More than revenue, more than growth, Milestone Contractors measures its success by worker safety. “Everyone goes home the way they came in,” says Scott Cornelius, vice president and Indianapolis area manager at Milestone.
This is important for the Indiana-based company because it specializes in highway and road paving, where speeding trucks, heat stroke, blizzards and thunderstorms are common hazards.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) reports that in 2013, there were 47,758 injuries related to work zone crashes on the highway. That averages out to 131 injuries per day and a fatality every 15 hours.
In an industry this dangerous and unpredictable, Cornelius says that worker safety is essential to attracting and retaining the kind of skilled employees the company needs for complex highway construction jobs.
Safety through accountability
Milestone employs over 1,000 construction workers and Cornelius says the company “empowers every employee with the authority to stop work at any time they feel unsafe. That applies to the guy we might have hired this morning, all the way up to the president.”
Paving crews work on long stretches of road that makes it hard for supervisors to monitor every employee all the time. Loud machinery and traffic makes it challenging for workers to communicate. A smart solution, Cornelius says, is ensuring every employee feels accountable for the team’s safety.
New employees also attend a company safety orientation before they report to the jobsite. Onsite, the new employees wear distinctive green hard hats, making them stand out and making it easier for veteran workers to guide them through the best safety practices.
Safe workers make for loyal, innovative workers
This attention to safety matters in an industry where it’s common for employees to jump from one contractor to another. If a company doesn’t care, workers simply leave. Yet at Milestone, “a lot of the workers we have are the same ones we’ve had year after year,” Cornelius says.
Another reason Milestone retains employees is because it keeps them busy, and there’s been no shortage of work for the construction company recently. In part that’s due to the company’s aim of always having jobs in the pipeline, but it’s also a product of the paving frenzy caused by low oil prices and correspondingly low prices for paving materials.
“A lot of our crews have been working seven days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day,” Cornelius says. One of the projects keeping Milestone the busiest is paving a 15-mile stretch of I-69 located just north of Indianapolis. The project is especially exciting for Milestone because it’s the company’s first “best value” job.
On this job, as with other best value jobs, the state provided contractors with a fixed budget to pave an undetermined length of road and then asked them to submit a design plan and strategy that would give the state the best value for its money. Cornelius says he prefers contracts like these because they encourage innovation.
Milestone won the bid for I-69 with a clever design and traffic-flow plan that allowed crews to pave more efficiently by using less temporary pavement. Temporary pavement is used to strengthen the shoulder of the road while traffic is being diverted away from the main lanes. Cornelius says temporary pavement costs the company in labor and resources, only to be ripped up and discarded at the end of the job.
Milestone’s traffic plan called for the existing pavement to be reinforced before a new, third lane of traffic could be added. Utilizing a nontraditional mix of asphalt, known as a 12.5mm intermediate, the road’s existing shoulders were strengthened enough to carry traffic during construction.
Milestone’s design was so efficient with time and money that INDOT increased Milestone’s contract from $85 million to $91 million in exchange for the company completing an additional mile and a half of highway.
A new way to mark new highway
Milestone has had similar success using innovative techniques on another highway project in Indiana—a stretch of I-65 just south of Indianapolis.
Cornelius says that traditional highway paving involves pounding in hundreds of stakes and connecting them by string lines to make sure the paver spreads the new mixture to the proper vertical and horizontal alignment. However, these stakes and strings are time consuming to place and make it difficult for vehicles to enter and exit the site. They are also susceptible to being bumped by heavy machinery, which can throw off carefully established grade control.
The crews working on I-65 have overcome these limitations by adopting an alternative, string-less technology that uses radio signals and sensors to make high precision corrections to the paver while it’s in action.
Cornelius says crews are on pace to finish I-65 by the Spring of 2016 and that I-69 should be completed by November of the following year.
Between creative engineers and skilled tradesmen, Cornelius says Milestone’s team members are some of the best in the industry. The proof is in the multiple awards the company has won for engineering and paving excellence in the past year.
“I think a big thing managers can do is step out of the office and let the crews know how much they’re appreciated”.
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