Engineering Corporate Citizenship

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Twenty-six VAA employees, friends and family participated in the 2018 Warrior Dash – a 5K race that raises funds for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Taking place in Le Sueur, MN, the race included 12 obstacles representing earth, air, fire and water. The VAA sponsored team raised over $1,800, contributing to the overall total of $14.8 million donated to date.

Warrior Dash events are held across the nation. Check the website for upcoming races near you.

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Echoing VAA’s overall outreach efforts, the Sioux Falls office recently volunteered to give back to their South Dakota community. The entire office participated in serving at The Banquet, the local meal center. Arriving at 6:00am, the VAA team helped serve breakfast to 262 people in need (including 24 children).

“The eagerness of our Sioux Falls employees to take part in the VAA Community Outreach Program is truly remarkable,” said Shawn Vanhove, manager of the VAA Sioux Falls office. “Finding ways to give back to the local community is something we take pride in as a company – it is great to see this mentality being carried on in our new office location.”

Operating in Sioux Falls, South Dakota for over 30 years, The Banquet’s mission is nourishing the community. All meals provided by the center are volunteer-based, meaning they are “paid for, prepared by, and served by volunteer groups who come from Sioux Falls and the surrounding area.” Learn more about the organization and how to volunteer on
The Banquet website.


Thirteen VAA employees volunteered in South St. Paul with Habitat for Humanity (Habitat). With a range of construction skill levels, the team was divided into groups to work on various aspects of the build. One larger group of employees framed and nailed sheathing (plywood attached to studs) in the garage and installed the scaffolding for the garage roof. A smaller group framed and almost completely installed a back porch.

Crystal Hoen, a VAA outreach participant and first-time Habitat volunteer, said the build was valuable service and team building. “It’s a totally different experience building a garage with your office coworkers. It was fun to see different strengths come together to get the job done. The build gave us an opportunity to see a design come together in the field, work with VAA people outside our usual teams and help a family in need.”

Locally, Habitat helps low income families in the Twin Cities community through programs like Habitat Homebuilding, A Brush with Kindness and Family Support Services. The organization as a whole operates worldwide, dedicated to empowering families by helping them “acquire the access, skills and financial education necessary for them to be successful homeowners.” Learn more about the organizations work or volunteering on the Twin Cities Habitat website.


Every month should be a safe month. But in June, the National Safety Council (NSC) gives a safety shout out to reducing injury or death in areas in which we spend the most time - on the road, at home and work. As part of the month’s activities, NSC provides free educational materials and articles associated with a weekly theme.

Aligning with the message of “Falls Week,” VAA continues to offer its employees OSHA 10 training. Almost 70% of the firm has completed the OSHA 10 training course since the inception of the VAA Safety Program in 2015. The in-house sessions teach individuals to recognize hazards and protect themselves from injuries in the workplace. At VAA, the focus is on jobsite hazards and the conduct expected from employees visiting these locations to promote safety.

“Our priority is the health of our employees,” said Program Safety Manager, David Olheiser, PE. “As a company, we offer individuals training to instill confidence and comfort when on site. The value is in being aware - from using fall protection to recognizing confined space constraints and electrical hazards to OSHA rules and compliance.”

Additionally, VAA recognizes the value of safety and ergonomic health in the office. A pervasive improvement to office tools began in 2016, including availability of converting sitting-to-stand-up desks and continued tweaks to lighting, seating, work surfaces, etc. “There is a balance that has to take place to ensure we’re using resources effectively,” noted VAA’s IT/Facilities Manager, Nat Schmidt. “That said, we’re always watching for proven methods and recommendation from employees and vendors on what we can do to enhance employee health while working.”

Does your firm offer a Safety Program? Visit the NSC website to learn more about safety and how to start your own program.

Fall Safety & Additional Safety Resources:

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To conclude VAA’s three-part series on the changing NFPA 652 guideline, we focus on a few compelling reasons to start moving your facility toward compliance.


The continued development and updates of the NFPA guidelines are, at least in part, developed as a result of past, unaddressed facility hazards. As a preventative measure and code improvement, NFPA 652 recommends DHA inspections are conducted once every five years. However, only some state and local jurisdictions have adopted NFPA 652 as a requirement.


It is important to note the relationship between NFPA guidelines and the International Building Code (IBC). IBC dictates the industry standard and references other guidelines to bring new versions into their requirements. NFPA 652 is not yet directly referenced in the current IBC requirements. While this means DHA’s are not currently required by the IBC, there are a few compelling reasons to get ahead of the regulation.


  1. Safety
    Tracking and mitigating the accumulation of dust at your facility is critical to the safety of the operators. A DHA can help prove a facility is compliant or identify areas of concern and offer solutions. The painful results of ignoring potential dust hazards can include costly equipment failure, dust deflagration and, most importantly, loss of life.
  2. Project Schedule
    Depending on the local codes and jurisdictions, Code Officials may be working from the new guidelines. In that case, officials can deny a building permit if a DHA has not been completed. The delay will set new facility and expansion projects back in time and expense.
  3. Expert Predictions
    Based on the trend of previous updates, it is likely that the 2016 edition of NFPA 652 will be standardized and referenced in the IBC code by 2021. Keeping up with dust hazards and related guidelines will lead to safer facilities and fewer future project / maintenance hassles.

Read the other parts of this series for more information:
Part 1: What is a Dust Hazardous Analysis?
Part 2: DHA in New and Existing Facilities

About the Authors

Doug Rohkohl

As a Senior Designer at VAA, Doug regularly works with owners and design-build contractors to design feed mills, grain elevators and other agricultural bulk material handling and processing facilities from early stages of project conception through final design and construction. Doug’s 15 years of experience in agribusiness has translated into a comprehensive understanding of how different construction methods; material handling and process systems; and the NFPA affect design. His favorite part of the job is meeting with plant managers at their facility to understand challenges and work together towards improving operations.

Eric Peterson

Eric has two decades of domestic and international experience, including feed mills, grain export terminals, flour mills, bulk storage facilities and specialty slipform structures. Versatile in managing both engineering and construction efforts, he understands the details needed to fulfill design, constructability,
procurement and cost estimating activities. A member of the NFPA, Eric’s knowledge of material handling, mechanical and structural engineering is complemented by his technical skills in AutoCAD, P6 and Hard Dollar. Prior to joining VAA, Eric worked for a design-build contractor where he developed design concepts with clients and coordinated design and construction efforts with equipment vendors and subcontractors. Clients appreciate his global understanding of the design / construction process to accomplish operational goals and challenging facility requests.