Pittsburg Tank & Tower Group has been in business for 100 years. PTTG has had to adapt over that century and evolve to meet industry standards.
“In today’s environment, if you are not a safe company, you won’t stay in business very long,” said Hugh Haire, Pittsburg Maintenance Division’s vice president of operations.
Perhaps the biggest evolution has been the company buying into a safety culture. In a safety program, the employee is concerned about their own person, in a safety culture – the employee is concerned about everybody’s safety.
When PTTG’s late former owner Don Johnston started in construction in the 1950s, it wasn’t uncommon for one fatality to occur per $1,000,000 contract. Workers at elevated heights were not harnessed to anything and could, and sometimes did, go into a freefall toward the ground.
Before the 1980s, PTTG didn’t have a safety program. Safety just wasn’t thought of that much. The belief was that every person looked out for their own safety. In a video on the company’s website, President Ben Johnston recalls sitting down for an 8-hour deposition related to a fatal accident. As the day wore on, he wasn’t happy with some of the answers he gave. He vowed then that he wouldn’t be in that position again. He convinced his father that Pittsburg needed to create a safety program. The better part of a year was spent writing the program.
Don McConnell was hired as a safety director to kickstart the program. After a long tenure with the company, he’s retired but still a presence at PTTG as a consultant.
“The company had experienced some severe injuries and even some fatalities over the years,” he said.
McConnell recalled that when he was first hired, late company owner Don Johnston told him, “I want to get somebody who can get the safety straightened out in this company because I’m seeing too many of my friends, that’s how he referred to his employees – as his friends, being injured and killed and maimed over the years.”
A safety program was built for the company that consisted of a lot of rules, regulations, processes, manuals, and training. Employees worked together closely as teams. Promoting a safety culture entailed involving employees in the process from the start and getting them to buy in and offer their own ideas on how to make their work environment safer. Construction workers are notoriously hard-headed and slow to accept change, but eventually, employees bought into the safety program and took it to heart. Those who refused to change were weeded out.
“We kind of slowly but surely kind of changed people’s minds about safety and about how to do their job, how to do it properly and safely so they wouldn’t get hurt and wouldn’t get anyone hurt,” McConnell said.
Our safety team is well aware of the dangers of having employees who are impaired by drugs and unable to perform their jobs safely. PTTG promotes a drug-free environment. Random drug tests are performed on employees to make sure they are compliant with this policy.
Inspections used to be performed by a lone crew member. Two or three person crews are the norm now, so backup is available if there’s an issue. Before they put on their safety gear, crew members inspect their harness every time. They just can’t take for granted that it’s in good shape.
“Check it every day before you put it on; before you wear it,” McConnell said, adding that the rigging should be checked daily as well.
Field employees go through a review of 2 days minimum of safety training every year. The hands-on sessions include CPR and First Aid training. Each employee earns an OSHA 10-hour construction safety and health card. Employees go through yearly training tailored for their particular job, but safety culture is about more than an annual training session. It’s a continuous process that involves visits to job sites to make sure everyone is safety compliant and regular communications so people can voice their concern. Many of the new safety measures that were implemented are related to fall protection. The crew who work on elevated storage tanks and towers gave their feedback on what best practices and safety devices should be used.
“We’re really big on safety,” said Hugh Haire, vice president of operations for Pittsburg Tank & Tower Maintenance Company.
Haire oversees maintenance crews out on jobs. Every month, he holds a conference call, so that everyone can weigh in on any issues, concerns or hot topics, including those about safety. Haire tells his crew members that he wants to make sure they “go home the way you come to work.”
“People are important to me,” he said. “We have to take care of our own. That’s why I drive home safety.”
When Allstate Tower’s Vice President of Sales Kevin Roth first started, crew members wore tree-trimming belts instead of safety harnesses and other fall protection equipment. Things have changed a lot over the years. New hires at Allstate Tower’s shop train alongside veterans for at least 2-3 weeks, observing the right way to do things and becoming acclimated with the rules and regulations before they are assigned to work a machine by themselves. For people working higher than four feet off the ground – wearing fall protection equipment is mandatory.
“We have become substantially more safety conscious,” said Jess Elger, vice president of operations for Pittsburg’s Ground Division.
The Kentucky Labor Cabinet certified PTTG as one of only 15 companies in the state’s Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP). PTTG remains in the program.
According to the National Safety Council, June, National Safety Month focuses on reducing leading causes of injury and death at work, on the road and in our homes and communities. At Pittsburg Tank & Tower Group, we are continuously looking at ways to increase safety and reduce the number of accidents, injuries, and fatalities that occur in our workforce.