Elevating the Industry

The Concrete Sawing & Drilling Association (CSDA)

In 1972, Les Kuzmick, Sr. created the non-profit Concrete Sawing & Drilling Association (CSDA) with the vision of bringing contractors and manufacturers together to create a forum in which the concrete cutting industry and new technologies were freely discussed. As a concrete saw blade manufacturer based in Southern California, Kuzmick believed there would be many advantages to an association where others gathered and helped each other to advance the industry, and he was right.
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Pat O’Brien took over as executive director of the CSDA 19 years later. He and his team work to further the mission, goals and values of the association, which include promoting professional concrete methods, informing members about industry developments and fostering ethics, education, innovation and safety.

“The goal and opportunity I saw was to reach the people who hire our contractors to do work – architects, engineers, general contractors and government officials – and try and influence those folks to hire our contractors,” says O’Brien, “and not only those who hire our contractors, but to educate them as to what kind of things can be done with diamond saw blades and core drills in the hands of a trained operator. And so, really, that’s been our focus all along.”

When O’Brien started as executive director in late 1991, the CSDA had a budget of $100,000 and less than two hundred member companies. Today, the Concrete Sawing & Drilling Association has a $1 million budget and has grown to five hundred members. It is primarily a contractor association with manufacturers who are also members and provide support to contractors, certification, an annual convention, information on safety programs and training, the official Concrete Openings magazine with a minimum circulation of 19,000, an online store and more.

O’Brien says the CSDA is now at the point of asking how to reach the next level of a thousand contractor members in the association instead of five hundred. “We have to look at different ways to do that, and we encourage people to ask us what they need and see what resources that we can provide to help them continue to grow,” he states. “And if an individual contractor can grow from $2 million to $5 million, we’ve helped him, and he’s going to be a member of the association.”

Before his current role, Pat O’Brien served in several marketing and sales positions and was with General Electric in the superabrasives business for a decade, working with producers of saw blades to find innovative ways to utilize diamond to expand the market. O’Brien International, Inc. is an association management firm that acts as the management company for the CSDA and has managed other associations, primarily in construction-related industries. “I always thought it was critical to CSDA to have someone who understands the industry, and you can market the industry and its services to the construction industry in this case,” he says.

One of the many ways in which the CSDA expands its reach is through the World of Concrete event held in January each year. World of Concrete is the only international event of its kind devoted to the commercial concrete and masonry construction industries. The massive event was first held in Texas in 1975 and features over 1,500 exhibiting companies and 58,000 registered industry professionals.

This year’s forty-third World of Concrete – with nearly three-quarters of a million square feet of exhibit space – broke records, and was the largest in nine years. The CSDA cosponsored the show and was one of a number of associations involved in concrete cutting, pumping, tilt-up concrete, concrete placement and other areas working together with Informa Exhibitions to bring others to World of Concrete.

O’Brien says this year’s event held a great deal of optimism, and he had conversations with contractors who were excited about purchasing new machinery and their upcoming projects. “And from the manufacturers’ standpoint, it was very similar as well,” he says. “They got lots of response and were selling much more than they anticipated or budgeted to sell, so that’s always a good sign for the industry moving forward into 2018 and 2019.”

Across the United States, there are about 2,000 to 2,500 cutting contractor companies, with revenues ranging from approximately half a million dollars to over $250 million a year. This encompasses everything from small mom-and-pop-type businesses to massive companies.

The Concrete Sawing & Drilling Association provides a wealth of benefits, from networking opportunities with other industry professionals to industry training and certification, safety and training manuals and much more. Best of all, the CSDA is proactive and there for its members whenever they need it.

The CSDA strives to influence project specifiers like architects and engineers who can hire additional contractors to do more work more efficiently, and it does everything possible to uncover from contractors what can be done to boost their business. The association takes the well-being of its members seriously and hired an outside consultant to put together a safety manual for members to purchase. If a company does not have the resources to create its own safety program and materials, it can purchase one from CSDA and put its name on it.

“It really is specific to sawing and drilling contractors,” says O’Brien. Along with the CSDA Safety Handbook, the association has numerous brochures, publications and videos on subjects such as core drilling safety and training, electrical safety, flat sawing and blade safety.

To further elevate the concrete cutting profession, the CSDA introduced its new company certification program last December. The company audit program was developed by the association’s certification committee specifically for sawing and drilling contractors. The company certification provides architects, owners, general contractors, engineers and government officials with prequalification tools and demonstrates to clients that a cutting contractor is professional and has skilled workers and sound business practices.

It is the first program of its kind in the concrete cutting industry. Various qualifications must be met for a company to gain certification, including basic safety and insurance requirements and proof of participation in basic training or certification programs.

“The CSDA company certification program made us take a look at our business from another angle and analyze how we do things,” said CSDA contractor member Daniel Foley of Cobra Concrete Cutting Services Co. in a release. “This has not only resulted in us winning jobs through our certified status, but has improved us from an operational standpoint.” Others praise the program for the documentation that can be presented to clients to verify professional, safe and efficient cutting work.

CSDA has also recently expanded its contractor services with a focus on concrete floor polishing and Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) services. These are new areas and many traditional cutting contractors are expanding into these new areas of the industry.

For several years, the CSDA has been working on the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s silica rule. The final silica rule was published in March of 2016 in an exhaustive, 1,772-page document. It adds yet more levels of regulation and paperwork for concrete cutters. “It will cause a lot of problems for the industry, expense and make it more of a challenge for cutting contractors to succeed,” says O’Brien.

Although previous guidelines were not greatly enforced by OSHA for years, the number of deaths attributed to silicosis – fibrosis of the lungs caused by breathing silica dust – has been extremely low due to existing safety practices. With the new rule, contractors will require more investment, medical check-ups, record-keeping and measuring devices.

Instead of challenging the changes alone, the CSDA that joined forces with twenty-four other associations to form the Construction Industry Safety Coalition, hired legal staff in Washington and went to Washington to testify and enlighten OSHA. “They wanted them to monitor the level of silica in the air. And their point was they are not a manufacturing plant always in the same place. Contractors can be in five different places in one day,” says O’Brien. “So, how do you measure something on the job that this guy is at, when he’s never going to be back at that job, and you’re not going to get the results for couple of weeks later on what the level was?”

Although the new rule still passed, the CSDA’s efforts made a positive impact, and it is working with OSHA to make it easy as possible for contractors to abide by the law and remain in business. “It’s an ongoing challenge.”

The association’s annual convention and technology fair is held in March, and this year’s event drew large numbers of attendees from across the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia and Japan. This year’s convention featured the contractor behind Canada’s largest dam, industry-related topics and subjects such as insurance, loss prevention and ground penetrating. Keynote motivational speaker was Paul de Gelder, a shark attack survivor-turned marine, making the 2018 convention truly one to remember.

The CSDA is known for many things, but O’Brien says networking and cooperation are the primary benefits of membership. “It’s a good group of people,” he says. “I’ve been doing this for twenty-seven years. I thought that I would probably do this for ten years and move on to something else. But what I’ve always found is these are really nice people, and I’ve enjoyed working with these folks – contractors and manufacturers – who are industrious and hard-working small businesses generally. And they are a dedicated group of people who care about the industry and want to give back to the industry and see it succeed in the future. So it’s really been gratifying for me to work with the concrete cutting folks over the years, and that’s why I’ve continued this long to do it.”

Due Diligence

The workplace is where we spend one third of our lives. Work is intricately woven into every aspect of daily living. And self-preservation in the workplace – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual, can change everything about it for the better.

October 22, 2019, 6:44 PM EDT