Safe Practices from the Top Down

"In our line of work, there are not too many second chances," said Dennis Kenna, president of Pineville, N.C.-based  tower crane company Heede Southeast, as he addressed and thanked his entire crew for its continued focus on best practices during the company's first major safety meeting. While many companies review safe practices only after an accident or injury, the impetus behind Heede's event was quite the opposite. The company has been injury-free thus far in 2010, and the seminars and education sessions, held in conjunction with National Safety Month, were developed to show how much the company appreciated its employees' attention to safety.

According to Mike Kenna, the company's lead erector, shortcuts can cause accidents, and an event that focuses on the well-being of all employees—from yard workers to technicians to erectors—was incentive for the team to stay safe. "Even in hard times, setting aside a whole day for safety shows how important safety is to the company," he said. Throughout the meeting, Heede's crew participated in discussions with a rigging expert from Certex. Additionally, they listened to the local AGC chapter's safety director who presented on the use of fall protection during tower crane erection and a speaker from OSHA as he touched on the topic of arc flashes that can occur in the crane's electrical panel. Not only did Heede's team refresh its skills, but it also took away new information that could potentially save lives.

Although the event was billed as the company's "first major" safety event, this is far from the truth. Speaking with Dennis Kenna and safety director Mike Hundley, it was clear that safety best practices have been consistent throughout the company's history. As one of the first U.S. tower crane companies to offer turnkey packages, including erection, dismantling, parts, and service, Heede's team has been issued a range of certifications to help safely bring these offerings to its customers, including OSHA 10-Hour, rigging, operator, and erection cards. Additionally, Hundley said that someone on the crew with CPR training is always on the jobsite. When companies focus on safety, Dennis said word gets around and it becomes free advertising for the company. He added that there is nothing he is more proud of than interviewing for a project and being recognized by the contractor's safety director for the accident and injury prevention programs in place at Heede Southeast.

Broadened reach

While safety practices are a constant for Heede, the company has been looking at ways to expand its business in the uncertain U.S. construction market. Its solution was to established the Heede Lonestar Division this year in Houston, Texas, in order to serve customers in the south. In addition to construction, Heede Lonestar is focusing on ports, shipyards, power plants, energy plants, and applications where a tower crane may better fit a contractor's needs rather than a large crawler crane, which may be more expensive to rent.

On the East Coast, the majority of Heede's work has been in institutional construction like colleges, universities, and health care facilities. Like many crane owners, Dennis does not expect construction to pick up until at least 2012 and in the meantime has been subjected to price wars. Dennis said that Heede is maintaining its credibility even during hard times, and the company approaches its reliability and authenticity as a business unit with the same veracity as its safety program. "We feel our integrity is worth a couple thousand more dollars," he said. "We won't give into the price wars."