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Photo of David Langlais in construction hat and safety vest with article title

What it means to be the Safety Coordinator at a Small Company

We sat down with David Langlais, PE to ask him what it’s like to be on the Safety Committee for a small company. David has worked in the construction field and has also been the Safety Committee Chair before becoming its official coordinator. We asked him what it was like to grow in this position and what it means to him.

What does it mean to be the safety coordinator for a business?

In New Hampshire, each Safety Committee within a company is supposed to appoint a person who is going to have current knowledge on safety trends, expectations, et cetera for a company. At Hoyle, Tanner, we call that person the Safety Coordinator. So, I have to have the training, keep up-to-date on policies and procedures in states where we do business, and keep up-to-date with OSHA.

Why do you see a need for this role?

The need is there because we put people out in the field; that’s our biggest risk area. The most dangerous person is the “casual site-visitor” who doesn’t know the changes in the field; is not that familiar with the contractor; not used to sites. We’re standing next to traffic, next to heavy equipment, we’re out in the woods by ourselves near animals and insects and poisonous plants. These are the types of things employees may not think about when they go out in the field.

You’ve been the safety committee chairperson and you’ve really championed and been the voice for safety in our company – bringing it more to the forefront of peoples’ minds. What started you on that path?

Way back – 2009 or 2010, I was on one of the NHDOT construction projects on the I-93 corridor. Someone had questioned the safety vest I was wearing and made a comment about it not being the right type. I think at that point I brought it to the attention of Woody Wilson [one of our most senior Resident Project Representatives], I think, and asked him about it. The person on the site who commented on my vest wasn’t known for being the most serious person, so I couldn’t really tell. Then I looked into more about the vests and how there are different types of safety vests – there are different types for being in the woods, being in traffic. So really it was a collection of things that happened that got me scratching my head, and wondering what are we really training safety-wise here and what should we be aware of that we’re not?

In September of 2014 I was invited to not only join the Safety Committee, but also be the Chair. At that point the committee hadn’t met in 2 years. I believe the Board of Directors and specifically Frank Wells had recommended that I chair the committee because of my construction background, and to bring life back into the committee.

What are some of the things you’ve accomplished?

  1. As a committee, we basically reformatted the whole way we think about safety in the company. We follow all the rules set forth in Lab 600 from the NH Bureau of Labor, which stem from RSA-281-A:64. The State requires that we have a “Joint Loss Management Committee”, and we call ours the Safety Committee (you can rename it).
  2. We’ve reinvigorated the committee – We didn’t have a real presence within the company before. Once we looked at how we’re supposed to organize it based on Lab 600, we saw we had a lot of things we weren’t doing. We discovered we needed a Health & Safety Manual – we didn’t have one, or one that we could find. We had some of the elements but nothing to the level of what we’ve developed. That’s been the biggest thing we’ve accomplished.
  3. We’ve also made sure field personnel are represented. They are our biggest risk and we need to make sure they have the right equipment and training to do their job safely.
  4. We assisted the Benefits Committee in developing the PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) Benefit Program, which reimburses employees for certain PPE items that are not required to be provided by the company. 

What are the ultimate goals or principles you’re working towards?

Our ultimate goal is to ensure safety is a part of our everyday lives within the company. The next thing we want to roll out are job hazard analysis sheets. The purpose is to anticipate hazards in the field and be prepared for them before you go out there. That way, we get people trained and get them the tools they need to anticipate safety concerns and be prepared to mitigate them. And not just the full-time field personnel. The hazard analysis sheets apply to everyone – young engineers on bridges. Roadside investigations for preliminary design. Joanne [an environmental coordinator] flagging wetlands. Anyone who leaves the office and goes into the “field” wherever that may be.

The other goal is to incorporate safety into how we plan and estimate our projects – like we do for Quality Assurance / Quality Control. Integrate it into our process.

Given the current situation with COVID, how has your role changed – or how has it not changed?

I’ve become busier [laughs]. We get updated stuff on COVID every day. Trying to keep ahead of what the requirements are is a challenge. I get a lot of info in Massachusetts being that I’m active in ACEC-MA in their Health and Safety Forum (co-chair).

Abbie Goodman [Executive Director of ACEC-MA] called me on Friday with some questions regarding what Massachusetts is implementing for construction for COVID. I also talked to Abbie [on Monday] morning. Basically, the information about COVID trickles down from the governor to our clients to us and our consultant peers. They want to continue with construction – it’s listed as an essential service- but we also have to follow CDC guidelines. Each state also has different rules with regard to construction. In Vermont, construction is not considered essential unless it’s directly related to helping with the virus. Some contractors are not allowed to leave states now if they live in Vermont but work in New Hampshire, which is an issue we’ve been dealing with.

And who’s essential and who’s not? And if we’re essential, which rules do we follow? Those are the kinds of things we’ve been thinking about. Especially now, with construction season upon us.

Are you mostly worrying about construction safety during COVID, or everything at once?

For me, it’s construction stuff because the company COVID-19 team is worrying about the other pieces. How do we build confidence in our employees that their environment is safer than they think? How do we verify that our field personnel are okay before they go out in the field? Also, as I said before, it’s different between New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Massachusetts set out rules specifically addressing going out into the field during this pandemic, but New Hampshire said it’s up to each business to police themselves. So unless NHDOT comes out with something that says “here’s how you have to arrive to our site,” we’re still working on this.

Is the company doing anything different (aside from working from home) now that we’re in this situation?

We’re handling it the way the CDC recommends.

What does your day-to-day look like right now?

I’m managing a couple of projects but aside from that I’m getting interrupted by COVID-related information. Every few days new information comes in. So right now, it’s a matter of trying to see what the latest and greatest is so we can make sure we’re following it and that our employees are prepared for it.

Is there anything that intimidates or overwhelms you about being safety coordinator?

I would say that I embrace the position. I’d say if anything, I’d like to have more training and have safety more prominent in our company. Part of that has to do with the size of our company. I communicate with peers in ACEC who have much larger companies, so their initiatives dwarf what we do. Their top safety personnel have different backgrounds. So that part gets a little overwhelming. Or not overwhelming, but I wish we were there. Don’t get me wrong, we’re safe, and we’re doing what we need to for state compliance, and we put smart people in the field. We don’t do a lot of labor-related, safety-type stuff. We don’t have field crews that do labor which makes it a lot easier (like drilling crews or survey crews) – more of that background than office background. Some of that can be more difficult to manage. So, no, I’m not overwhelmed by my role as much as I am of the information that I’d like to put out.

Why you do keep showing up for this role, personally?

I think part of it goes back to the training aspect. The person who’s designated by the committee to be the coordinator has to have a certain level of training. When this originally came up, I received OSHA training for construction safety. So really, I’m the most trained person in the company when it comes to this. And again, we’re not quite where I’d like us to be, and no one else currently has the training to take my place. I’m happy to do it, and I push for it because I feel like I’ve got more work to do in this role.

Would you call yourself a safety enthusiast?

I would say I’ve grown into being a safety enthusiast. I was recognized as having the experience and then the question was, do I have the willingness? And the answer was yes. So now there are aspects of safety I’m very enthusiastic about. I think the toughest part [about being asked to make it more active] is balancing the focus between office personnel and field personnel. So, I’ve found that I rely on other committee members to worry about office personnel, and I worry about the field personnel.

This role has also helped me to not take my construction and my safety background for granted. And I think that’s something we kind of did as a company; we trusted field employees to have the safety knowledge. The full-time ones probably did, but it’s really the part-timers who are more concerning. What’s their experience? What’s their knowledge? Are they aware of their surroundings?

Has your enthusiasm encouraged anyone else? If not enthusiasm, what would it be?

Absolutely. If not mine, then the committee’s. The fact that we were able to gather people to work on the manual and the people who have stayed on the committee. We’ve rotated in and out a few people. We’ve got our quarterly Bee Safe newsletter; we’ve been participating in health and safety week in August which is something we didn’t do before but it’ll be our second or third year this year. I’ve conducted a couple trainings now; I’d like to do more. Gotten more people trained in the OSHA 10-hour course which is big. It’s something we’re trying to get field personnel to have. Building in small procedures and practices – yeah it’s definitely paying off. Not as fast as I’d like, but it’s one of the challenges of being a small business.

Questions about safety? Want to learn from the best? Reach out to David Langlais, PE.

Catie Hall

About Catie Hall

Catie is a marketing/proposal coordinator at Hoyle, Tanner. She works with project managers to create beautifully-designed marketing materials for aviation, bridge, roadway, and utility engineering. An introvert at heart and a natural bibliophile, Catie spends her free time transfixed in fiction novels and fascinated by her Labrador, Rodney.