As construction neared completion on the new $654 million hospital building at Chicago's Rush University Medical Center, one of the greatest attributes of the new facility will never be seen by patients, staff or visitors. Dramatic improvements in construction worker safety at the site produced staggering results.
The medical center's partnership with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) produced safety results that far exceeded national norms, including a 78 percent decrease in the project injury rate during 2009, the first year of the program.
In February of that year, Rush entered into the OSHA Strategic Partnership Program (OSPP) to promote construction site safety and health during the project, which includes a 14-story hospital and renovation of existing buildings.
"During the course of the partnership, injury rates have dropped dramatically," observes Todd Green, director of occupational safety at Rush.
The OSHA recordable injury rate on the site fell from 24.1 in 2007 (one recordable injury per 8,330 manhours worked) to 1.7 in 2011 (one recordable injury per 117,156 manhours worked). The severity of the injuries decreased from serious to minor.
The partnership was initiated by Rush and Power/Jacobs Joint Venture, the project contract manager. The partnership was unique in that the medical center was the general contractor and had a separate contract with each contractor, known as a prime contractor. It was the first time OSHA had entered into an agreement with a multi-prime contractor project.
The OSPP required that all new construction workers attend a safety orientation; that the contractors conduct regular safety talks, site inspections and corrective action programs; and that all construction workers receive site-specific safety training. In addition, Power/Jacobs organized a series of 30-hour OSHA training courses taught by the contractor's safety personnel.
To offer guidance, OSHA representatives attended monthly safety meetings with representatives of Rush, Power/Jacobs, contractors, union representatives and the Illinois Onsite Safety and Health Consultation Program, a state program that assists businesses in identifying and correcting work safety hazards.
"We got a chance to discuss how we're doing, and OSHA offers their services with regard to training programs," Green says.
An OSPP audit team made up of representatives of Rush and all its contractors conducted weekly safety tours of the construction sites to identify hazards since the start of the partnership.
These inspections identified and addressed more than 150 hazards, with many corrected the same day.
"Throughout this entire partnership, Rush has not received any OSHA violations or fines. The contractors on the transformation project have not been assessed any violations or fines. It's been more of a consultative approach where OSHA has provided Rush with assistance. The result has been a safer job site." n
By Bob Kehoe, associate publisher.