YEADON — As every Eagles fan knows, repeating as a champion is difficult - but on Tuesday Vanalt Electrical Construction Inc. did just that as it received the prestigious Governor’s Award for Safety Excellence for the second time in seven years.
Vanalt, which has 28 full time employees, installs, maintains and repairs electrical systems for light rail transit systems including SEPTA and Amtrak. Its crews have worked more than 278,523 hours since 2012 without a reportable injury.
Vanalt is only one of two companies to receive the award in the state this year. Speciality metal fabricator Ernest D. Menold Inc. in Tinicum was the other, and only the second company to receive the award more than once.
“As a member of the Governor’s Award for Safety Excellence selection committee it’s the highlight of my year, when I have the opportunity to visit with folks who understand that workplace safety has the potential to save and impact lives,” said Scott Weiant, Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s deputy secretary for compensation and insurance, as he presented the award. “As a person that has a safety background for many many years, this is actually my Super Bowl through the year of safety.”
Weiant said criteria for consideration includes, labor-management cooperation, innovation, training, sustainability, how long has the safety program been in place and what have the results been.
“The most common question I hear from past winners relates to how hard it is to maintain a safety program at this level,” said Weiant. “What is the alternative? You know the alternative; it's very simple, with less than a safe work enviroment, you have coworkers, friends and family feeling the pain of injuries. I know you will never let that happen.”
“It wasn’t enough to have an outstanding program, we won it because of the evolution of the program,” said Vanalt President Richard Heller, who in accepting the award pointed out that his company could not have done it without the buy-in of his employees and the unions to which they belong. He cited the extensive training that the local unions provide including virtual reality classes that allow linemen to operate anywhere in the world without leaving the classroom.
“Building overhead caternary systems, signal systems, lighting, substations, with voltage as high as 138 KV, it’s really taken a lot of teamwork and a remarkable efforts to keep everyone safe," said Heller. “The key element is the understanding of the work by the people in charge of it. If you don’t know where the dangers are, you can’t protect them.”
Automatic heart defibrillators are provided at major job sites and in supervisors’ vehicles. The company also uses an all-terrain, off-road vehicle that can navigate along railroads and respond promptly in case of a medical emergency.
“I want to thank each of Vanalt’s employees who makes safety a top concern every day, especially those who have served in our safety committees,” Heller said. “Our affiliated IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) brothers have been an extremely significant factor in validating the program and its success. No safety program can be successful without without a well-trained work force.”
Three IBEW Locals - 98, 126 and 351 - were also recognized with awards. The different locals represent different regions of Pennsylvania and New Jersey as well as different workers classifications.
“Vanalt and the IBEW have demonstrated their dedication to safety by their actions keeping employees safe on the job each day,” said Weiant. “It is not viewed as a task at all, it is a culture that is embedded in the daily activities of all employees every day. Although none of us can measure all the injuries the program has prevented over the years we can assume this program has impacted and saved many lives.”
"What you guys have done here at Vanalt is just truly unbelievable,” said SEPTA General Manager Jeffrey Knueppel, who was among those speaking at the program. “There are so many risks. The construction industry provides for some of the highest risks of any industry. Construction accounts for only 4 % of workers but 21 percent of fatalities, that was in 2017, it's a tough industry, you're around high voltage, trains are running I'm just amazed for what you've been able to accomplish."
“You continue to be a leader in the safety arena in Pennsylvania, use this role to inspire others,” Weiant said, finishing with a challenge. “To my knowledge there has never been an employer in Pennsylvania that has won the Governor’s Award for Safety Excellence three times.”