In life, to be successful and have a great team, a thriving business, a healthy marriage or a balanced life, one must first build a strong foundation. Across the globe, buildings tower over us, in an expression of our economic and cultural progress, and all are supported by strong, reliable, concrete foundations.
The Concrete Sawing and Drilling Association (CSDA)’s purpose, according to its website, is to advocate for, educate, certify, and promote these “professional cutting, polishing, imaging, and selective demolition contractors.” Every year, since 1972, the CSDA holds annual meetings to elect a new board and set out new objectives. It now boasts over five hundred members of contractors, manufacturers, and affiliate members. While it holds a global reach, most of its members are from North America.
It continues to build coalitions and set industry standards alongside larger organizations such as the Construction Industry Safety Coalition and the International Association of Concrete Drillers and Sawers (IACDS), which it helped to found.
Over the past few years, the membership has evolved as it has seen an increase in younger members and women who are making their mark on the association. “About ten years ago, we hosted our first meeting for the Next Generation group, encouraging up and coming industry leaders to start to get involved in CSDA. It’s now evolved into an active committee of over 50 members with events hosted at the annual convention and the World of Concrete,” says Erin O’Brien, Director of Marketing and Communications for the CSDA. “You see a lot of sons and daughters taking over for their parents. We created this Next Generation Committee to get these people more active.”
And it has worked. “Twenty-five percent of our Board is part of the Next Generation Committee,” says O’Brien. “These people are going to be the future. They will be shaping where CSDA goes in the next ten to fifteen years.”
The CSDA is also witnessing more women attend its conferences. “We are seeing more women taking active roles and coming into leadership positions, so it’s been a really interesting shift there,” says O’Brien. “We have two women on the Board. Our Secretary/Treasurer and one of our Board members is a woman. And that’s a big deal because it’s a very male-dominated industry, so it’s great to see women getting involved.”
Members also gain respect in the industry from general contractors and other professionals. “Hiring a CSDA contractor gives general contractors that peace of mind that you are getting a quality subcontractor who brings professionalism, safety and accuracy to the job,” says O’Brien. “You’re getting a professional who is going to do the job right, who is going to have good communication, who is going to be safe, and who is going to offer you the best quality possible.”
Once companies sign up for membership, they gain access to an online members’ portal, in-person training, and all the benefits of being part of a large organization, such as networking opportunities and being featured on the CSDA website.
CSDA is also one of the first associations to offer an industry-specific pre-qualification program, called CSDA Company Certification. Applicants must meet strict safety and insurance requirements and have sound financial best practices. They must also provide evidence of training or certification programs for employees and the company as a whole. Finally, they must successfully pass a written application review. Members who achieve CSDA Company Certification gain the added bonus of being on a shortlist of companies that represent that top tier in the industry and are actively promoted to specifiers by the association.
To ensure this standard is maintained, businesses must reapply every other year. All member companies have access to CSDA’s extensive training and safety programs, with modules to help keep a company and its workers up-to-date on the latest techniques.
The CSDA has trained over nine thousand industry professionals in its classroom, hands-on and online training, and certification programs.
The hands-on and classroom training and certification programs are held at various member locations across the country and in Clearwater, Florida at a facility built especially for the CSDA Training Program. CSDA has partnered with a local college and its manufacturer members to train members in the latest and safest working techniques. This helps students to learn the basics of the industry and the latest methods and technologies as well as how to adapt to real-life jobsite challenges and gain invaluable hands-on experience.
“Blueprints and plans are often different then what they end up being in reality,” says O’Brien. “Maybe an operator cut through rebar that wasn’t shown in the original plans, or it ended up being thicker than they thought, or the concrete ends up being harder than expected. We help them to deal with these common issues.”
With changing technology and busy work schedules, the CSDA is expanding its online training programs to adapt to the needs of today’s worker. “A lot of companies can’t afford to have operators off the job site to do training,” says O’Brien. “We’re launching a new training website that will offer opportunities to do web-based training.” Classes can be taken when it’s convenient for the operator, so if they have a half hour to kill while they are sitting in a truck waiting for the next job, they can go online and complete a course.
The CSDA’s online toolbox safety tips (TSTs) are perfect for members who need a quick safety or technical brush-up. Instead of wading through endless websites in a Google search, the tips are one-to-two-page documents that serve as a quick review of over one hundred topics. Subjects include things like how to secure a wall opening, forklift safety, or tips on preventing heat illness.
It also monitors the latest industry regulations. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) creates standards across the industry. In 2017, OSHA passed laws regarding the monitoring of silica dust in the air, the use of water, and respirators. “What that meant for our contractors was they had to do additional monitoring, which was costing them more time and money,” says O’Brien. “Our smaller contractors didn’t always have the resources to take that challenge on.”
In response to this, the CSDA “created a safety manual that is available to all of our members with extensive data on silica monitoring, how to deal with what you need to do on-site to have compliance within the OSHA ruling.” To help cut costs for members, CSDA partnered with testing companies in the industry that can test silica dust levels for a nominal fee or can rent out equipment for companies to do it on their own. Another partnership allows members to submit their silica testing results to a large database to get access to additional testing results.
Just as important as training is the ability to learn and network with other industry professionals from across North America. CSDA holds an annual convention each spring, where it elects new Board members, conducts workshops and roundtables, and also provides plenty of networking opportunities. The next convention will be held in Carlsbad, California April 2-4, 2020.
“Networking is a big benefit. While we offer webinars and online training, we still believe in the power of meeting face-to-face. Face-to-face conversations are really where a lot of business happens,” says O’Brien.
“We have some contractors who come together to work on joint projects,” she explains. “One contractor has a specialty in one area; another contractor has a specialty in another area, and they can combine to meet the needs of some of the larger projects, and all of that has happened because they had a conversation at one of our CSDA events,” says O’Brien.
“Our manufacturers appreciate that they can go to these meetings where they have face-to-face time with their customers, whether it be an existing or a potential customer. Our contractors love to get together and share ideas. Even though they can be competitors, depending on where they’re located geographically, a lot of them have really worked together to help each other out.”
Networking events include conferences, training and discussion, but also fun events like last year when the members went to the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida as part of the Annual Convention. “It’s right on the water, a beautiful setting. Blue-collar construction guys wandering around this really nice classy museum all dressed up, and they all loved it. We end with a gala dinner and an award presentation that night to recognize someone who has made a significant positive impact on the industry,” says O’Brien. “We create an environment where people can just relax and chat and recognize the award-winners. A lot of families come, and it’s a great way for people to make those connections.”