It's Construction Safety Week!
General Superintendent/Safety Officer Matt Perhatch, A+ Commitment to Safety
Happy Construction Safety Week, everyone!
As it says on their website, Construction Safety Week is all about being connected, supported, and safe. To be a show of force as an industry and demonstrate that we practice what we preach about safety being the foundation of all we do as construction professionals.
As Aldrich’s General Superintendent and Safety Officer, making sure that Aldrich and every one of our employees are living our commitment to safety is my motivation every day. I’m proud that we were able to kick off the year by announcing that it’s our 50th anniversary as a company and that we’ve had zero time lost for three consecutive years. I intend for that streak to continue!
Right-Sized for Safety Success
In my mind, one of our safety success factors is the size and stability of our company. We have largely had the same team of ‘regulars’ on our jobs, even out in the field, for years and years. They actively mentor and train up-and-coming team members and everyone buys into and watches out for safety. At our Bothell offices, my office is right next to Vice President John Schuh and President George Ward. Anyone can talk to any of us at any time if they want to. I know that having an "open door" policy isn’t too uncommon, but I feel that because of our size, employees actually have the ability to form bonds with the leadership team in a meaningful way, even field staff. If we were a much larger company, I don’t think we’d have that same connection, especially not with the field.
Creating an Inclusive Culture of Safety
Another key factor is making sure that everyone feels comfortable on the jobsite to speak up about their safety concerns. We want to make sure that people know that they can bring stuff up and make suggestions without getting in trouble or being shut down. We want there to be mutual respect within the whole team, and we want to make sure that everyone feels empowered to start conversations if they feel that a topic needs to be discussed. We take time at the start of all of our jobs to get our subcontractors on board as well. If a company or team gets on top of the safety question early, and leadership—including foremen and superintendents—demonstrates that they take it seriously, everyone comes to understand that they too must take safety seriously.
Creating this culture and environment is deeply intentional, and we know that this intentionality is necessary, especially for those of us who have been doing this for a long time. Even as recently as 10 to 15 years ago, it was common in our industry for foremen and superintendents to be ‘screamers.’ It was expected that those in these leadership roles would be pushing to get things done as fast as possible to make as much money as possible off each project. Safety was not on leadership’s mind as a top priority at most places, and people who have been in the industry for a while kept their heads down about things for fear of being berated or even worse, yelled at.
At Aldrich, we don’t do that, and we want to make sure that everyone understands that we do things differently here. This goes all the way back to President Jerry Aldrich and the values he instilled in the company about always treating people with kindness and respect. My predecessor and mentor as General Superintendent, Dave Williams, carried through with these values for the 42 years he was with the company, and I carry on those same values today.
Making sure that people feel comfortable speaking up about safety is especially important in our work in occupied healthcare environments. Safety is not just about our team in this environment—it’s critical for healthcare providers and patients too. We have a ‘stop job’ program that anyone can engage in if they feel they have identified a significant risk to staff, employee, or patient wellbeing. We don’t wait for the next foremen’s meeting to discuss potential high-risk issues—anyone can pull the ripcord, so to speak, and stop the job, after which we gather everyone together to discuss the problem and potential solutions. We don’t waste time talking about things at the leadership level than letting information trickle down, we would rather have everyone involved from the start when it comes to safety. Safety is everyone’s job, not just one person’s job, and we believe in that and live that philosophy every day here.
Additionally, we want to make sure that everyone is proud of what they do. We don’t want to step on someone else’s work to get our part done. We do really cool work here and everyone wants to be part of that, so it's important to cultivate a culture where people can talk out loud about near misses and make suggestions to improve our safety practices.
One of our Project Managers Dave Gray put it nicely: “You don’t have to ask permission to do the right thing; it’s expected. That sums up my feelings about working here. I sleep with a clear conscience.”
Every year the AGC does a safety audit for Aldrich. While we always pass with flying colors, we’re taking to heart this year a piece of feedback that we’ve received a few years in a row—that we actually include too much information in our safety documentation which in true 'old school' fashion, we keep in a binder for each of our jobs.
Our initiative to address this involves creating an entirely new safety program that is 100% paperless. It may seem silly to write a brand-new safety program after years of doing so well; we know there’s always room for improvement, even in systems and practices that are doing very well. Vice President John Schuh and I are working with a safety consultant, John Carlson at Integrity Safety, on this initiative. Our superintendents have been helping us with development as well. Our goal is to have all sign-ins, orientations, safety documentation, etc. digitally available on iPads. It’s been a work in progress over the last year and we’re almost ready to roll it out in the field.
I have been at Aldrich for 18 years, and safety has always been the highest priority, and openness in the communication about it really is the culture here. We adapt and we invest: if we see something that a client or a partner is doing that we think is better than our current practice or understanding, we have no qualms about adding it to our own repertoire. And neither George nor John have ever said ‘no’ to a safety recommendation from me. If there is a tool we need or a purchase that needs to be made or training that I think would be beneficial for the team, it has never been a problem to get those things approved and rolled out to the rest of the company, both field and office.
You’d think that after two years of leading safety for an essential service construction company during a global pandemic, I’d be exhausted. But after the first year of COVID-19, I shared with the leadership team that it was the best year I’ve had at Aldrich. Being part of the leadership team and helping make Aldrich successful has meant an awful lot to me. My wife jokes that work for me is my daily eight-hour vacation. I guess the saying is true: if you love what you do, then you’ll never work a day in your life.
Stay safe out there everyone!
Matt Perhatch, General Superintendent + Safety Officer
Aldrich + Associates, Inc.