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February 28, 2019
Safety, Emerging technology

I remember the anticipation as I sat in the New Orleans banquet hall. The past several days had felt like an eternity as we waited on pins and needles. In mere moments, we would know if we pulled off one of the greatest accomplishments of my career. 

Then we heard those magical words: Pepper Construction of Indiana. We had won the Associated General Contractors of America's Construction Safety Excellence Award for our division, 250,000 to 600,000 hours worked. The award recognizes construction companies who excel at safety performance by examining each candidate's commitment to safety, occupational health management and risk control, and the win reaffirmed for us that our safety culture is on the right trajectory. 

Don't get me wrong – I've always been confident that Pepper has one of the strongest safety programs in the industry. But to have AGC listen to our story and essentially say, "this is good stuff," meant the world to me both personally and professionally. 

Winning AGC Construction Safety Excellence Award 

During the final round of judging in the days leading up to the announcement, I had gone through the gambit of emotions: excitement, nervousness and anticipation before finally reaching joy and then pride. But in order to get there we had to summarize our program in a brief presentation. Talk about stressful – how do you compact 25 years' worth of an entire safety culture into 10 minutes? 

We chose to focus on three critical elements: our emphasis on leadership and responsibility, our influence on the future of our company and the industry, and the importance of empowerment in the field. 

Then it was time for the judges to start firing questions. In the half-second that I paused to take a breath, I watched with awe as my teammates grabbed the questions and threw back solid answers. And I could tell I wasn't the only one who was impressed. I stood there and watched as the judge's nodded their heads. Before I knew it, our 15 minutes were up and I was finally able to exhale. 

After an experience like that, there often comes a flash of realization. You think, "Holy smokes – we do a lot and our people are the ones who make it happen." Being recognized for your safety program in one of the most prestigious ways possible provides perspective. This award wasn't just a recognition of the four of us who gave the presentation – it was a validation for everybody who's done a great job developing and executing a top-notch safety program. 

Moving safety forward

Much of our submission was focused on our innovative efforts and our desire for continuous improvement. The people on our jobsites carry a heavy load of daily responsibilities, so it's important for us to carefully consider how we occupy their work time. That means we're always searching for ways to make our jobs safer and our programs easier to administer. 

Over the last year, we've continued to see that much of our innovation isn't about reinventing the wheel – it's about finding tools that facilitate our core values of good communication, transparency and personal accountability. Those efforts have included the following:

•    Worked toward making our Underground Utilities Damage Prevention process the standard on all of our projects, while making steps toward utilizing augmented reality a possibility. 
•    Acted as a facilitator with MindForge, Purdue Polytechnic Institute and Purdue Envision Center to develop hands-on safety training using virtual reality.

Virtual reality for safety training
Pepper tested Purdue Polytechnic Institute and Envision Center's fall protection safety training using virtual reality.

•    Strengthened our Safety Quality Productivity (SQP) program and introduced a "Be Safe and Build it Right" campaign to emphasize the importance of getting the job done without cutting corners in the field. 
•    Updated our Employee Safety Handbook.
•    Implemented a mobile app, SmartTagIt by FactorLab, to strengthen our Task Hazard Analysis (THA) process. In addition to the typical THA procedure paperwork, our people can upload a quick THA video to the social media-like platform. Superintendents, foremen and tradespeople can then see what others are doing, comment and open a dialogue. 
•    After introducing SmartTagIt and receiving feedback from our foremen, we created a format on the app that they could use in their daily huddles. 

Those are just some of the "big picture" ideas we've developed in the last 12 months. So much of our safety culture is built on the personal connections people forge and the all-hands-on-deck commitment to get everyone home safely at the end of each day. 

Only four of us from Pepper were recognized on that stage when we received the AGC safety award, but it was the hard work and dedication of everyone on our jobsites who made it possible. The award was an honor and a career highlight for me. My biggest takeaway, though, was that our people not only practice what we preach, they embody it. 

I'm excited for this year's finalists who are preparing to make their way to the 100th AGC Annual Convention in March for the final round of competition. It's not an easy feat! I'm sure they're reflecting on their own programs as they prepare and I wish them luck!

About the Author

Dave Murphy

Dave MurphyVice President, Safety, Indiana

With more than three decades of industry experience, Dave Murphy serves as Pepper Indiana's Vice President of Safety. He is co-creator of the Underground Utility Damage Prevention process, has helped develop virtual safety trainings, and is an advocate for leadership development and open communication to improve safety in the field. Under his leadership, Pepper has received national recognition for its safety records and programs, including the Coalition for Construction Safety's 2020 Safety Innovation Award and the Associated General Contractors of America's 2018 National Construction Safety Excellence Award. 

Dave is a frequent speaker at local and national industry and safety conferences, including the National Safety Council Congress and Expo, AGC, AGC of Indiana, Lean Congress, American Institute of Constructors and more. He holds a Master of Science in Industrial Management from Northern Illinois University and a Bachelor of Science in Finance from Illinois State University. He is OSHA 30-hour certified, Green Advantage certified and has his American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE) Healthcare Contractor certification.