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Celebrating Safety

THE LINBECK GROUP OF TEXAS TAKES TOP PRIZE AT AGC’s CONSTRUCTION SAFETY EXCELLENCE AWARDS

BY NICK FORTUNA

In an industry where large projects often take several years, success rarely comes down to a single 15-minute window, but such was the case for Michael Kleinpeter and the Linbeck Group of Texas at the AGC of America’s annual convention in September.

the linbeck group receives the construction safetyThe Linbeck Group receives the Construction Safety Excellence grand award at the 2021 AGC Convention in Orlando. PHOTO COURTESY OF AGC OF AMERICA

Prior to the big event in Orlando, Kleinpeter and the Linbeck Group’s executive team had rehearsed their presentation time and again, trying to cram all the good details about the company’s data-centric safety program into the five-minute limit. That part, they had down pat.

But then came the 10-minute questionand-answer session, in which a five-judge panel of safety professionals from the government, corporate and insurance industries would probe for daylight between the company’s rhetoric and its practices.

As Linbeck’s safety director, Kleinpeter entered the presentation fully confident in his company’s robust safety management program, and after 15 minutes had elapsed, he and his team had made believers out of the judges as well. Linbeck was named the grand award winner of the 2020 Willis Towers Watson Construction Safety Excellence Awards, an honor Kleinpeter summed up in five words: exciting, surprising, humbling, validating and gratifying.

Kleinpeter made the presentation along with Risk Manager Quintin Greco, President and Chief Executive David Stueckler and Senior Superintendent Joe Donarumo. He says that together they approached the CSEA awards with the same focus and preparation that the company applies to its safety program.

“That five minutes goes by very quickly, so our team spent a lot of time preparing our presentation,” he says. “One of the things we talked about was that it wouldn’t look good if we didn’t finish within the fiveminute timeframe and they had to stop us, because that would show that we didn’t put the proper planning and effort into it, so that was a challenge.”

Linbeck was among 44 general contractors to be honored with CSEA awards at the AGC convention. The company beat out 16 other first-place winners across six occupational divisions. There are multiple winners because the awards are distributed for a number of categories based on the amount and type of work performed.

To be considered, construction firms must fill out a lengthy written application that covers their safety plan in detail. A list of finalists is then chosen for each category.

“The application takes some time, but I absolutely would recommend going through the process in order to get constructive feedback on your safety program,” Kleinpeter says. “You get to see what you’re doing well and where you can improve. We really wanted to see how our peers felt about our safety program, and this award validated what we’re doing.”

Founded by Leo Linbeck Sr. in 1938, the Linbeck Group is a third-generation family business led by Leo Linbeck III, its executive chairman, and Stueckler. Headquartered in Houston, the firm also has offices in Austin and Fort Worth, and employs about 250 construction professionals.

Linbeck offers construction-management, design/build and integrated projectdelivery services. Notable projects have included hospitals, museums, concert halls, churches, K-12 schools and colleges.

Kleinpeter said Linbeck’s “Lean Operating System” was one of the keys to its winning the award. The program uses three primary Lean tools — daily huddles, visual communication and constraint resolution — to drive a culture of safety.

“These tools have allowed our project teams and trade partners to establish a safe place to talk openly and honestly about the project holistically, including safety,” Kleinpeter says. “It’s the culture of trust, accountability and mutual respect created by these tools that allows our projects to experience the right safety outcomes.”

Here’s a brief rundown of each tool:

  • Daily huddles — The cornerstone of the Lean program, these 20-minute meetings are held daily before work begins and are attended by Linbeck’s on-site construction workers and subcontractors. Each group outlines its work plan for the day, including any constraints or hazards that could impact its work or that of another group.
  • Visual communication — Each group’s work plan and safety concerns are detailed on a whiteboard that serves as a reference tool throughout the day. “By making our communication visual at the daily huddle, the team is facilitating more meaningful collaboration around the work,” Kleinpeter says. “Trade partners are better informed and have better discussions.”
  • Constraint resolution — Construction workers and subcontractors discuss their daily work plans and identify potential issues, such as congested workspace and the sequencing of tasks to create a safer jobsite. That approach drives “the accountability level of each trade partner significantly higher based on the responsible partner having to report out in front of the entire team instead of one-on-one with the superintendent,” Kleinpeter says.

In addition to daily huddles, Linbeck develops a site-specific safety plan that’s reviewed by all stakeholders prior to project commencement. After the project is finished, the company performs a safety review to determine what went well and what can be improved.

Analyzing data is central to Linbeck’s safety program. The company developed a list of seven safety categories and seven performance indicators that each can be scored according to jobsite safety records. These “Leading Safety Indicators” are weighted to calculate an LSI score for each project as a whole and each segment of each project.

A high LSI score alerts safety professionals and supervisors to potential problems before they escalate, minimizing the number of safety incidents that occur, Kleinpeter says. Assigning an LSI score to each project area allows Linbeck to be proactive in addressing safety issues.

“We strongly believe this application of data has been extremely beneficial to our safety awareness and our overall success,” Kleinpeter says.

In addition to OSHA-mandated training, Linbeck created an eight-hour safety management course that all members of its project management team must take. The course, which covers 15 essential safety topics, emphasizes that everyone — not just the on-site safety professionals — is responsible for maintaining a safe jobsite.

“That Mr. Stueckler and our two general managers, Mark Linenberger and Ben Johanneman, are involved in presenting this course speaks loudly to their commitment to safety,” Kleinpeter says.

Typical safety processes such as job-hazard analyses and equipment inspections are done by each crew before their tasks begin. Safety audits are conducted by Linbeck’s safety professionals, who observe each subcontractor at work to ensure safety expectations are being met. A member of the project management team follows up with weekly behavior-based safety observations (BBSOs), identifying positive safety efforts and deficiencies and offering suggestions for improvement when needed.

“Accountability and enforcement are not dirty words,” Kleinpeter say. “It doesn’t have to be punitive. We just want to make sure that the expectations for safety are being met. It’s not just about attending a class and putting your name on a sign-in sheet so that we can check a box and say you’ve been trained. We’re making sure that they understand the training and are using it on the jobsite, which is crucial.”

Kleinpeter says Linbeck works diligently to maintain consistent messaging around safety, a key concern given that the company operates in several different regions of Texas and in other states. When construction workers and subcontractors travel from one jobsite to another, it’s vital that the safety expectations remain the same, he says.

“Everyone has to have the same safety expectations, and we have to communicate the same safety message wherever we go,” Kleinpeter says. “I do think we’ve done a good job with that.”

When asked what other construction firms can do to improve jobsite safety, Kleinpeter offered this multi-pronged approach: “Make sure you’ve developed a safety management system that you can believe in and teach to everybody on the job, always be flexible enough to improve it as necessary and be consistent in managing it. Consistency is a big one because as soon as you let something slide, you’ve given permission for someone to do it again.”