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February 2017

Going the distance

Company: REFA Erection Inc. / Fought & Company, Inc.

Safety Director / Safety Consultant: Andy Collins

Workforce: Depending on the project, Collins interacts with crews numbering 15 to more than 1,000

Workplace Hazards: Falls from heights and concerns related to handling, lifting, and transporting heavy components

Andy Collins sitting at his desk

Andy Collins knows the ins and outs of building and assembling steel for high rises, bridges, and other structures that help define the places we live.

A second-generation ironworker, he's got 40 years as a union ironworker under his belt. That experience includes 26 years as a safety director and consultant. You name it – putting up high rises and factories in the Portland metro area, building cranes, welding, placing rebar, and more – and he's done it.

Blending his experience in the field with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, Collins serves as safety director for REFA Erection Inc. and as safety consultant for Fought & Company Inc., a steel fabricator. Fought is part of REFA. Both companies are based in the Portland area.

Over the years, Collins has partnered with Oregon OSHA by participating in various committees, working with the agency's consultation program, and sharing his knowledge during visits to job sites.

Resource sat down with Collins recently to talk about his experiences, how he measures success in safety, and his advice to others.

Andy Collins and man talking inside steel fabrication building

Everybody's hazards are different, no matter what you do for a living."

Andy Collin

The following has been edited for clarity and brevity:

How have things changed in terms of safety in your line of work?

There are so many more rules. People are aware of it nowadays. You have engineered erection plans, fall protection plans. You have all this information that's out there, so you basically have everything in your means and methods to do it right and to do it safe. So, basically, if you follow your plans, then the only thing you have to worry about is the human element. If everyone's focused on their job, and all of the safety measures and means are in place, the bottom line is everything should go well. For every job, we do an orientation so we know if you're an apprentice. We know what your background is, and we give you a task to succeed.

When it comes to keeping workers safe, how do you measure success?

Everybody goes home every day. I don't care who you work for – everybody on the project.

What are some important things you've learned about safety over the years?

You have to relate to workers on a human level. The person out there in the field, they don't want to get hurt. How do you help them succeed without getting hurt? I'm the biggest control freak in the world. That was the hardest thing for me to learn – how do I gain their trust and allow them to be themselves when somebody sitting in a cubicle is telling them how to do their job. It's called give and take. I would give them little things. I would take hazards that were irrelevant to them, and I'd say, "Look, I'm going to go to bat for you, but this is what I need from you – 100 percent, no cheating, because I know how to look for a guy cheating on his fall protection and tying off. If I catch you doing this, all bets are off." It got me credibility. They don't want an insurance person or an office guy telling them how to build a building when they're the ones trained to do it. Their life's on the line. My biggest pet peeve is a blanket safety policy. Everybody's hazards are different, no matter what you do for a living.

Photo of man sitting on steel girder Fought & Company Inc., based in Tigard, specializes in steel fabrication for bridges, and commercial and industrial buildings. crane lifting a vehicle Photos by Ron Conrad

What is some advice you'd give to those looking to keep their workplaces safe, for others seeking a career in this field?

The first thing I would ask is, upper management – where do they stand? Do they talk safety or do they breathe safety? Safety has a huge cost, but it's an even bigger cost if somebody gets hurt. A lot of the safety people don't have 100 percent backing from the top, and there are so many great safety people out there right now that may not ever reach their potential because they don't have the full support of upper management. I don't care. I'm going to look at everything. I'm going to look at everybody on this job. I'm here, walking around. I'm just going to check out everything. You know, I was lucky enough to work for the best – the best. I had, from day one, buy-in from the top, which allowed me to – because of the nature of our work and the risk – do what I needed to do.

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