Pete Simkus likes to stress that the quickest solution on the job site may not be the safest. Simkus, superintendent for Connelly Electric Co., Addison, Ill., shared his philosophy for ensuring job sites are as safe as possible.
What sparked your interest in the safety profession?
I have been with Connelly Electric for almost 24 years, starting as a journeyman wireman from Local 701. I have been a foreman, general foreman, project manager and now superintendent. I have had an increasing awareness of the importance of safety in our company and the industry with each role I have served in. I feel as though safety is the first step in a successful project.
As the superintendent, I am responsible for the field operations for Connelly Electric—with safety being the foremost aspect of my duties. The simple fact is that we cannot complete our projects without people. Our people are what make us successful, and they need to be able to work in a safe environment. Our commitment to safe, secure and incident-free job sites contributes to improved operations, increased reliability, lower costs and higher productivity.
What safety practices at your company are particularly effective?
We have incorporated a safety app [and] each foreman must enter the daily safety huddle, toolbox talks, job site inspection, etc. Our app is customized to our needs and allows our field supervision to complete safety documentation easily. We can add documentation as needed for specific project requirements or include photos as needed.
The app allows the foreman to send the documentation to the customer and project team with the click of a button, allowing for immediate attention to any job-site hazards. [It] also offers suggestions on daily safety topics that help start discussions with the field team about the day’s potential hazards.
Is there a specific injury or almost-injury that changed how you thought about safety on the job?
We had a hand injury in which a journeyman was in the area of a gang box chained to a steel column. The general contractor’s supervisor entered the area and wanted the gang box removed immediately for a concrete pour. The journeyman was pressured to remove the gang box as soon as he could. The key to the lock was lost, so a portable bandsaw was used to cut the chain. This resulted in the bandsaw binding up on the chain and landing on his hand, causing a laceration that required sutures.
We all face challenges throughout the day at the job site. The journeyman was reacting to the urgency and felt that using a power tool would be the quickest solution. Sometimes we need to step back and review the situation to determine the best and safest course of action. If the journeyman would have done so, a better outcome would have taken place. I utilize this story when I onboard new people to show that the quickest solution may not be the safest.
What challenges do you face in managing safety responsibilities?
The greatest challenges are complacency and communication. People become complacent when they think they have heard it before or they already know how to be safe. We have a saying at my office that “No one is trying to get hurt intentionally, it happens when you are trying to get the job done.” It happens when you let your guard down, trying to cut a corner in a stressful situation. Safety requires constant attention to what you are doing, where you are and the surrounding hazards.
Communicating the job-site hazards on a project that changes daily is a challenge. We assume everyone is aware of the hazards that were there at the beginning of the week, but what has changed? Is there a new opening in the floor? Was something installed overhead that poses a threat? Trying to keep up with ever-changing surroundings is a task. A daily huddle to review hazards is a must.
How do you encourage taking safety seriously?
In addition to daily safety huddles and toolbox talks, we have weekly site visits by management and monthly safety audits by our third-party safety advocate. All members of the safety team have access to the safety app to ensure compliance with the safety requirements, and our project managers are required to complete a 10-point safety inspection once they are on the job site. Spot-checking for safety issues, training and open communication between crews and management helps keep us on track.