“Trail Blazer” might seem like an alarming way to describe someone who’s dedicated his career to safety. But for Tom Nelson, who retires this May as vice president of safety and health at Kraus-Anderson Construction Company, the shoe fits.
In his 23 years with Kraus-Anderson, Nelson has guided KA to one of the top safety records in the industry; while providing advocacy and leadership to Minnesota’s workplace safety initiatives.
Nelson’s career goes back nearly to the very beginning of federal and state occupational safety movement, and includes broad-based experience with OSHA inspections and training as well as municipal and corporate safety program management.
For those too young to remember, consider: In the year the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH) was passed into law, it is estimated that about 14,000 workers were killed on the job—that’s about 38 people every day. Since then, annual workplace fatalities have been reduced by more than 65 percent and occupational injury and illness rates have declined by 67 percent, even as U.S. employment has almost doubled.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was just two years old when, in April 1973, Nelson enrolled in the first offered class through the Minnesota Safety Council: “Fundamentals of Safety.” After he completed the course, one of his classmates offered Nelson a job at the Metropolitan Waste Control Commission, where he was responsible for safety at 21 wastewater treatment plants and construction in the 7-county metro area. For nine years he worked for Minnesota OSHA Program, becoming senior safety investigator and a member of the training, education and consultation unit. From there Tom moved to corporate manager of safety, health services, security, industrial hygiene and workers compensation at Onan Corporation.
When he started as safety director at Kraus-Anderson in 1991, Nelson focused on proactive programs to reduce injury and illness rates and to educate the workforce in safety and health practices. Again, he was leading an industry trend.
“Over the years, we’ve seen the discipline of workplace safety evolve from a focus on regulatory compliance to a focus on building the most effective safety culture. Tom has been a part of that evolution,” said Bufton, CEO of the Minnesota Safety Council and a colleague since 1973.
Construction remains a dangerous profession. Construction workers comprise 6 to 8 percent of all workers, but account for 15 to 20 percent of deaths on the job each year. Fatalities caused by falls from elevations continue to be a leading cause of death for construction workers, resulting in 34.6% of 806 total deaths in construction in 2012. The other leading fatal hazards are struck by object (9.8%), electrocution (8.1%) and caught in/between (1.6%) These “Fatal Four” hazards were responsible for more than half of all construction worker deaths in 2012.
Kraus-Anderson’s robust safety program goes far beyond compliance, to train, engage and equip all workers in working safely all day, every day. Every new Kraus-Anderson Construction employee receives an orientation stating KA’s safety policy, Employee Right-to-Know and A Workplace Accident and Injury Reduction (AWAIR) programs. Continuing education covers a gamut of material, including site-specific safety programs, weekly jobsite toolbox talks, mock rescue drills, and an annual safety rewards program for field employees who complete a series of online trainings and complete the year with no lost time accidents. Proactive jobsite inspections remain a routine part of every KA project, and the company enforces a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requirement on all jobsites, to include hard hat, safety glasses, work shoes and proper clothing. The safety team also collaborates with the KA Wellness Program on efforts such as jobsite Stretch ‘n’ Flex programs, and ergonomic matters.
“Every KA employee contributes to the success of the program, whether as a member of the safety committee, an employee in the office or on the job site, or an employee or family member submitting an idea for the annual safety slogan contest,” said Nelson.
The results speak for themselves. At this writing, Kraus-Anderson has achieved two consecutive years of no lost time accidents. In addition, for 23 consecutive years KA has received the prestigious Governor’s Safety Award, recognizing workplace safety and health efforts and safety culture.
KA remains at the forefront of safety culture, with achievements in enhanced safety partnerships. These include two Minnesota Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (MNSHARP) awards completed in partnership with MNOSHA. In addition, The Valspar project team recently completed the Construction Health and Safety Excellence (CHASE) Program at the peak Level III Cooperative Compliance Partnership program level. A joint initiative of the Associated General Contractors (AGC) and MNOSHA, CHASE Level III is designed for industry leaders with already very comprehensive safety and health programs, adding site specific compliance assistance with MNOSHA’s cooperative compliance partnership program. In addition to a written safety program, trained safety administrator, employee orientation and documentation, CHASE Level III requirements include self-audits, weekly safety meetings, weekly site inspections, prohibited substance policy, six-foot fall protection policy, no willful or repeat violations within the past three years, no fatalities/catastrophes with violations within the past three years, qualifying inspection by AGC of MN, employee involvement, incident rate below Bureau of Labor Statistics (three-year average), submittal of annual activity report to AGC of MN, and providing all field and supervisory personnel with the OSHA 10-Hour Training Course for field supervisors.
While the pursuit of workplace safety is an ever-evolving process, Nelson and his successor, Jay Vander Leest, anticipate that the industry will continue to look to Behavior-Based Safety (BBS) programs, drawing on training and reinforcement to enroll employee involvement and commitment to health and safety goals.
Safe to say, KA’s safety culture is in good hands.