age. This data is submitted anonymously guarded by an outside third-party and only used for statistical comparisons. It makes it possible for the companies to monitor themselves and compare their own performance from quarter to quarter. By doing so each company can signal potential areas of improvement. 

H. Cooper initiated a discussion on “Confined Space Entry” and the inherent dangers. All present agreed that this is an ongoing topic that requires a rescue plan and teamwork. Issues include sufficient exhaust while doing hotwork having a hole watch person adequate training and the inadequacies of air tanks for the rescuers. Ideas about self-rescue plans gas meters and improved oxygen tanks were among the topics discussed but everyone agreed that “dialing 911 is not an option.” Someone mentioned that a study was done that indicated that for emergencies on the water rescue by land-based fire departments took more than 30 minutes to arrive.

American Waterways Operators Guest Speaker
Brian Bailey the director of safety & environmental stewardship at American Waterways Operators (AWO) which represents the towboat and tugboat industry was invited to share some of his organization’s experiences. The organization has been growing and he attributes this growth to its ability to offer added value to its members such as benchmarking themselves by region and sector. This translates into successful bidding on contracts. The data it collects on safety remains anonymous but gives the participating companies a means to competitively prove and improve themselves. Bailey invited members to attend AWO’s conference in January.

Bailey described how courses training programs and lessons learned offered by AWO help them form a safety partnership with the Coast Guard and lead to better compliance with regulations. “We’ve had strong private sector leadership and developed what we call the AWO Responsible Carrier Program. This is part of a Coast Guard-AWO Safety Partnership.” In addition he said “An education process is necessary and to really benefit the members it is essential to report accidents and incidents with consistency.”

 Besides CDMCS officers Albert Wong Devon Carlock and Michael Gerhardt the members present were David Howard dredge operations manager vice president Manson Construction Alan K. Slifer safety & personnel director Norfolk Dredging Company; Glenn Thomas chair emeritus; Luis Bonilla and Tim Weckwerth from Weeks Marine; Kevin Cannon and Nazia Shah of Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America. Carol Shobrook president of Sales and Marketing of JT Cleary; Howard “H” Cooper corporate safety director of the Dutra Group Phyllis Harden of Pine Bluff Sand and Gravel Company Daniel Callais corporate safety director of Mike Hooks Inc. Joe Sellers corporate safety director of Durocher Marine and Kurt Luedtke president of Luedtke Engineering Company were linked in online.

The discussions both of the people at the meeting in person and via computer were intense and speak to the dedication of the group. New members are welcome and should contact Devon Carlock or Michael Gerhardt. The next meeting will be held February 7 in Washington D.C.