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  Happy Birthday VPP!
Rifenburg: Taking the High Road
by Donna Miles
Rifenburg Construction, Inc., adapted VPP for a $28 million highway construction project in New York.  Rifenburg: Taking the High Road by Donna Miles A penny saved is a penny earned. That's what T.J. Lyons, Director of Environmental Health and Safety for Rifenburg Construction, Inc., sees as the greatest value of OSHA's Voluntary Protection Programs.

Lyons says Rifenburg, a heavy construction company based in Troy, NY, has always had a good safety record. Yet, over the course of a typical 3-year construction project, nine to 12 workers would lose workdays after being injured on the job. Those injuries cost Rifenburg and its subcontractors an average of $23,000 per case-or more than $200,000-in workers' compensation costs.

That was before Rifenburg Construction adapted VPP for the highway construction industry and put it into effect on a $28 million Route 332 reconstruction and expansion project in western New York. The project involves widening a major highway from the New York Thruway to the town of Canandaigua from two to four lanes, which includes relocating utilities and rail lines, replacing a bridge, and making significant changes in the grades of some hills. This kind of work poses the usual construction hazards such as falls, electrocutions, materials handling, and excavations. It also exposes workers to hazards such as working near traffic and explosives.

Rifenburg Construction, Lyons says, wanted to beat the odds. The company beefed up its safety programs for the project, making worker safety a top management priority. It launched an aggressive education and training program and initiated a safety committee that focused on improving worker safety and health on the project. In addition, Rifenburg worked with OSHA to develop an efficient and effective way to deal with "near misses," track safety-related incidents, and identify areas in need of improvement.

OSHA named the company a VPP Merit site in August 2000, making Rifenburg the first highway construction firm in New York State and the second in the United States to qualify for this achievement. OSHA reapproved Rifenburg's VPP designation last summer.

"Management's attitude toward safety and health continues to be one of total commitment to worker protection," according to the OSHA VPP Review Team that recommended Rifenburg Construction's continued participation in the program. "Management is committed to providing the safest possible work environment for employees."

The payoff? More than 3 years into the Route 332 project, Rifenburg Construction has not had a single lost-workday accident.

"To have that kind of success rate is absolutely amazing, especially in light of the scope of this project," says Lyons. "We've had 60 to 80 people at the site at a time, representing 21 different subcontractors, and putting in more than 200,000 hours over 3 years, and not a single day lost due to injuries. That's unheard of in this industry."

So unheard of, in fact, that last fall the International Risk Management Institute, Inc., honored Rifenburg Construction with its prestigious Construction Risk Management Best Practices Award. "It's hard to beat the results of no lost workdays in 3 years on a $28 million heavy construction project," said one of the judges from a panel of industry experts that selected Rifenburg for the award. Another judge noted that "rather than settling on the standard, Rifenburg reached for the stars."

Lyons says joining VPP gave Rifenburg more benefits than the company expected. "It's helped protect our workers while turning out to be a real plus for the company in terms of money saved-which translates directly to profits made. At the same time, it's turned out to be the best marketing in the world for Rifenburg," he says. "Being in VPP puts a spotlight on your company and gives you more positive exposure than you could get in just about any other way."