It comes as no surprise that Manhattan Mechanical Services recently won the Three Rivers Manufacturing Association (TRMA) Platinum Safety Award from its local safety council for exceeding excellence in the required job site safety protocols and performance. Observing the company, it’s clear that its stellar safety record exemplifies the way Manhattan tackles all the extraordinarily demanding protocols and skill creation that its chosen field requires.
Founded in 2011 by Mike Uremovich, Manhattan Mechanical Services, a leader in heavy industrial mechanical maintenance and fabrication, operates from two facilities—one in East Chicago, Indiana, and another in Manhattan, Illinois, investing significantly in a new fabrication facility in 2020.
While each facility has its own training division, the Manhattan office recently gained a significantly updated training facility that is better equipped than ever before and dedicated to its new craftsmen.
Spotlight on safety
The company is no stranger to the limelight—for all the best reasons. The team’s most recent award was achieved by scoring superbly high safety merits and displaying proof of a three-year or longer OSHA recorded incident rate of 0.6 or less with zero fatalities during that time; a Lost Workday rate of 0.2 or lower over three years; and meeting a number of other stringent operational markers, setting the bar for winning this award impressively high.
According to company President Joe Harkness, the company has been injury-free for over four years, equating to a staggering 2.5 million unblemished labor hours. Working hard to reach this current level of safety excellence over a few years, the company has also received gold and meritorious awards from the organization in years past.
In addition, Manhattan Mechanical received the Associated Builders and Contractors National and State Excellence in Construction Eagle Award not long ago.
“We focus a tremendous amount of energy on safety. We also take a great deal of pride in keeping people safe, to ensure that they go home the way they came in,” says Harkness. Every shift starts after a thorough safety meeting, and everyone is on the same page. Here, goals and themes are laid out ahead of time for the week and the month to navigate and mitigate any challenges.
A dedicated safety department executes near-daily inspections, assisting teams in staying on top of whatever potential risks exist on their work sites. By maintaining loss prevention observation cards, management ensures that it stays in touch with what is happening on the ground around safety. These cards are completed by its craftsmen weekly before being swept for crucial clues toward safety improvement.
The company also has a ‘good-catch’ program, which recognizes staff across the company for reporting potential risks before they can develop into calamities. All safety risks are carefully studied to ensure future prevention.
The company’s teams also complete annual day-long refresher safety courses through its local safety council, the Three Rivers Manufacturing Association (TRMA). Additional close affiliations with other councils include the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) and the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER).
A niche focus
Serving the greater Chicago region’s heavy industrial construction industry, the company performs a lot of work for oil refineries, chemical plants, ethanol plants, and similar. Especially favored for its heavy industrial mechanical maintenance and fabrication offering, one quickly realizes that “niche” is where this company’s core business lies. That includes everything from insulation and scaffolding installation to welding, process piping, boiler making, equipment installation, and expert structural steel fabrication. All of the team’s contributions to projects are suited to meet the customer’s exact needs in such a thorough and complete way that they do not need any other contractor to execute any part of the execution process.
Many of the industrial plants Manhattan Mechanical serves are part of a greater network of service providers creating everyday utility products that consumers have come to know and trust. It’s not only the company’s superb workmanship that has garnered its clients’ respect; it is also its deep understanding of the safety regulations and requirements within clients’ plants that makes the company a service provider of choice for leaders in heavy industry fields.
Harkness believes that the secret lies in leading with patience and thoroughness. “If work can’t be done safely, it can’t be done. It can be very dangerous if you’re not diligent and take your time to pay attention and focus on reviewing everything you are about to do with your team, the operators, and the clients,” he says, pointing out that work cannot start until everyone is certain that all potential dangers have been ruled out.
The actual process of getting the work done is simple. Once a client has lodged their request for a proposal, the team gets its experts together to brainstorm the challenge at hand to develop a few possible strategies to achieve the desired outcome. Resources and timeframes are explored alongside available skills and labor force before the goals are outlined in detail and work commences.
“We work safely toward high quality, safety, and productivity,” explains Harkness. “We pride ourselves on working with clients to solve problems and provide them with what they expect or even exceed their expectations.”
Training for excellence
As mentioned, training is a big deal here. All training and apprenticeship programs are run in collaboration with the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) and are recognized nationally by the Department of Labor. In addition, all craftsmen joining its ranks must qualify to do so. With 130 craftsmen working across several job sites, that is a notable commitment to excellence and safety.
With around twenty office staff on board, the company is looking to expand its team to just over 170 soon. “We build loyalty by developing our people as craftsmen and paying them well accordingly,” says Harkness.
Looking for ways to enlarge the pool of potential talent for its community, Manhattan Mechanical Services hosts an annual Laborers’ Weekend in early June, which marks the beginning of a two- to three-week paid industry introduction offered to eight or so young, prospective craftsmen who are led through an orientation process. The group gets a chance to work in the field on job sites and get a feel for what that entails. It is but one way the firm gives back to its communities.
Philanthropy is another important way in which the company contributes to the well-being of others. One particular organization that’s close to its heart is Project HOOD, a movement committed to matching inner-city Chicago kids with opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise have come their way. In addition, there are the generous donations the company makes to the Muscular Dystrophy Association in collaboration with a client.
Reflecting on how the industry is shifting in response to the significant move away from foreign fabrication and toward local manufacturing, Harkness highlights the threat posed by dwindling numbers of top-tier craftsmen as demand continues to grow while fewer youngsters enter the trades. In light of this, finding the right people remains a top priority and the company’s doors are always open to new talent in search of opportunity.
“You can make a very good career here,” he says. “You can make over $100,000 a year as a welder or pipe fitter for our company with a little bit of overtime and things like that.” The work is rewarding and challenging in all the right ways. “To do what we do requires a great deal of intelligence.”
The company’s plans for the future are pragmatic, as Harkness insists on leveraging the wisdom of driving incremental rather than exponential growth. That will no doubt lead to continued expansion, and we look forward to checking back in with Manhattan Mechanical Services in the years to come.