Wolverine To Celebrate Hardhat Anniversary

April 17, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — When Wolverine Building Group starts a new construction project, it holds a little ceremony.

Somebody with the firm presents the project’s owner with a hard hat that’s personalized with his name. According to Mike Kelly, president of the group, a straightforward message comes with the gift — namely, you will wear this hard hat at all times when on the construction site.

And Kelly stresses that the requirement applies without exception to everybody else: himself, employees, visitors, building inspectors, subcontractors, mayors, neighbors and even photographers who show up to record ground-breakings.

Kelly explained that it’s all part of a program that Wolverine launched a year ago to improve what Wolverine claims already was an industry-leading safety record.

The thing is that the human skull was made to protect the brain, but it can’t sustain the impact of things like falling rebar or dropped bricks. The hard hat, on the other hand, virtually eliminates one of the most devastating and debilitating of construction injuries — cerebral trauma.

Brain injuries are permanent, often permanently crippling, frequently disabling and incredibly expensive to both the families and employers of the injured people.

Kelly said that the program has produced results for Wolverine.

“An independent safety audit showed us that we went from about 72 percent hard hat compliance to about 98 percent last year.”

He said the audit has helped reduce Wolverine’s insurance costs. But to Kelly the more important thing is that the institution of the “100% Hardhat Safety Program” last Feb. 19 has increased safety consciousness across the board.

“When someone puts on a hard hat,” Kelly said, “he kind of steps into a safety mode. But if he looks around and sees nobody else wearing a hard hat, he stops thinking about it.

“So we just decided to make it a requirement, and if that’s what it takes to keep people thinking about safety, well, that’s what we’re after.”

The requirement applies to all three companies in the Wolverine Group: Wolverine Building, Wolverine Construction Management and Fryling Construction.

By applying the requirement to construction sites, Safety Coordinator Pat Livingtson indicated that in any given week it embraces more than 135 Wolverine employees and more than 500 subcontractor employees.

And he indicated that Wolverine enforces the rule to the letter.

“Let a program grow stagnant, or stop the training and the reminders,” he said, “and the accident rate is bound to rise.”

Livingston also stressed that the hardhat requirement comes atop what he terms “stringent” safety training.  Among other things, he said, the program prohibits any employee worker — subcontractor employees included — from starting work on a job site without first passing the training program. Too, Livingston stressed, training is a continuing process for all workers. 

Kelly told the Business Journal that Wolverine has learned from some of its subcontractors that Wolverine is one of the first general contractors in the region to be so rigorously insistent about hard hats.

“Right now,” Kelley added, “we’re debating about whether to go to a requirement for 100 percent use of safety glasses.

“If we do, there will be some complaints,” he said, “about how they fog up, and all.

“But you get complaints about hard hats, too, about how they slip around when you’re really sweating. We took care of that by giving out sweat bands. So we could figure out something about glasses.”

Wolverine did not initiate the hardhat requirement to play safety catch-up.

In fact, it took the step shortly after receiving the platinum safety award from the National Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). In fact, it was the second time in as many years that ABC recognized Wolverine with the award.

ABC says the platinum award is a special honor that goes to construction firms that, year after year, receive its highest level of recognition for safety programming, the gold safety award.

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