Torcon Celebrates 30 Years of VPP Participation
This year marks the 30th year of Torcon’s partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) premier recognition program, the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP). Torcon’s introduction to VPP was intense and unexpected; the corporate campus where we were completing an office/lab expansion was seeking recertification from OSHA as a VPP Star site. As the date approached for the OSHA team’s three-day VPP inspection, the client learned our construction site would be included.
While we were running a safe jobsite, VPP’s standards and requirements were different. We quickly learned about the VPP approach and came to recognize its effectiveness in ensuring jobsite safety. VPP emphasizes cooperation as well as planning and communication, encompassing the entire team, from trade workers to client staff. We became believers and were determined to engage our projects directly with VPP.
Torcon’s involvement in the VPP can be credited to the persistence of our former Director of Health & Safety, Leon Baukh, who retired in 2014 after 31 years with Torcon. After convincing the company to submit the somewhat detailed, time-consuming application for the Ciba-Geigy Life Sciences Building in Summit, NJ (now a Bristol-Myers Squibb site) in the summer of 1993, Torcon received its first “Star” – the VPP’s highest level of recognition for workplace safety and health. While construction sites are not ideal VPP candidates because of the one-year record-keeping requirement before you can submit the application, Torcon has remained steadfast in our allegiance to VPP as it is the premier method of ensuring safe worksites. We have earned over 20 VPP Stars as well as the first ever awarded VPP Guanin in Puerto Rico, a Star equivalent.
Now, as we’ve reached our three-decade involvement with VPP, Torcon’s commitment to an uncompromising approach to safety is ingrained in our culture and represented on our jobsites both past and present.
Safety is a core principle at Torcon, and we continue to build upon Leon’s legacy and the company’s VPP-based safety program. In 2012, Torcon was approved by OSHA to participate in its Star VPP Mobile Workforce program in Region 2 (New York & New Jersey) followed by Region 3 DGA of Allentown and Philadelphia, PA in 2013. The Mobile Workforce program is more aligned with the nature of our business given our ‘project’ oriented operations as opposed to one specific plant, campus, or manufacturing site. Torcon’s acceptance by OSHA recognizes our exemplary safety practices across multiple and smaller scale projects.
Senior Director of Environmental Health & Safety, Mike Hennebery, has spent the past 25 years with the company enhancing our culture of health and safety, encouraging a “two-way street” philosophy with our trade workers. While Mike rightfully attributes Torcon’s participation in the VPP and long history as a trailblazer in the industry to Leon, he has built his own legacy by continuing to innovate how Torcon, and the industry, incorporates safety into every practice on every worksite. Mike is an avid participant in multiple industry organizations, including the American Society of Safety Engineers, the Mid-Atlantic Construction Safety Council, and the Safety Executives of New York (SENY), an organization of which he is currently President. His involvement in these groups truly reflects Torcon’s passion to promote safety not only on our jobsites but to the entire industry.
Why is VPP the go-to program to manage safety on construction worksites? According to Mike, this accreditation can only be earned through community effort: “On any jobsite, trades workers benefit from safety more than anyone else. Individual trade workers may only ever be on one of our jobsites, and their time spent there may only be days or weeks, but we ensure each one of them receives dedicated training and continued support that they can carry with them.” Because of the nature of the construction industry, the number of accidents, injuries, and illnesses are significantly elevated compared to other industries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than 1 in 5 workplace deaths occur in the construction industry. “VPP recognition shows prospective subcontractors that Torcon cares deeply about their workers’ safety and wellbeing and goes to great lengths to instill safe practices in everyone we work with,” said Mike.
Torcon’s staff comes from varied and diverse backgrounds, some with decades of industry experience, some fresh out of college. Those in the field implementing Torcon’s safety practices and helping manage our projects using VPP principles are encouraged to view OSHA not as an imposing, malicious entity but as a partner working towards a common goal.
“What really helps encourage everyone to not be scared of taking safety seriously is our good relationship with OSHA,” Mike Hennebery commented. Seeing them as a valuable resource and cooperative partner makes VPP “more palatable, more genuine” to our employees. Mike went on to say that the collaborative approach encouraged by OSHA under VPP helps our staff form similar relationships with our subcontractors. An open line of communication between all workers on site means that everyone feels more comfortable calling out unsafe practices and encourages continued learning of proper procedures and protocols. Torcon continues to be one of the industry’s safest firms, thanks to each employee meeting the high demands necessary to maintain our VPP certifications. Torcon’s acceptance into VPP as a Mobile Workforce Star participant in Regions 2 and 3 has been renewed every three years, including most recently in 2021. In 2022, five members of our safety staff acquired Safety Trained Supervisor in Construction (STS-C) certification, and that number is expected to grow in 2023. Torcon’s superintendent and project management staff also participated in safety roundtables during the past year and will continue this year with expanded staff participation. Our employees embody Torcon’s core values and apply them every day on every jobsite. As we celebrate 30 years of VPP excellence, Torcon remains committed to leading the industry with innovative initiatives to keep our jobsites safe.