University of Alabama, OSHA team up for safety on new hospital construction

A UA SafeState consultant demonstrates a personal fall arrest system on a job site.
A UA SafeState consultant demonstrates a personal fall arrest system on a job site.

With a new hospital underway for residents of west Jefferson and eastern Tuscaloosa counties, the University of Alabama is taking a lead in ensuring the construction progresses safely.

The UA SafeState Occupational Safety and Health Consultation Program has partnered with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s area office in Birmingham and Brasfield & Gorrie General Contractors for the new UAB MedWest project being built in McCalla.

Medical West Hospital Authority, an affiliate of UAB Health System, officially broke ground on its replacement MedWest facility in November.

Earlier this month, UA and OSHA announced a partnership aimed at ensuring the safety of construction workers at the McCalla site.

“The primary objective of this partnership is to create a working relationship that focuses on preventing work-related fatalities, mitigating serious workplace hazards and establishing a foundation for the development of an effective safety and health program,” said Don Elswick, executive director of UA SafeState in a news release.

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The new, $400 million hospital, off Interstate 459 at 4501 Bell Hill Road, is being constructed by Birmingham-based contractors Brasfield & Gorrie and is scheduled to open in 2024.

The planned 412,000 square foot, nine-story hospital will house 200 beds and a 127,000 square foot, five-story medical office building.

The facility — a full-service hospital — also will feature a new surgical and endoscopy suite, state-of-the-art imaging technology and more intensive care beds.

But to get there will take hours of work, and UA alongside the federal OSHA office is intent on ensuring that’s done safely.

“Worker safety and health partnerships rely on the collaboration between OSHA, management and labor to leverage resources and maximize results,” said Ramona Morris, director of the OSHA area office in Birmingham. “The commitment toward worker safety made by UA SafeState and Brasfield & Gorrie should serve as an example for other employers.”

Under the partnership, UA SafeState will conduct, in accordance with OSHA standards, quarterly safety and health audits in accordance with OSHA standards at the construction site in which all subcontractors will participate.

Brasfield & Gorrie will use the information to analyze injury and illness trends, including near-miss incidents, by all contractors performing work at the site. This data will be used to ensure continual safety and health improvements at the site.

The UA SafeState Occupational Safety and Health Consultation Program is designed to help employers control costs by reducing accidents, illnesses and problems with regulatory compliance.

This cooperative agreement program is 90% funded by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and 10% by the state of Alabama. The program is a free, confidential service provided by the University of Alabama College of Continuing Studies to employers throughout the state of Alabama.

Building the hospital, however, is not free, and it is being funded by a federal spending package that is part of an overall $1 billion plan by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to build and improve community facilities in 48 states, Puerto Rico and Guam.

This infrastructure funding is meant to increase access to health care, education and public safety while spurring community development and building sound infrastructure for people living in rural communities, said USDA Deputy Secretary Jewel Bronaugh in a news release announcing the plan.

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The new Medical West Hospital is part of 731 projects that USDA is funding through five programs – the Community Facilities Direct Loans and Grants, Community Facilities Loan Guarantees, Community Facilities Technical Assistance Training Grants, Community Facilities Disaster Grants, and Economic Impact Initiative Grants – that will fund essential community services and assist rural America, the USDA said.

Supported by outgoing U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, the vice chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations that steered additional funding to the Community Facilities Direct Loans and made many of these investments possible, the funds will go not only toward hospitals and clinics, but also emergency response vehicles and equipment as well as other essential community facilities.

This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: UA, OSHA team up for safety on new hospital construction