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As Executive Director of The Construction Institute (TCI) in Boston, Massachusetts, Mary Vogel develops educational programs and participates in safety research and public policy initiatives tailored to the needs of union construction workers and contractors across all building trades.

In this interview, Vogel provides a history of this unique organization and discusses TCI’s mission and goals for 2007.

Please provide a brief description of your role and responsibilities as Executive Director of The Construction Institute (TCI). 

TCI is a small organization—we have only two people on staff—so as Executive Director, I get my hands dirty! Besides handling TCI’s daily operations, I serve as spokesperson and develop our programs and courses. I also plan TCI events and our annual conference, provide financial oversight and manage the implementation of our state and federal grants.
 
What industry events or issues led to the development of the Labor-Management Construction Safety Alliance (CSA), now TCI, in 1998?

CSA evolved from the Massachusetts Construction Safety Congress, which was founded in 1963. Labor, management, insurance representatives and industry stakeholders all volunteered to improve construction safety and health. They received a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents to conduct ten-hour U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training, and they hired me to oversee this grant. The Board of Directors then decided to establish a new, professionally staffed organization, known as the Labor-Management Construction Safety Alliance, to serve as a resource on workplace safety and health issues for unions and contractors The Board made me Executive Director and hired an administrative assistant to help grow the organization through regular educational programs and conferences and through networking with more safety professionals and industry stakeholders.

TCI is unique among other labor-management organizations in Massachusetts because it represents all 15 building trades. Its member organizations represent 75,000 union construction workers and 3,000 union contractors within the state. How does TCI ensure that its safety research and educational programs meet the needs of workers and union contractors? How does it monitor the issues that are of most importance to all building trades?

We have a good relationship with labor and management, and both are represented on the Board of Directors. I regularly attend building trade and employer association meetings, which gives me the opportunity to hear their concerns about safety and health and to develop educational programs that address these concerns. We primarily address their concerns through educational program development.

For example, a couple of years ago, we worked with an ad hoc committee to improve roofing safety. They wanted a ten-hour roofing program, so we developed a program with OSHA funding support as well as a DVD on fall protection in the roofing industry. We have also collaborated with ironworkers on Subpart R to find ways to facilitate educational outreach on those hazards.

Since our creation, we have offered the OSHA 10 and 500/502 Trainer programs, but with recent passage of legislation in Massachusetts requiring workers on publicly funded construction projects to complete the OSHA 10-hour course, we had to beef up our course offerings.

We also partner with other organizations in promoting workplace safety and health in our industry. For example, we participate in a monthly construction safety roundtable in eastern Massachusetts. This is an alliance between OSHA, contractors and other industry stakeholders. We also have collaborated with worker advocacy groups, such as the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), and other agencies and organizations that promote safety and health in the industry.

TCI is always looking for out-of-the-box ways to address construction safety and health issues and to best collaborate with management, unions, OSHA and other industry stakeholders.

TCI supports such initiatives as BuildSafe Boston. What do these initiatives entail, and how have they helped improve injury and accident rates within Massachusetts’ construction industry?

BuildSafe began a few years ago with TCI, unions and several contractors in the Boston area that have worked with a consulting firm in Texas to make cultural changes in the work environment so that incidents and injuries on the job are not tolerated. This means valuing individuals for who they are, not just for what they bring to the job, and this concept soon evolved into BuildSafe Boston. 

BuildSafe Boston brought labor and management together to develop a memorandum of understanding committed to making Boston the safest place to work in construction. It is a commitment to changing our safety mindset and culture, to improving best practices in areas such as control strategies, personal protective equipment (PPE) and fall protection and to providing training to small- and mid-size contractors. We want to proliferate BuildSafe so that workers at different jobsites have the same safety, health and environmental (SH&E) experience. We are trying to take the journey to the next level.

The memorandum of understanding was completed in January 2007, and contractors have started to present it to senior executives. We have an incentive to get out of the block, and we have committed contractors and labor organizations to help make this work.

How does TCI work with national safety organizations to improve construction safety in the United States?

When we first got off the ground, we networked with the Construction Safety Council, and we continue to collaborate with them and to share resources. We work most closely with the Center to Protect Workers’ Rights (CPWR). They have National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and other grant funding to conduct SH&E research and training in construction. We worked with them on a disaster response program, and now we are teaming up with them on a falls-from-ladders campaign. Harvard University has a ladder safety grant with CPWR, and we have worked on that with them as well. 

What current construction safety issues does TCI consider most critical? How will TCI address them, and does it expect to encounter any challenges in doing so?

I think attempting to make a cultural change is the most critical issue. Not enough is done to target education or how people view SH&E in the construction industry. If you simply accept that construction is hazardous, injuries will occur. We must move beyond that to change.

We must look at the bigger picture in terms of cultural changes but also at employing best practices to identify and control hazards. We have a state grant to conduct training to identify control hazards using the hierarchy of controls because PPE is often relied upon to protect workers in the industry. We must apply the hierarchy of controls as it is designed to be applied. We are also developing a program on worker participation to achieve safety excellence to help workers participate more fully in pre-task planning and in identifying and controlling hazards. We also received OSHA funding to produce a multimedia DVD on the four high hazards in construction, which are falls, electrocution, caught-in-betweens and struck-bys. We released a similar one on excavation and trenching safety.

How does TCI select instructors for the construction safety courses it offers? What criteria must these instructors meet?

It depends on the type of course we offer, however, we generally look for instructors who are authorized OSHA outreach trainers. For the last three years, we have partnered with the Association of General Contractors of Massachusetts to conduct our OSHA 10 classes.  Their safety director has done ten-hour training in the area for years.

Instructors must have subject matter expertise, adult training experience and field experience. It is important that instructors have experience in the work that students are performing. Field experience goes a long way. We encourage participatory education. We want to engage students in the learning process, and we invite them to ask questions and to be active learners.

In 2005, TCI underwent a name change and expanded its mission. What changes does the new mission include, and how has it strengthened the organization’s efforts?

This change is still evolving. We expanded to address other needs affecting the union sector of the construction industry with respect to SH&E, skills training, increased competition and an improved image in the construction industry. We hope to hire a full-time communications director who can voice the benefits and value of union construction.

We expanded and used CSA as a vehicle to improve, and by representing all 15 building trades, we give them a unified voice using broad-based labor management. It has strengthened us because we believe union construction provides a safety record, skills training, superior values and productivity all under one roof. It made sense for CSA to make safety an asset that we can bring to our owners and users.

TCI’s 2007 Construction Conference & Expo will be held from April 30-May 2, 2007 in Randolph, Massachusetts. What is the conference theme, and what new events or features can attendees expect this year?

In the past, the conference has been devoted to workplace SH&E. This year’s theme is “Suits and Boots II: Building Better Together,” and it will focus on how labor and management can collaborate to build a better product. Workshops will have two SH&E tracks and a third track on market development for union construction. This conference will have something for everybody, not just those in SH&E. It will be of interest to those who are responsible for the business side of the house.

What are TCI’s plans and goals for 2007?

We will continue to move forward with BuildSafe. Our main focus on the safety side is to get a critical mass behind it and to bring in owners and users. On the other side, we will begin developing our research programs on union construction to determine how we can improve based on the needs and concerns of owners and users and use the research results to support the development of our communications strategy.

Biography

Since its inception in 1998, Mary Vogel has been the hands-on administrator of The Construction Institute (TCI), a non-profit organization dedicated to addressing the evolving needs of the unionized construction sector and to improving safety and health in the workplace.

Vogel is responsible for the overall management of TCI, including program and policy development and implementation, finance and budgeting, staff supervision, fundraising, grant writing, public relations, event planning and networking with other organizations.

She has also served as Safety and Health Director for the Massachusetts Building Trades Council and as Executive Director of the Asbestos Victims Special Fund Trust in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In addition, Vogel has provided legal representation and counsel to labor and non-profit occupational health organizations.

She is admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and Pennsylvania, and she is a member of the following organizations:

  • National Safety Council, Construction Division
  • New England Region Education and Resource Center, Advisory Board
  • Occupational Health Institute, Board of Directors
  • University of Massachusetts-Lowell and Tufts University Advisory Committee on Silica
  • Western MassCOSH, Board of Directors

 

Vogel holds a bachelor of arts degree in sociology/social work from Central Connecticut State University and a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center.