Safety Speakers Series 10: Madeline Vaughan

Welcome back to another edition of Kwema Safety Speakers Series. Today we have a special guest who will talk with us about the challenges of leading safety in the construction industry. Her name is Madeline Vaughan, Safety Manager at Hill International, Inc. As a professional in the construction field, Madeline has worked with some of the largest public and private projects and program management firms in the country.

Kwema: Maddie, we are glad to have the opportunity to talk with you. Could you share with our readers a bit more about your safety background?

Madeline: I began my career as a trades woman. I was a proud card holding member of the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers). I suffered a couple of workplace injuries, which is what brought me to the safety world. As most of you know, Construction is hard work. I was lucky enough that when I entered safety, Los Angeles was booming, and I was able to work on great projects. Schools, hospitals, airports, highways, tunnels, and high rises.

With my construction background, pushiness and devastating charm, it wasn’t hard to talk my way onto most of the good projects and work my way up the ranks to program management.

Kwema: It is well known that there are important challenges in the construction industry when it comes to safety. Could you share a particular situation that was challenging for you? How did you overcome it? 

Madeline: Early on in my career, some employers would worry about if I could handle myself when the guys would just simply tell me “No” or “I’m not going to do?” or how I would handle the things they would write about me in the restrooms? I told them I could handle it and to give me a chance. If I couldn’t handle it, they could just let me go. No big deal. It didn’t take them long to realize I could handle myself, and it would be the guys who would be the ones who would not know how to handle me.

Kwema: What kind of considerations should safety professionals have to take when developing workplace safety plans in construction sites?

Madeline: The biggest issue I see is when a safety professional likes to play Mr. /Mrs big shot and knows it all. They write their plan like they are the first one who has ever written a plan, and they came up with every regulation themselves. I take issue with a couple of things here. 

First, why reinvent the wheel? You can google, call a friend (showing my age here aren’t I) or even plagiarize someone's plan. Safety is a small industry and most enjoy sharing their work. All you have to do is ask, then build on it to make it specific to your project or needs. 

Second, is when a safety professional sees only in black and white. Even regulatory bodies understand in construction nothing is ever consistent and is ever-changing. Sometimes you have to use common sense, your best judgement and education. As long as you have done a proper risk assessment and considered every angle and all possible means and methods, you will be OK. Sticking to 100% by the book can get someone killed as fast as doing nothing at all.

Kwema: What kind of workplace emergencies can workers experience in construction? What is the best way to be prepared for these incidents?

Madeline: The types of workplace injuries can be anything, I could tell stories you would never believe. But when OSHA talks about the “FATAL Four” it’s not just a catchphrase. Year after year, Falls are number one injuries, Struck by, electrical, and finally caught in between.

The best way to prevent accidents and incidents is by planning, pre-planning. Planning should start at the design phase, and it should be done again at every step through completion. Now I know some might think that is too much, but each task required for completion is different and each day, each worker, each piece of equipment, each work team changes, right? Therefore, the plan has to change. I didn’t say the plan had to be redone from the start, I just said there needs to be a plan and everyone needs to be involved in the plans' development.

This is why JHA’s and constructability reviews are so important. One of the reasons I work so steady and on the projects I want for the companies I want to work for is I can save any company their money right out of the gate when bidding a project. Companies miss so many safety items when putting a bid together, and the items they do catch they throw a random set number at and don’t understand other requirements that go along with it or how they fit together. So many companies don’t have a line item for safety. This is one of the first areas cut when they go to sharpen their pencil for bids, and it can be a costly one.

Kwema: Based on your experience, what advice would you share with other professionals to promote safety correctly across their organization?

Madeline: You don’t have to know everything. Just be honest and if you are unsure, just tell someone you’ll get back to them once you verify the information. If you aren’t 100% sure, don’t say it. 

Single most important: we are not cops and should not act like cops. We are mentors and subject-matter experts. Our job is to observe and report up the food chain. Of course, we can stop work, but that is always the last choice and costs everyone money, schedule slippage, attitude issues, confidence, and a bunch of other problems. Unless it is an IDLH, report it to the foreman or superintendent and let them deal with it. Your job is to document and report. 

Kwema: Finally, what does the future look like for you career-wise?

Madeline: I’m really hoping this is my last project and I can get out of California and retire. I would still like to consult a little on the side, but I have show dogs and I think I would like a nice little tiny house on a little slice of beach with my dogs.

We thank Maddie for taking the time to share some of your experiences leading safety in the construction industry. It was enlightening to learn from Maddie’s experience and safety knowledge in construction safety. Let us know your comments below about what other safety and security topics would you like to see in this section!

About Madeline Vaughan

Madeline has been involved with construction for over 35 years. She began her career in the IBEW as a Journeyman Wireman. After suffering an injury and wanting to stay within the construction field, she moved into the safety arena. This seemed like a natural progression. Madeline excelled in safety, as she understood the workers and much of why they did the things they did. Why they violated safety regulations. Madeline enjoys education and began taking every OSHA and safety course she could get her hands on. She joined the ASSE American Society of Safety Engineers (today the ASSP) and took every certification she could to prove her understanding of the requirements and dedication to the profession. Madeline grew her brand and began mentoring other younger safety professionals. In 2018 Madeline was chosen by the ASSP as Safety Professional of the year. She was also chapter president of her ASSP local chapter and was awarded the Gold Chapter. Maddie said these are two of her biggest achievements because they came from her professional peers.

Today Maddie works on some of the largest construction program management teams on the largest programs in the world like LAX’s new CONRAC which when complete will be the single largest CONRAC in the world with a price tag of more than $2.5 Billion dollars. Madeline also worked on the LACCD Build Program, which was the largest publicly funded construction program in the United States. This program has been extended by the voters for over 10 years and worth over $9.9 billion dollars. Maddie’s current project is the I-5 North County Enhancement Project in Northern Los Angeles County, I-5 Highway project. The busiest routes from Southern California to Northern California and Alaska. This 5 year Highway expansion will add HOV lanes, sound walls, drought tolerant landscaping, roadway widening.

Reach out Madeline on LinkedIn



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