Safety protocol is not the most glamorous subject when it comes to planning projects. In the construction industry, topics such as budget, estimating, materials, and scheduling percolate to the top of project manager’s and their crews' minds. But as Tori Kolster (BAS, '18) points out, planning ahead and ensuring safe procedures on the jobsite are essential to success. Having earned her master’s degree in Environmental Health and Safety (EHS), Kolster sees her work in the construction industry through eyes that scan for hazards, seek to prevent harm and injury, and plan with safety in mind at all times.
“Safety is not always the first thing for people to think of,” Kolster says. “A lot of people are thinking more about budget and time constraints, which is obviously really important. But safety is going to play directly into those, too. If you don’t plan well from the beginning—whether you need certain types of scaffolding, for example, or extra precautions when it comes to working with different chemicals—aspects of your project can be affected.”
Kolster is a mechanical contractor in the Milwaukee area. The company she works for specializes in HVAC systems, plumbing, fire protection, new construction services, and the like. With her role comes the responsibility to manage projects and perform estimating, though she says her EHS studies make her a more well-rounded professional and factor into her daily work.
“There’s so much more to construction safety than just wearing fall protection at a certain height or only using certain chemicals in particular situations. EHS is about overall well-being and progress in the industry, too. It involves responding to crises like COVID-19. So, in all industries, we really need to focus on these health and safety issues and integrate them into planning.”
When she reflects on ways that EHS is integrated into her own job, Kolster lists a couple of examples. She’s been in the position of coordinating massive cranes as they hoist 30-ton chiller units onto rooftops of tall buildings. In such a scenario, Kolster develops a plan to execute for optimal safety to ensure the lift goes smoothly. That plan is more layered than you might imagine. She factors in crane load calculations, weather conditions, logistics and placement of machinery, and the whereabouts of people onsite. As a precautionary measure, Kolster will evacuate workers from the building that will house the chiller unit. It’s safety measures like this that ensure high-stakes procedures go well.
As for current circumstances with the Coronavirus pandemic, Kolster is also putting her EHS knowledge to work. “Everything right now with COVID is safety-related,” she says. “Construction hasn’t stopped because of the pandemic, so we ask ourselves how our crews can still work effectively, but socially distanced from one another, which is tough. Sometimes you need two people, for example, working on one piece of equipment to support something. We’ve been fortunate to not be facing any outbreaks right now, and overall I think we’re well prepared to handle things.”
When Kolster was earning her bachelor’s in construction management, the program wasn’t yet offering a special track in EHS like it does now. Although, she was exposed to general safety regulations and earned her OSHA 30 certification through the program—a credential reflective of comprehensive safety, designed for anyone involved in the construction industry.
When asked about the prospect of studying EHS in-depth while in undergrad, Kolster says, “I think that EHS for a young construction professional is an asset. Construction companies are really going to be looking for this in prospective employees, as it’s becoming more important each year for construction to continue working safely. That’s what drives the industry as far as winning the big jobs and getting the next big job: You work safe and you prove yourself.”
Learn more about the Environmental Health and Safety track in the Construction Management degree program.