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HammerTech Talks

HammerTech Talks with Kathi Dobson, Safety Director at Alberici Constructors

By Georgia Bergers on November, 6 2020
HammerTech Talks
In this episode:
  • What’s the place for behavior-based safety practices in a safety program?

  • Unpacking the "pink it and shrink it" phenomenon

  • The psychology of ill-fitting PPE and how employers are tightening project planning processes to overcome this workplace risk

 


 

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Georgia Bergers:

HammerTech Talks is a chance for you to join me, as we dig into the world of construction pros to find out what makes them tick and helps them succeed. This series will open the door to an industry that we're passionate about and showcase the amazing people and ideas that are the infrastructure to building great things. Construction folk love a story and a laugh, so we're going to have some fun and you'll take away new perspectives to improve your operations and help create the next normal in construction.

For those of you who don't know us, we're HammerTech, we're a cloud-based performance and productivity platform, ensuring safety, quality, and operational efficiency. Let's get into it. So we welcome Kathi Dobson, who is the Safety Director at Alberici Constructors. Good afternoon, how are you?

 

Kathi Dobson:

I am very good Georgia. How are you today?

 

Georgia Bergers:

Doing really well. So Kathi oversees the automotive heavy civil food and beverage and mining divisions, and also represents Alberici within member organizations, such as NAWIC the associated or the Association of Union Constructors, Construction Users Round Table, and also the American Society of Safety Professionals - where she contributes to a committee responsible for overseeing construction and demolition standards development. So Kathi has also become an expert in issues relating to women's safety on sites in particular. She's very passionate as I found out about the development of PPE specifically meant to support women's safety and risk reduction when they're undertaking their roles, which is fantastic. So I look forward to digging a little bit further into that with you. So Kathi, we met a couple of weeks ago at GWIC and I, I wanted to ask many of us are going through our first experience of attending a virtual conference, and I wanted to know what your experiences was like. And what was your main take away?

 

Kathi Dobson:

Well, I thought that GWIC is always a great conference. The groundbreaking women in construction ENR puts on a fantastic conference focused on women in the construction industry. And it's quite unique because there are so many women that come into the area to participate. And the speakers have such a wide range of experiences from the business owners to the trades-women that are in our industry. And it's really powerful to hear their messages and to hear the impact that they have had on the industry, because when you are isolated, as I am, a lot of times, you know, on one project or in one area, it's, it's tough to see that women really do have an impact, even though we are a pretty small group within the industry. You know, we only make up about between 9 and 10% of the overall number of people in the construction industry with trades women, way down the line with only about two and a half or 3% representation.

 

Georgia Bergers:

Hmm. Yeah. I echo your sentiment. I guess being isolated in a different way where I'm a part of construction technology for me, it was so refreshing to reconnect properly with, with construction at large, particularly women, like you say, who are having a really wide reaching impact. And to say it was also, you know, a lot of tips about you know, we're getting women on boards, a lot of tips around allyship and really cool fit for me to see that it's not just an event for women. And I really hope to see more men and, and allies join next year. Cause I think there's a lot to be lots to be learned there.

 

Kathi Dobson:

Yeah. And I think that we sometimes forget that that, that our, our primary allies are the men that we work with because we don't have the number of women to help lead us forward and they can really champion us and they can wedge their foot in the door where we could sneak through as opposed to situations where, you know, what that door is, that door is locked because you don't know the people on the other side, they do. And so I think it's quite essential that we don't miss out on those male allies that they are out there. They are willing to help and support, the women in the construction industry.

 

Georgia Bergers:

Yeah, I hear you. So you were headhunted by Alberici. I found out when we were talking because of your experience in behavior-based safety practices. And I wanted to understand what is your perspective on the place for behavior based safety and it's placed within, within a program?

 

Kathi Dobson:

Sure. Well, I think BB safety has, has some, some, some good and bad connotations. It comes in and out of favor because I think a lot of companies don't really understand how to implement it and use it correctly. In my opinion, I think it's a process that, at its best reveals the overall safety of a workplace to management. And I think that its intent is to focus worker attention on their own and their peers, daily safety behaviors. What happens with behavior-based safety though, is that oftentimes there's a lack of good solid training about what you need to do to fully implement it. And so while people are told, you need to look at people's behaviors, they tend to lapse back and look at conditions rather than behaviors. So they will look at a ladder that's improperly set up and identify that, or a spill on the floor, as opposed to identifying the worker who has chose to set the ladder up improperly and is using it incorrectly, or the workers who have who've walked around the, the spill that's on, that's on the floor.

You know, I think that but it's important that workers are more engaged in safe work efforts. And I think that we owe them because they're adults. And so we need to give them the respect that they can be responsible for safety related behaviors. And there's an accountability factor there as well. I think they should be accountable for safety system focused behavior-based safety program. We've done a lot of assessments on behavior changes, you know, focusing on the human side of safety and being able to define is this safe or is it not safe? And, I think that it, the program itself helps to involve workers and also it holds management accountable and responsible for the same types of issues. So, where I came in Alberta B.C. I was working in a manufacturing setting where we had a pretty broad-based behavior-based safety program. And we educated a group of workers to do the observations. And it's more than just making observations.

You have to identify what the problem is. You have to identify who's at risk, why they're at risk. You have to make certain that you have some sort of procedure or program that kind of closes the loop. And re-educate people as to the focus that you want them to take. But you also have to be open to the worker's point of view because they may be doing something from a behavior based safety perspective that they don't think that they can get around because the manager has directed them to do something in a certain way, or  procedures are in place that force them to do things in a certain manner.

 

Georgia Bergers:

And so how do you, I guess, elicit that feedback and create the, you know, the position where the worker is empowered to say something and you can incorporate that feedback into a new iteration to be processed, or a correction.

 

Kathi Dobson:

One thing that I think for many years the safety professional was thought of as the bad guy, you know? They were the people that were looking to identify workers who had a safety violation, and then we're going to issue disciplinary action. And, really, we need to kind of break through that and through collaboration and communication make certain that people understand that the safety professional who's working with them is really on their side and a good safety professional, I think we'll go to bat for the worker, even though they represent management, you know, they take on that role as the as the workers support system. So, you know, without full, support and training, as I said, those workers will default back to looking at conditions, or sometimes they will look only at a different craft.

You know, if you have a, I'll just use carpenters, for example, if you have a group of carpenters that you've assigned to do observations, they will not look at any other carpenters because they don't want to make their own craft look bad, but they will look to the electricians and point out all the problems that the electricians have.

 

Georgia Bergers:

Interesting. And so how do you overcome that then? Is it about, you know, making sure that the responsibility for behavior-based safety is with everyone it's not with particular people?

 

Kathi Dobson:

Yeah. I think that a lot of companies will have a safety team that goes out and does these observations without having a fully engaged plan on what to do with those observations, and if you're really focused on the on the behavior-based programs, then you can see that, "Oh, you know what, they didn't even look at the people swinging the hammers, all they were doing at looking at was looking at the people, pulling the wire." And so it needs to be addressed. It's, it becomes an issue where, where the management needs to refocus and re-engage the workers and identify, these are my expectations. My expectations for behavior based safety is not punitive. It's intended to be educational. And once they see that, then, then they will open up a little bit more and say, "Oh yeah. Kathi, the carpenter was using the tool in a fire situation where she was too close to another worker," or something to that effect. And then you can, you can go to that individual crew or that person and say, "did you realize that you were doing that/" And then dig deeper into the reasons why it may be that we've always done things. And so you have to explain that it may be the way that you've always done things, however, you're putting yourself and other people at risk. And so let's look at other options for you to do the same task in a safe manner or a safer manner. Because you know, that the habits that we come with, they're very hard to break. And so even, even an individual who is eager to learn will sometimes slip back into the old habit, you know, not buckling the seatbelt or whatever the case may be.

 

Georgia Bergers:

Yeah. Thank you for taking us through that. SoI'd love to know a little bit more about your role contributing to standards review and, development, and any that you're really excited about coming through at the moment.

 

Kathi Dobson:

Yeah, well, I actually started out getting involved with standard development because I was named to the Construction Safety Standards Commission by the governor of the state of Michigan about 10 or 15 years ago. And I really saw the impact that a small group of people could have on the entire industry to make work safer for everyone. I was in that position for about four or five years, and we really only had at the most, probably 10 commissioners who were impacting, I mean, I would say probably a quarter million construction jobs across the country. And in those standards really affect everybody except those that are in like a solely owned business or a family business. So that's really a very small proportion of the overall industry and, and a very small proportion of the number of people that impact the industry.

And, you know, nationally, I am involved with a committee called the A10 committee for construction and demolition safety. And it's a consensus standard. There are 75 participating construction firms building trades, advisers educators, subject matter experts who, who affect the entire construction industry, establishing these best practices for our industry. They go above and beyond what an OSHA regulation, which has minimal establishes. And it's a voluntary standard committee it's worked through and the programs are developed by consensus. So it's a majority decision-making process. And a lot of times OSHA will either adopt these standards by reference or organizations will use them as a best practice in lieu of saying, we meet OSHA standards, they will say we meet the eight 10 standards, but there's some very interesting things  that are up and coming with within that organization, standards building is very slow.

It's a long, it's a long process. So, you know, we meet twice a year and then we have, then we have subcommittee meetings throughout the year, but to start a standard with just really an idea, I think that this would be a great idea for the construction industry. Like drones, for instance, there was never a back in 1970 when OSHA was established, there were no drones. And now there's drones and robotics, those types of things. So  that we want to identify, "Hey, what's on the horizon? What's the safest manner to use them and to target a specific audience for their use?" So initially a proposal is made, sometimes the technical paper is written. The technical paper then gets presented to the committee and the committee says, yes, let's go forward with developing a standard.

And then of course you have to identify your, your sub-committee or your chairs, so that they follow a very prescribed protocol for putting those standards together. And so it's not going to be something that's quick and easy. Tt will take probably two or three years. So you need to be patient with those standards development. Right now, the organization is looking at developing a technical paper on the approach to dealing with pandemics. And that's just getting, getting off the table. And I would imagine that, that it will take probably six months for a technical report to be written. And if the committee decides to go on with a standard, it would take another probably year or year and a half.

So it's not going to be something that's a quick turnaround, but we are looking at it. And we're, we're taking the proactive approach as are many other organizations to do the same thing. The one group that I'm affiliated with the ASSP, the American Society for Safety professionals, they have a common interest group, called WISE- Women In Safety Excellence. And I have been fortunate enough to be a part of a group through WISE and through the ASSP that are putting together a technical report on personal protective equipment that affects women in the construction industry. So that's, that's kind of cool. And one of the other things, not quite as fantastic, but I lead, I chair the committee on sanitation and construction. So I'm the Porta-John queen, you know, and that standard addresses, the facilities that we need to use, it addresses the hand washing that's necessary.

It addresses the disposal of sanitary products that women often have throughout the course of their careers. And soit's something that  is up for revision. We'll take another look at it. In another couple of years, these standards. They all run on like a five-year cycle. And so we'll take a look at it in another couple of years, we'll start revising it probably next year. So that's up for its final review in like 2022. So again, not a quick turnaround for any of these.

 

Georgia Bergers:

When we were speaking about your standard development for women's PPE. There was a phrase that, that you used which was "pink it and shrink it". Could you tell me a little bit more about that and what some of the issues are with, you know, with that approach to developing PPE for women?

 

Kathi Dobson:

I always thought I was the first person to use it, but apparently not. I see a lot of people using it. Maybe I shouldn't be, you know, I should...

 

Georgia Bergers:

Maybe you can coin that!

 

Kathi Dobson:

But I think that where it starts is that manufacturers recognized a need for smaller sized, personal protective equipment. There are some men in the industry that are quite small. There are some men in the industry that are quite large as are there, there are large women in small women, you know, it's sort of that, that 90% in the middle that, that the standards are all that all work well for. But the pink it and shrink it phenomenon was really manufacturers who said, "oh, women need personal protective equipment. So women must like pink. They wear pink. So let's make the personal protective equipment,, all of it, pink." So there was quite an influx a few years ago of bright pink hardhats and pink vests and pink harnesses and pink work boots, which is never a good idea to wear a pink suede work boot out on a construction site.

But what they were doing is just making the, making the product smaller. They were only shrinking it. They weren't really looking at a woman's body shape or size, you know. For gloves, for instance, our hands are, are narrower and our fingers are longer ergonomically and anthropometrically than men are. We have a greater proportion of fat to muscle than men do. We have breasts, we have hips. We have, we have a narrower waistline and a more, more defined waistline than a man does. And so if you take a product and just make it smaller, it's still not really fitting properly. And so the manufacturers understand that changing the color doesn't really change the functionality, or it doesn't really do too much to the fit of the product.

They have done a much better job lately. I've been working with another, with another standards committee for the past few years, and I've seen manufacturers that are coming out with questionnaires specific to women. "Does this work for you?" "Does this fit properly?" "What did you like about that?" "The harness that you're wearing was it comfortable for you to put on and use all day long?" Those types of things, I mean, probably 20 or 30 questions we got with manufacturers to talk specifically to women that said, don't make a harness that crosses across my breasts because I'm squished and I don't have the flexibility and the movement, and don't make a harness where the, where the strap rides across to my breast, because it's gonna, it's going to choke me or it's gonna crush me. So they've done a pretty good job of redefining some of their products and coming out with more they are designed for a wider range of body shapes and sizes, as opposed to having a harness for men and harness for women in a different color.

 

Georgia Bergers:

Interesting. And so what are some of the risks associated with having the, like the ill-fitting PPE, particularly when it, when it comes to women and what are some of the barriers to, you know, for us to be able to get this out there?

 

Kathi Dobson:

I mean, the big problem is that a lot of organizations feel that I'm providing the PPE without really evaluating is the PPE, making it safer for the individual who's using it. And if you have something that's ill fitting, maybe it's a a coverall. Where you need to have a large size because of our breasts and our hips. But because of that then it's 6 or 12 inches too long. So what do you do with that extra fabric? Do you leave it, hang out and create a tripping hazard? Do you have to cuff it up and put duct tape around it to hold it in place, which blossoms out everything else and makes it uncomfortable and unwieldy, difficult to climb and move around or do you structure your product so that it can take away some of the fabric and make it smaller for those small sized men or a smaller sized woman.

And on the opposite end, you got to go big sometimes with your product. But it's really a sort of a false sense of security that a company will have when they say, "Oh, well, you know what? I gave out all my personal protective equipment, my gloves, my harnesses, everybody took it. And even the woman on the job took it while the women are complaining that it doesn't fit properly." We're not saying anything to the superintendent because the superintendent is the individual who really controls whether or not somebody is working on a job or not working on a job. And a lot of women will not say anything because they feel that they are going to be thought of as the complainer or the troublemaker. And they will not only be the last people hired on the job site, but they'll be the first to go when it's time for layoffs. And so they'll accept an ill fitting piece of personal protective equipment, whether it's gloves or whether it's a harness, or whether it's maybe a pair of work boots that don't quite fit, or one of the, like I said, well, those coveralls, because they don't want to be the person that's making waves.

 

Georgia Bergers:

And what advice would you have for organizations or project teams to be able to create an environment where in some ways someone can speak up in an instance like that, because, you know, inevitably it's going to end up in an incident or a long-term injury or, or claim if someone's so it's kind of a bit short sighted. So what's some advice?

 

Kathi Dobson:

Well, you know, again, a lot of it goes back to communication and education of the workforce and a superintendent will typically order based upon his size, what he looks like. And so if he's a large, he's going to get mostly large and a few extra-large and double XLs and maybe a medium, but he's not going to really think a lot of times about those outer ranges of the very large and the very small sizes. And so we need to work with work with our warehouses. We need to work with our distributors to make sure that they have the PPE, they actually have the product in stock, because when you're looking at those outliers, the small women in the larger workforce, those are the individuals that are going to get stuck with something that's not fitting properly.

And there'll be, there'll be forced to try and make it fit as as opposed to having it fit properly and safely. It's quite a challenge when you talk to a distributor and you say, "Hey, I need three small harnesses." "We don't have them in stock." "When can you get them? The work is starting tomorrow." "I'll have to call the manufacturer." And then the manufacturer has to ship to the distributor, and then they have to ship to the project. So sometimes it's a delay of, I mean, we've had people waiting for 10 days for a proper fitting harness. And, and then that becomes an issue because what do you do in the meantime you, you can't discriminate against them by laying them off because they, because you haven't provided what they need.

So a lot of it is really thinking on the front end and planning on the front end for the activities they're going to be taking place on your project. You know, there's that saying that poor planning on your part does not make a does it, does it create a catastrophe on my under, so it's, it's not exactly that, but that planning component where we're looking, we're not just most of the time just jumping onto a project with a day or two notice, usually we know, three weeks or a month ahead of time that we are moving onto a project. So look at your plan right then and address what's going on and how to make everybody safer.

 

Georgia Bergers:

Yeah. And so, Kathi, I wonder early on in your career, you, you made quite a significant career shift when you moved into construction. And I wondered there's so many people that, that could be working in construction, and we're trying to do everything that we can to shift the stereotype and give people access to understand that it is a really wonderful industry to work in. And so I wondered, do you have some advice for people considering a career in construction and perhaps it's, you know, midway through your career when someone says, hang on, this isn't for me, I need to have a career change.

 

Kathi Dobson:

Yeah, well I think first of all, to understand that that there are some programs out there that will help to facilitate people getting into the industry quite rapidly. We work with the building trades and we work with the colleges and universities so that in a matter of a few weeks, rather than years, you know, what, I can be trying my hand out as the pre-apprentice in one of the building trades, they've been really good about opening up and having that access to them. But for me, transitioning from the construction industry from a medical field. I mean, it was a big change. And what I see now is that  I had people who supported me, whether or not I really was focused and fully understanding of what my role was. And so I think it's essential that if you're moving into construction or really any other industry that you have, those mentors, you have those coaches, you have those champions who can help to guide you in the right direction. And you have to have your support, mike, like associations, like neighborhood, for instance, which is a woman focused organization. And  you can bounce ideas back and forth with one another, and it's easy to understand the challenges that a woman faces from another woman. It's difficult to talk to your male superintendent and tell him what a struggle it is to be a woman in a construction, because they usually don't get it.

But, you know, get involved with organizations that have that have young entrepreneurial programs. A lot of the bigger organizations do have committees or sub-committees that encourage and welcome and engage and educate those, the young people coming in out of a college program or whatever. And they'll also support people as they move through their construction careers. I mean, we are facing a tremendous shortage in our industry. There are so many people that are there saying I'm going to retire in the next 10, five to 10 to 15 years, that we need to have people coming up from the younger generations so that they can take over those roles as leaders and managers.

 

Georgia Bergers:

No, you're right there. So Kathi, it's been an absolute pleasure speaking with you. Thank you very much for taking time to be a part of HammerTech Talks. We are also going to be at advancing safety, construction, safety leadership, and I noticed that you're on the line-up there. So I wanted to give you a plug and, and say that we're really looking forward to your session. So if anyone's listening and they would like to hear more about Kathi's approach to overcoming the pink it and shrink it phenomenon, that's one of the topics that you'll be covering. And yeah, we look forward to speaking to you there and keeping in touch.

 

Kathi Dobson:

That's awesome, Georgia, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

 

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