By Rita Colorito
On any construction project, safety remains paramount. At the end of the day, contractors want all employees to go home to their families, safe and sound. SPECS, the Strategic Partnership for Excellence in Construction Safety (SPECS), takes safety one step further.
As a voluntary partnership with the State of Maryland, SPECS provides an in-depth, step-by-step peer review of a project’s safety, overseen by the Maryland’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MOSH).
“Only 10 contractors in Maryland have achieved this level of voluntary partnership with the state,” says Joe Xavier, consultant to ABC Greater Baltimore’s Safety Peer Group. “But it’s a program we hope more ABC members consider.”
Safety in the details
Wohlsen Construction Company based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was the latest ABC Greater Baltimore member to earn SPECS partnership. Wohlsen earned SPECS certification in the fall of 2020 for their work on the Holiday Inn Tru Hotel in Baltimore.
The SPECS partnership requires a peer review of a contractor’s written safety program, multiple job site audits by a team of peers, and a final site safety review performed by MOSH. Applicants to the program must have a comprehensive written safety and health program in place. ABC Greater Baltimore and peer groups then evaluate the contractor’s program to make sure it meets the highest standards.
Wohlsen decided to pursue SPECS after attending a Safety Peer Group meeting where Xavier discussed the program, says Adam Brown, corporate safety director for Wohlsen. “Joe gave an introduction to best-in-class safety, which is something we’re committed to achieving on any project. Wohlsen also partners with OSHA in some other ABC chapters we belonged to, so we felt it was a great opportunity on this Baltimore project,” says Brown.
Wohlsen chose the Holiday Inn Tru Hotel because of the challenging nature of the project. “We had no lay down area to build a 10-story hotel. We had to deal with neighbors to the right and left that were commercial businesses, Main Street in front of us, and alleyway behind us, and then residential properties nearby,” says Brown. “It was a really unique project that we felt would be perfect for this program.”
Before an ABC member can even apply for SPECS, they must first have reached an ABC STEP level of gold. In addition, contractors who wish to participate may not have had any willful safety violations in the State of Maryland for the last three years. Check and check for Wohlsen.
Comprehensive approach to safety
But SPECS is more than administrative paperwork, says Brown. It’s really an opportunity to learn from and correct any safety issues without fear of punitive measures.
“A lot of the project team has never experienced interaction with OSHA. In essence, it’s a mock OSHA inspection with non-enforcement, but it does give them the experience having OSHA on site. They get to see what that entails,” says Brown. “As a safety director, anytime we can have that kind of input from safety experts, third-party evaluations, we have signed up for it.”
For projects for SPECS consideration, members of ABC’s Safety Peer Group conduct an initial project walkthrough to do a top to bottom evaluation of the SPECS project. “On our project, they made a couple of recommendations and our team made the changes as needed. And then there was a follow up evaluation. Thankfully, after the follow up evaluation, we were approved as a SPECS certified project,” says Brown.
Because of all the restrictions with COVID-19, the evaluation process took longer than anyone anticipated. But Wohlsen was able to complete it within less than a year. MOSH conducted the final safety evaluation with a virtual walk through.
For Wohlsen, the safety insights gleaned from the SPECS partnership went beyond that one project. “We used it to educate our teammates, not only on a project level, but we communicated the findings to other project teams, superintendents, and project managers so they can do a self-analysis to make sure that their project is up to par,” says Brown.
Networking is the other intangible that can’t be measured. “These third-party evaluations build a relationship with the OSHA office. They get to know your name and your safety program,” says Brown. “In the event you ever have an enforcement visit, we have the certification that Wohlsen is an OSHA partner. And the reputation of that really helps out. In our experience in other chapters, that’s been a tremendous asset.”For more information on SPECS, contact Joe Xavier at 443-910-7874 or firstname.lastname@example.org.