Students on safety tour

Master's students in industrial and systems engineering take a safety-focused tour of the new residence hall construction site on South Green Drive.

Photographer: Rebecca F. Miller

Associate Professor Diana Schwerha

Associate Professor Diana Schwerha joins her master's students studying occupational safety on a tour of the building site.

Photographer: Rebecca F. Miller

Rebar caps prevent impalement

These plastic caps, which help prevent workers from being impaled on the metal rods if they happen to fall on the site, are one of the safety measures the students learned about on the tour.

Photographer: Rebecca F. Miller

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Engineering students build on safety smarts at residence hall construction site

A group of Russ College industrial and systems engineering students got a firsthand look at the safety side of construction engineering management on Wednesday with a tour of the new Ohio University residence hall building site on South Green Drive.

Joe Motil, the field safety specialist for contractor Elford on the $106 million project, gave the group of graduate students a 40-minute safety orientation and a walking tour of the site – including inherent safety risks. Civil engineering students recently toured the site for a field experience of geotechnical concepts related to the project’s foundation.

Motil explained that scaffolding, heavy equipment, hazardous material exposure and impalement are just a few of the dangers faced by workers on major building projects, and this future site of four residence halls connected by a learning commons is no exception.

Associate Professor Diana Schwerha, the group’s occupational safety course instructor, noted that Ohio University is like a microcosm of the world. “Every aspect of construction – the students are going to be able to see here. And they’re going to be able to see it over a two-year period. When you go on a single plant tour, you can’t see that.”

In addition to the specific safety protocols on construction projects, Motil said a first-line of defense against accidents and injury is gaining the respect and trust of the work crew.

“Although ultimately workers are responsible for their own safety, as a safety manager, I must present myself as someone who truly cares about their well-being and making sure they all make it home safely at the end of the day,” he said. “As a safety professional, your decisions and observations have an impact on their livelihood. That is a very rewarding responsibility.”

After a 15-minute video reviewing safety standards such as personal protective equipment, signage, hazard communication, tool and vehicle safety, and worker conduct, students donned hard hats, safety vests and protective glasses to head into the field. The experience is ideal – they’re all trainees in a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health grant program that provides a specialization in occupational safety along with their degree.

“Having real-life experience and witnessing it will help me out when I graduate,” said Tiffany Reynolds, a second-year student in the program. “That way I know what to look for and I’ve seen it before.”

Walking through the excavation phase of the project, students learned how to properly navigate a construction site; the functions and safety precautions for vehicles, equipment and signs; and some of Motil’s anecdotes from his years of working in field safety.

Marcus Szabo, a second-year student who wants to become a safety manager himself, found the emphasis on relationship building, fascinating.

“That’s not something you hear about when you take a class,” he said. “I’ll remember that when I go out in the real world: to have a relationship with all your workers.”

Schwerha said plans for multiple site visits to witness each phase of construction over the next two years reinforces the role of change and flexibility throughout the course of a long-range project.

 “If they go out to work for a construction company, they’ve already seen a job from start to finish, and they have some idea of expectations of the different types of challenges,” Schwerha said. “It is a non-standardized type of task. The work site changes. The jobs change. There’s a lot of subs coming in and out. You can’t read about that in a book.”

For Motil, hands-on experience is the best learning tool for future managers, particularly in construction.

 “Observing the physical demands of construction workers and the elements in which they work gives people more appreciation for the service they provide for us. They help create the structures that we require in order to live and enjoy ourselves.”

Additional residence hall construction site tours are planned for spring semester.