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    An association of local manufacturing owners is putting the final touches on a safety council that could save its members hundreds of thousands of dollars in project costs.
p03 wesleyWesley    The concept, which is winning praise from federal authorities because of the way it’s enlisting input from management, contractors and labor, is the brainchild of the Council of Owners and Construction Associates’ Tri Partite Committee. The Maryville-based nonprofit management association represents heavy-industrial owners — some of the largest manufacturers in southern Illinois.
    COCA has eight owner-members who govern its operations — Phillips 66 Refinery in Roxana, U.S. Steel in Granite City, Dynegy Generation in East Alton, Olin Brass in East Alton, Eastman Chemical in Sauget, Afton Chemical in East St. Louis, Prairie State Generating in Marissa and SunCoke Energy in Granite City.
    It also has 140 construction associate members, made up of the contractors and service providers whose work takes them in and out of the above plants.
    COCA this month expects to roll out what it calls the American Allied Safety Council, a body that will serve as a central repository for training programs and record keeping among its members.
    That’s important because of the money to be saved, Executive Director Ray Wesley said.
    Many contract workers who are thoroughly trained in federal safety requirements will leave one contractor, go to a second and lack the records showing that they were recently trained. That forces them to be retrained before they go into another operating plant.
    “For instance if you were trained by another company in lockout/tagout (hazardous energy training) two weeks ago, and you don’t have those records with your new company, you can’t show me you’re trained. In OSHA’s eyes, unless you have proof, it hasn’t happened. That’s just the way they look at it,” Wesley said.
    “As an owner, I want to make sure you’re trained before you come into my plant. If the contractor’s got to get you trained, that cost in all cases is passed on to the owner, either in a line item on an invoice or through a billing rate,” he said.
    “There’s hundreds of thousands  of dollars to be saved by eliminating duplicate training. Because you’re going to be trained one way or another if you go into these plants,” Wesley said.
    The safety council will have a database with centralized record keeping that can be accessed by any of the members.
    “We work to make sure our owner-members have cost effective, safe and timely construction in their plants and facilities,” Wesley said.
    COCA has been around since 1956, starting out as a contractors’ association. In 1986, during a period when it was floundering, the organization shifted to a management association.
    Training is a central part of its mission, and safety is at the core of it all. That priority gave rise, 2.5 years ago, to the first talk of forming a safety council that would serve all of its members.
    “If you recall back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, a lot of construction projects were going on that had a lot of accidents and injuries,” Wesley said. “Costs were spiraling.”
    Training and safety programs were developed by COCA to help reduce those accidents. There is no quantifying the number of accidents that have been prevented, but there is definitely evidence that accidents are down from past years, he said.
    “All these safety training programs that have been developed in the last 15 years — if you take a look at total recordable incident rates at these plants, they have gone from here to here,” he said, raising and lowering his hand for effect. “They’ve nose-dived. That’s the result of good practices, training and supervision. The philosophies that we’re putting out there are consistent with good practice, and we’ve got our priorities straight.”
    There’s been a complete “cultural switch” from the 1970s.
    “Before, production was king, get it done no matter what you had to do. Shortcuts were taken, injuries happened. ‘Hey that’s OK, we’ll patch him up and get another guy in there.’ That’s not the way it’s done anymore. They want every employee, plant employee or a contractor, to go home the same way they came in,” he said.
    While training has proven effective, there has long been a need to streamline record keeping for members.
    The idea for the safety council was born out of COCA’s Tri-Partite Committee, made up of owners, contractors and organized labor.
    “Those three groups have worked the last 2.5 years to put together a prototype for this area. Everyone recognized we could save owners money if we could get together and make this a collective effort.
    “Owners want it obviously because they can save money on their construction projects’ bottom line. Contractors want it because they can reduce their costs, going in and doing projects for our owners, which allows them to be more competitive. Labor wants it because they realize if our owners can save money the owners reinvest that savings back in their plant in the form of more projects.”
    He added: “So it’s a win-win-win for everybody.”
    A 22-person advisory board has drawn up plans for the safety council. Within the advisory board is an executive council comprised of one owner-member from COCA; one contractor member and one labor member.
    Also sitting on that executive council is Wesley; Dale Stewart, the secretary-treasurer of the Southern Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council; and Aaron Priddy, OSHA’s new area director in Belleville.
    “We really didn’t envision OSHA being involved with this, but they approached us (about three months ago) and said we think it’s a great concept,” Wesley said. “What we’re doing follows exactly what they would like to see, especially with labor involved, and they said that nowhere else in the country have they ever found a safety council or an entity that involves contractors, owners and labor, all three. That’s why they wanted to get behind it and be a part of it.”
    COCA has at least one building identified for a location of the safety council — in Collinsville. Some remodeling is needed before the doors can be opened.
    “That’s the first location. We’ve got plans to have some satellite locations further out. Because if you look at our owner members, we’ve got them as far south as Baldwin and Sparta and as far north as near Springfield. We’re looking at satellite offices so the contractors have less windshield time (driving back and forth).”
    Most of the training is computer-generated or involves instructors. Through the years, COCA has developed among other things a confined space program, a ladder safety program, OSHA 10- and 30-hour courses and a lockout/tagout class.
    Training touches on a wide variety of work hazards, from slings and rigging to trench shoring.
    Recently a COCA trench and shoring safety class was conducted at the Ameren service yard in Belleville.
    A backhoe operator digs a trench, COCA reps build the shoring and show participants how it should be done and what it should look like, Wesley said.
    COCA’s membership is heavy industrial, all manufacturers of products — unlike those firms that are large commercial companies or road and bridge builders.
    In this region, Southern Illinois Builders Association represents the commercial side of construction. Southern Illinois Employers Association represents companies in lobbying and legislative efforts in Springfield. Each of those groups works closely with COCA on related issues.
    There are many areas of overlap, from what is felt to be the need to reform worker’s compensation laws to the practice of drug testing multiple times for workers.
    “Our owners are always concerned about costs. Costs, if you don’t watch them, can get out of control We’re always looking for ways to help reduce costs to our owners, do things better, do things one time, do things more simply. It’s not all about costs, but cost does control what they do from a standpoint of building,” he said.
    COCA pays a lot of attention to federal and state regulation that would affect its owner-managers.  
    “There is so much duplication in everything that it takes to be a contractor, he said.
    Take drug testing, for instance. Labor, owners and contractors are all for it.
    “What really bugs the contract worker, is he goes and works at four of our plants and he has to go and get drug tested four times. There’s millions of dollars being spent every year on those duplicate tests.”
    Those are the kinds of situations where COCA is trying to help its members.
    “That’s our mission. We’re trying to streamline the way we do business. If we have success in doing that, all of our owners are going to gain credibility with their corporate offices, when asking for additional  funds for projects. They can prove  they’ve been good stewards of the money for projects. They’ve built projects that were at or below budget, on time and safely. That’s the three key components to continue to get capital reinvestment from the corporate office.”
    Wesley was a member of COCA and some of its committees during many of the 28 years that he spent working at the old Clark Refinery in Hartford and later with a local contractor before he was named executive director in 2008.
    He credits many of the more recent successes within the organization for the work done by Dan Magruder, who was head of COCA from 1986 to 2008.