M&D Mechanical Contractors Inc. knows a thing or two about safety. Maybe it’s because the Decatur, Alabama-based company, originally founded as Mason & Dulion Co., had a large hand in the construction of high-rises in downtown Birmingham in the 1920s. Not to mention, it contributed to specialized military and space exploration projects, which came with its own set of precautions and responsibilities.
It’s not every day that a mechanical contractor helps NASA get to space.
Today, M&D provides mechanical contracting services and solutions to clients within the industrial, institutional and governmental sectors primarily in North Alabama, as well as other locations throughout the southeast. The company recently added specialty services capabilities including medical gases, duct fabrication and green building.
Because of the amount of specialized work M&D does, the company has gone through great lengths to establish thorough safety measures.
Safety Officer Eddie Evans, who has been with M&D for 12 years, was the first trained and credentialed professional to spearhead the company’s safety initiatives. Evans (CSP) has been certified by the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP) and is a Certified Safety and Health Manager (CSHM) by the Institute for Safety and Health Management (ISHM.) He was selected in 2016 as the Safety Person of the Year by the North Alabama Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC).
Evans looks for what he refers to as “correctible opportunities.” “I’m not the kind of safety person who goes around looking for reasons to write people up for violations,” Evans says “I look for correctible opportunities. I look for ways to help the people I work with.”
Since the 1990s, safety in construction has become, Evans says, “much more than an afterthought,” with injury statistics steadily dropping. It is his goal to help contribute to this continued drop.
“Our goal is zero incidents. We do this through training, proactivity and cooperation. We spend a lot of time preventing things from occurring,” Evans says. “To have zero incidents is a constant effort.”
According to OSHA, 991 worker deaths or 21.1 percent were in construction in 2016.At M&D, a fatality isn’t even up for discussion.
“We don’t ever want to be in a position where we’re trying to figure out how to perform a certain task, and the event of a fatality is even discussed. We’re more focused on knowing we can do something without needing a Band-Aid when we’re done,” Evans says.
This commitment has proven to be crucial in standing out to customers. There have been times that M&D wasn’t the “lowest bidder” on a project, but then was ultimately awarded the work because of its safety program.
Evans recalls a five-year, multi-million-dollar project where M&D Mechanical wasn’t the low bidder — when the John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, Mississippi hired M&D to build a rocket test stand.
“That project involved a lot of elevated work and potential risk. They did not want to take a chance on a company that didn’t have a strong safety culture in place,” Evans recalls.
M&D recently received the gold medal for the construction industry — OSHA’s Safety & Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) certification. M&D is one of four companies in Alabama to have a SHARP designation, and the only construction company to have it. The certification is open only to small businesses with 250 or fewer onsite employees.
SHARP recognizes small business employers who have used OSHA’s on-site consulting program services and operate an “exemplary injury and illness prevention program.”
Evans first learned about SHARP from Matt Hollub at Alabama Safe State Consultation Services. Evans approached Hollub after he presented on SHARP at an American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) meeting, and he recognized this certification would be an important next step foward for M&D’s safety program.
“We didn’t want to get complacent. The way we feel about safety is that if we’re not pushing forward, then we run the risk of stagnation,” Evans says. “It seemed like a natural fit, so we began the process.”
The entire certification process took 19 months. The SHARP team spent the first meeting walking through M&D's fabrication and pipe shops and getting to know all its processes. Even though M&D is at the top of its game when it comes to proactivity and precaution, no stone was left unturned.
“Although we felt good about where we were, there were some correctible opportunities,” Evans explains. “They are very thorough. They even went through a few of our training programs, which we rewrote. As you can imagine, there are a lot of facets of safety — from electrical to capacity to training. We began correcting what was found.”
The SHARP team initiated several rounds of sampling. Sampling and analysis is used by occupational health and safety professionals to assess workplace contaminants and associated worker exposures. During the first round of welding fume sampling, they discovered manganese. “We didn’t expect to see manganese,” Evans says.
M&D went through four rounds of sound sampling. During the fourth round, M&D was insistent on initiating a hearing conservation program.
“We were very much on the border, and could have gotten away with not putting this program into place,” Evans explains. “But that’s not what a SHARP company does. A SHARP company doesn’t look for a way out; it looks for a way in.”
M&D has in-house CAD and Building Information Modeling (BIM) capabilities and fabricates piping and custom metal products, including spiral and ready-to-erect ductwork, in its pipe and metal fabrication shops.
Its 11,000-square-foot pipe fabrication shop has allowed the company to expand specialized piping services and decrease turnaround time for customers. Pipe is delivered to the field personnel, who spend an adequate amount of time with installation.
Fabrication shops and equipment, coupled with its skilled workforce, allow M&D to produce piping assemblies and ductwork faster, cleaner and with tighter quality control than is achievable in a field setting. By pre-fabricating larger pieces, Evans explains, field erection is sped up, thus reducing installation time and offering increased project flexibility.
“We constantly upgrade our fabrication equipment and believe having the best equipment allows us to operate at greater efficiencies,” Evans says.
When it comes to shop work, M&D continuously seeks to improve its equipment and processes to allow employees to work in optimal conditions. Evans points to M&D’s ductwork transitions as a prime example of how processes and equipment can be improved.
“At one point it was someone’s job to stand in the same place all day and hammer things that need to be joined together,” Evans explains. “So instead of someone standing there hammering, experiencing ergonomic issues, creating noise, and slowing down production, now we have a Whisper Lock machine that automates this process for joining ductwork.”
Handling sheet metal has never been known for being a risk-free task. “What drove the purchase of this system was safety,” Evans says. “We identified that the way we were handling the sheet metal roll was a risk. In an effort to take away that risk we also increased the productivity potential because now we have a piece of equipment that’s much more automated and hands-off.”
M&D invests in its employees through training programs, both in-house and through North Alabama Craft Training Foundation, the Tennessee Valley Training Center, and the Gulf Coast Safety Council. This influence on training has allowed the company to develop a strong technical capability among its employees.
M&D employees are skilled craftsman — welders, pipefitters, licensed plumbers, sheet metal mechanics — and also younger trade professionals just starting out. Currently, M&D is running into the same challenge a lot of companies have — filling the skilled labor gap and catching untrained employees up to speed. The company’s in-house training program, M&D Academy, features two alternating classes on Fridays, which has proved to be essential for some of the newer and less experienced employees.
“We have the same problem that everyone else has — getting that skilled labor through the door. Though we have plenty of skilled tradesmen, we’ve been hiring young people with not much experience. We’re doing a lot of in-house training to get our guys to the position where they can contribute on the jobsite,” Evans says. “They are good employees, but they don’t have the knowledge yet.”
Evans remains positive about the exchange of knowledge and energy between employees. “There are a lot of opportunities and voids to fill moving forward. It’s a great time right now for young people who are looking to get into the trades,” Evans says.
M&D has been in a hiring phase for the last five months. Plenty of training, clarifying and mentoring has been taking place. This has transformed M&D’s culture into one that questions why things are done the way they are done.
“Currently, I’m at a jobsite where half of our crew is new; they only joined us in the last few months,” Evans says. “We want to make sure that these people get the right kind of attention so that they can get plugged in to what we’re trying to do. It’s become a part of our culture — to understand why we do things.”
Mentors work with younger employees on jobsites and help them apply what they learn in class to the field or in the shop.
“Our older, skilled employees want to teach. They enjoy imparting their knowledge to the next generation of workers,” Evans says. “We have a lot of great teachers that work for us.”
At the end of the day, it’s the employees who get the job done, so their safety should come first.
“Production isn’t the end all be all of what employees are expected to do. That comes secondary. We want them to work safe first, and we want safety to be an integrated part of everything they do.”