Article No: 246

2008-09-29 10:49:08
Tech Talk: Concrete Homes: CFA Certified Cast-In-Place Foundation Contractor Program
By: Jim Baty, CFA Technical Director


Part IV: The Concrete Foundations Association (CFA) unveiled a new industry program at its annual convention this summer for the certification of foundation contractor firms in the residential cast-in-place industry. The previous articles in this six-part series provided a program overview and greater depth regarding the knowledge and business components of the program. This segment will discuss one of the more critical components of the program, that of company safety programs and the reasons the requirements were included in the program.  

The CFA stresses that this is a company certification, not an individual certification. While a given number of company employees or owners must have a certain level of education and continuing education, that requirement only leads to a well-rounded company with knowledgeable employees. The CFA company certification program is intended to ensure that companies approved for this designation are not only good foundation contractors, but are also sound businesses.

Safety Programming
A certification program for the residential foundation contractor must include the most important aspects of business operations. Among these are business operations, financial solvency, technical aptitude, and experience. However, when considering the impact of business quality in the construction industry, perhaps no aspect of business is as important as workplace safety and the programs used to manage safety.

The Occupation Hazards and Safety Association (OSHA) has well defined procedures and requirements for all aspects of workplace safety. Construction safety is one of the most visible forms of these requirements since so much of it is clearly visible to the general public. In addition, the number one asset to any contracting company is the experienced workforce. Therefore, companies operating in the field of foundation construction must be able to provide assurance that their projects are safe environments for those around as well as the workforce operating within the site. Demonstrating the effectiveness of the programs to ensure workplace safety is relatively easy, yet sometimes overlooked.

The Program
As a company prepares their final documentation to become certified under the CFA Foundation Contractor Certification Program, they must complete Section II-4 of the program that demonstrates evidence of their safety program. They must verify that a quality safety program is in place and that it is approved by an authorized agency. The program itself must be described and evidence of the frequency that the program is administered and monitored must be provided.
Safety programs often include a regular series of education seminars conducted in a classroom or company meeting room. Depending on the content of a particular session, the seminar may also be given in the field or in the company’s yard where equipment can be used or demonstrated. These seminars should be delivered from an approved or validated program. One such operation used by many CFA member companies is Safety Services Company, from Yuma, Arizona. This company provides ready-made “tool-box” talks that are delivered to the company’s Safety Administrator or otherwise designated contact on a monthly basis.  The talks are available in English and Spanish to serve the bi-cultural workforces seen throughout the U.S.

“The interaction of the CFA with Safety Services has become so much more than a member benefit. It demonstrates how this professional industry organization takes safety as a leading issue in our marketplace. The combination of these programs with the regional education events they host have been instrumental in us creating a sound program,” states Jim Rowe of Fastrac Foundations. “Every Wednesday morning we have a safety education session and each of my employees must sign a release form stating that they understood what was presented and that they had no questions regarding implementing the information.”

Implementing a regular program such as a monthly “tool-box” talk is a key factor in the success of the safety program. Evidence or record of attendance to these talks is the second key factor. The ability for an employer to retain evidence that a given employee has participated consistently in these discussions is vital to not just the knowledge of the particular employee but also the protection of the company during incidents.

“During a rush project last fall, one of our employees used poor judgment in operating the boom of our concrete pump too close to electrical lines. This resulted in arcing from the high voltage wiring to the equipment. Fortunately, we use a remote box for operating the machine and only minor burns resulted. Our ability to demonstrate that these employees had recently been through education on pump safety at a CFA-sponsored seminar and our safety program was in place was key to our being absolved of wrongdoing. We were very fortunate that this accident did not result in significant injuries or deaths and also fortunate that our foresight kept us from paying significant OSHA fines,” says Jim Rowe.
It is essential for companies to produce regular and updated educational opportunities for their workforce and to maintain records of these efforts.

The study guide for the basic knowledge exam includes several safety publications to prepare the applicants for the exam. The materials were provided by several CFA members and include several topics specific to the residential concrete foundation industry. Elements of all of these components should be in all foundation contractors safety programs.  

One topic of importance is excavation safety and fall protection. All foundation contractors work in what is essentially a confined space, the area between the forms and the excavation. OSHA has specific recommendations regarding the width of space, benching or stepping back the sides of the excavation, and guidelines on the distance at which equipment must be kept back from the edge of an excavation.

Another issue relevant to foundation contractors is fall protection. Many of our members have been called-to-task for working on top of or near the top of forms. Typical OSHA regulations would require harnesses, guardrails, or other protective measures but OSHA, however, has modified these rules for residential foundation construction. It always pays to be up-to-speed on OSHA regulations.

Safety knowledge also includes heat stress training. Summer foundation work can be very stressful on the body because workers are often in a hole or confined space without air circulation and in full sun. Understanding the difference between heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and knowing what to do in each circumstance could be critical to saving lives.   

Lastly, all concrete workers are constantly around heavy equipment. Pumps, conveyors, ready-mix trucks, and other equipment can turn into deadly weapons around inexperienced and untrained workers. Hand signals, critical hazards, and other aspects of working in and around heavy equipment is knowledge that all workers must have, even if they do not operate the equipment.

The Evaluation

Having a program in place that is proven will assist the company in achieving favorable ratings from key industry monitoring benchmarks. These are the Modification Rating and the OSHA Incidents Rate. Insurance is not the primary goal of the Foundation Company Certification Program, although that is a facet that must be in place. What is critical is that the companies achieve and maintain favorable mod rates and low incident rates. These are the real indicators of the success of safety programs that companies operate. By providing these rating numbers, the company can be verified through the agencies that designate those ratings during the periodic audits that occur. Companies that fall below benchmarks set by the Certification Program become at risk for probation in their certification and must then designate efforts to comply with better procedures and policies.

Final Thoughts

Whether your company is interested in applying for CFA Certification, you are interested in identifying certified companies for your project(s), or you are simply trying to become a better company; the development of quality safety programming is a significant development goal to achieve. Tangential to the development of this program should be the development of workplace drug and alcohol testing and resulting treatment programs to ensure that both knowledge and maintenance of your programs can be ensured.

If you have any comments or suggestions about the requirements or details of the program, make certain you contact either Dan Bromley, CFA Certification Committee chair (816) 795-0072 or DanB@ABI-Corp.com; or Ed Sauter (319) 895-6940 or esauter@cfawalls.org, to make your ideas known. The next article will cover in depth the safety requirements of a CFA-certified company.

Established in 1974 for the purpose of improving the quality and acceptance of cast-in-place concrete foundations, the CFA offers a variety of resources on topics ranging from residential foundations to above-grade homes, commercial market opportunities to alternative markets. CFA efforts have produced considerable promotional materials, educational seminars, and networking opportunities that place members in one-on-one contact with experienced peers for assistance in resolving a variety of issues. The CFA and the structured Concrete Homes Council (CHC) represent the interests of its members and the industry on several code and regulatory bodies, such as the American Concrete Institute’s 332 Committee – responsible for the creation of the “Residential Concrete Standard.” The CFA has several of its members on the ACI committee responsible for this document and will endeavor to ensure that the interests of the foundation contractor are considered. For more information about CFA, see cfawalls.org or call 319-895-6940.  For more information about CHC, see concretehomescouncil.org or call (319) 895-0761.

Jim Baty, jbaty@cfawalls.org, is Technical Director of the Concrete Foundations Association.