Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) roles are essential to the construction industry. With so many hazards on the jobsite, it is extremely important to have individuals in place to implement and manage safety strategies as well as analyze and execute on newly introduced hazards to the environment. The conclusion of Construction Safety Week 2021 does not conclude our focus on safety—which must remain top-of-mind in this industry to make sure every worker returns home safely at the end of each day.
Last week we had the opportunity to connect with Mindy Uber, Senior EHS Director for the Western U.S. Region at Skanska USA to learn more about her role as well as the effects COVID has had on safety strategy this past year.
Q: What got you interested in a career in safety?
Mindy: I believe everyone deserves to have a safe and healthy work environment and I wanted to be part of the solution. I have two degrees in environmental science/studies and spent the early years of my career working on public water quality awareness campaigns. I then moved into the industrial hygiene field and focused on asbestos, lead, mold, silica, and other human health hazards for six years. In 2006 I joined Skanska and worked for several years as a project-based Environmental Health, and Safety (EHS) manager where I was tasked with ensuring all employees were trained, prepared, and complying with all legal and corporate safety requirements. I then became the EHS Director for the Seattle office and am now the Senior EHS Director for the Western U.S. region. I am proud that I’ve been able to unite my experiences in the E, the H, and the S of an EHS role and feel like I’m helping improve the construction industry every day.
Q: What are the items you look for in a good safety strategy?
Mindy: A good safety strategy includes strong leadership, thorough planning, and providing the crews the training and tools they need to do their jobs safely.
Q: How is your safety strategy different this year operating through COVID and what protocols have you implemented that you plan to keep in place beyond the pandemic?
Mindy: Our basic safety strategy hasn’t changed but we have put more emphasis on planning our tasks in order to stay within the required COVID protocols. Beyond the pandemic we plan to maintain this focus on planning, our increased communication with field crews, additional hand wash stations, and our zero tolerance for working sick policy.
We also created a COVID-19 Best Practices intranet site early in 2020 as a tool for sharing creative solutions our project teams implemented to adapt our field operations to protect employees from the virus. Across the organization we were searching for the best ways to manage this new hazard while continuing to put work in place so it made sense to share everything we did. Teams shared innovative ideas for portable hand wash stations, temperature screening methods, project signage, and techniques for effective virtual meetings. It became a great tool for us to collaborate and learn from each other across the country. This platform has evolved into a knowledge sharing platform for topics ranging from quality assurance checklists to material handling ideas and we will continue to use this format to facilitate enterprise-wide improvements.
Q: How have workers responded to the implementation of technology to assist with improving safety?
Mindy: Some workers are hesitant to try new technologies but once they understand the benefits to them they are more receptive. We always prioritize communication and education to our teams. We would not force a new tool or technology onto a project site unless everyone involved understood the purpose and wanted to use the tool. Once we deliver training and everyone has a chance to ask questions we typically find more people are interested in trying something new.