Top safety professional speaks at 2023 West Virginia Construction and Design EXPO

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Around 300 exhibitors from construction and infrastructure industries took centerstage at the two-day 2023 West Virginia Construction and Design EXPO at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center.

Wednesday morning’s keynote speaker at the event, Richard McElhanney, encompassed the broad scope of safety and risk management on any industrial job site in his presentation called, The Real Cost of Safety.

After receiving a Masters Degree in Safety Science from West Virginia University, becoming a Certified Safety Professional, and Construction Risk Insurance Professional, and acquiring over 30 years of safety experience across a wide range of industries, McElhanney discussed his extensive knowledge of safety in the field, as well as his own personal experiences.

Some highlights of his seminar included the changing conditions on job sites that affect workers’ safety, the near misses, which are any potential injury that was only narrowly avoided, and the idea that clients want to work with safe contractors.

McElhanney recalled a couple of experiences where workers were not following proper safety procedures and it ended with fatalities.

“The worst thing we got to do is go home to a spouse and tell them that their husband or wife is not coming home, I’ve done it twice in two years, and both times, males died, so we had to go tell their wife,” McElhanney said.

In one particular situation, McElhanney said he was accompanied by the owner of the company which the death occurred, a supervisor, and a priest to inform the wife that her husband had died on the job.

“She starts smiling and then all of a sudden, a priest comes out, and she falls to the ground, she knows what happened then,” he went on.

McElhanney alluded to the fact that some company supervisors and contractors have to learn about strictly following safety procedures the hard way, such as when a fatality of some kind occurs.

“The supervisors that take the time, five, ten minutes, come in and set the tone, ready for safety off the bat, they’re thinking in that moment what they don’t want to have to do ever, ever again,” said McElhanney.

He said that the top safety performers are contractors that have an Experience Modification Rate (EMR) of 0.7 or less. This means that the contractors conducted a daily safety briefing, along with a weekly/monthly safety inspection program, reported near misses, as well as took other steps pertaining to safety.

Throughout his years of experience on job sites, McElhanney discovered that keeping up with safety and risk management doesn’t have to result in a fatality for workers to learn its importance, they just need to be told to keep safety at the forefront of their work, and as a result, those workers will put it into practice.

“Nine out of ten times, if you push your employees, they come up with a solution,” McElhanney said.

Thursday’s focus for the expo will be on workforce and economic development. President of Marshall University, Brad Smith, will be the keynote speaker for a presentation on higher education.

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