While the year 2020 brought many challenges, there were a few positives that our company can reflect on – one of them being our safety record. Despite all the uncertainty and additional safety measures put into place, our teams stepped up the challenge and made 2020 our safest year yet.
I sat down with our Corporate Safety Director, Alex Ylvisaker, to learn more about how our teams achieved this huge success.
T: Tell us about your role as JP Cullen’s Corporate Safety Director.
A: I’ve been at JP Cullen for over six years now. I went to UW-Whitewater and graduated with a degree in Environmental and Occupational Safety and Health and went back and got my master’s degree as well. As the Corporate Safety Director, my role is to oversee all of JP Cullen’s employees to make sure we are being as safe as possible. I oversee the safety of our field and office staff, on-site subcontractors and vendors, and owners and clients on the jobsites.
T: What sparked in your interest in pursuing a degree in Environmental and Occupational Safety and Health?
A: I originally went to school at Stevens Point for a year to become a DNR officer. I figured out it wasn’t the right path for me, so I decided to try to pursue a safety degree at Whitewater. I thought safety was the closest non-business degree I could pursue. Once I started taking classes and learning more about it, I really started to like it because it’s a mix of both worlds – being out in the field and in the office.
T: 2020 was the safest year on record for JP Cullen. What were some of the keyways that made it the safest?
A: I think the biggest way was everyone’s heightened awareness of safety across the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone was kind of taking a step back and looking at their surroundings a little more intensely than previous years. With as many unknowns as there were in 2020, our crew members needed to stay up to date on current CDC guidance to keep everyone safe. This is where our COVID-19 Response Team came in to play. During the height of the pandemic, we were updating our crews weekly, if not daily on the changing requirements and how to keep one another safe. Another way was really our employees just going above and beyond. Any new corrective action or policy that we put into place, our employees really believed in it and held everyone accountable. Our employees truly look out for one another. This heightened safety awareness translated across the company and allowed us to have our safest year on record.
T: It was a tough year for safety with the COVID-19 pandemic. What steps did JP Cullen take to make our sites safe during the pandemic? Could you give us a specific example of one of our projects where our safety procedures were effective?
There were a number of different safety procedures and corrective actions we put in place. The first one was implementing a COVID-19 Response Team which was made up of the executive team, our CFO, and myself. The team was meeting daily to stay up to date with any changes from the CDC and local health authorities on safety recommendations. From there, we would communicate any updates to our teams as soon as possible so we could make any changes needed on our sites. The other steps we took were implementing social distancing and keeping our jobsites clean, for example, increased hand sanitation stations. I’ll give a lot of props to the ingenuity of our field people. At the beginning of the pandemic, hand wash stations, hand sanitizers, all that, wasn’t in high supply. They were able to come up with simple ideas that solved some of our challenges, like bringing up a Home Depot hand washing station verses getting one from a rental house or building awnings outside so we could hold meetings while social distancing rather than in a trailer. And then the final step was just really holding everyone accountable. If you were sick, to make sure you stayed home and quarantined, completing daily questionnaires, and getting their temperatures taken.
T: JP Cullen came in third place for the AGC Construction Safety Excellence Awards this past year. Could you explain the process of submitting our application for this award?
A: The AGC Construction Safety Excellence Awards is a couple tiered process. The first process is submitting a lengthy application which goes over your safety statistics, your company policies, what you’re doing, and what you’re not doing. The goal is to tell a little bit about your company and write a couple of different essays explaining our intervention methods and explain how they prevented an injury. After you pass that tier, then they have an in-person judging portion. We met the judges in-person (pre-pandemic) and presented our case on why we have the best safety program in the country to judges, who were all experts in the field. Some were from the navy, some were from the Association of General Contractors, and another one was from the ASSP. After you state your case, they ask you a few questions and they decide amongst all the other candidates.
T: What made our safety program different than the other 60 competitors?
A: What sets us apart from others is we self-perform the majority of our work. Self-perform means it is our own employees performing the work rather than hiring another contractor to do it. We self-perform the high-risk trades including ironworkers and masons. In turn, we have a lot of at-risk hours compared to others. Our safety statistics are quite outstanding for the number of self-performed hours that we perform. I’m going to sound like a broken record but our crew members and employees at JP Cullen really understand the importance of safety and look out for one another. It’s not just a paper safety program where we have it and submit it. Our people out in the field are truly looking out for one another, holding each other accountable, and making sure everyone gets home safely.
T: What do you like most about your job?
A: The thing I like most about my job is that I get to see every aspect of construction as well as the company as a whole. I get to visit all the projects that we are building and all the special things we get to be a part of. Some people are on one job for 1-3 years where I get to see all those projects throughout all the different stages. Just last year, I got to climb on top of the Wisconsin State Capitol and visit the VA Soldiers Home. Just a lot of neat projects going on that I get to see. And then the people aspect. Keeping people safe so they can enjoy their time away from work.
T: Give us one safety tip that everyone can apply right now!
A: One safety tip is an acronym that comes from the military although I wasn’t in the military, SLLS which stands for Stop, Look, Listen, and Smell. And basically, you can use this whether you are on the job, in your car, or at home. It’s just a simple acronym to help you be more aware of your surroundings.
Click on the video below to learn more about we successfully made 2020 our safest year on record!