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Should That Guy Be Doing That?

When you review your criteria for hiring a contractor, where are “Safety Program’ and ‘Safety Record’ on your list?  Is it something you even ask about or consider?  While you would like to think safety would be the primary concern of every contractor, way too many companies seem to put expediency, cost-savings and any number of other things in front of it.  This is completely the wrong attitude for a company doing any kind of construction work, where dangerous conditions abound.  Of course one should value the health and well being of every employee and sub-contractor, but from a bottom-line, business standpoint, very little is more detrimental to the success of a construction project than having a worker hurt on the jobsite.

You should be aware, it’s also no picnic for the person or company on whose property the work was being done.  OSHA has the authority to shut down a jobsite causing delays and disruptions in the schedule.  Property owners may get dragged into investigations and sometimes litigation. An accident can create negative publicity for everyone involved.  If you hire a contractor with a poor safety record, and there is an accident, it may appear that you condone their relaxed attitude towards safety.  That is why it is in everyone’s best interest that every jobsite be kept as safe as possible and that no unnecessary risks are taken.  This can only be achieved by hiring a contractor with a comprehensive safety program and who will provide adequate supervision and make certain the program is followed in all aspects of the project.     

If you are interviewing contractors for work on your home, building or a building for which you are responsible, don’t be afraid to ask about their safety program and make them spell out the steps they take to ensure that no accidents occur on your property.  If their reaction is to point to their insurance binder, you may want to keep looking.  While it is imperative that your contractor and all of his subs are insured, that should not be the first line of defense against accidents.  Accident prevention starts by having effective safety policies in place.  The second step is to train workers to understand and act in accordance with those policies.  The third step is to firmly enforce those policies at the work site through careful supervision, daily reminders and, if necessary, the removal of any workers who aren’t able to stay in compliance.

An effective safety program should be written down and presented in a format that is easily understandable for people with any educational background.  It should clearly state what the policies are and what the consequences are for failing to comply with those policies.  It should define the roles of each person who will be at the jobsite with regard to the program.  It should also give detailed instructions for what to do if an unsafe condition occurs and/or someone is hurt.

When it comes to safety training, it should be an ongoing process, not something that happens for twenty minutes right after someone is hired and then is never brought up again.  Unfortunately construction workers are notorious for taking the hazardous conditions in which they work for granted and becoming complacent about safety (‘I’ve been roofing for 30 years.  I don’t need a harness!’).  Workers need to be reminded routinely about the importance of staying compliant with the safety program. 

The program should include job specific training, monthly safety awareness meetings and weekly “Toolbox Talks” which can occur right on the worksite.  The meetings can be on any number of safety issues (it’s also important to mix things up so the meetings stay fresh and people don’t “tune out”). Even if the subject matter is not exactly apt for that particular day’s work it still demonstrates the employer’s strong commitment to jobsite safety.

When it comes to enforcing the policies at the jobsite, constant supervision by a veteran, on-site project manager with the authority to send workers home and, in extreme situations, shut the jobsite down, is essential.  Without the constant presence of this type of supervision, safety practices, which may start out fine, will begin to degenerate over time.  Workers get too caught up in the job at hand and even the most seasoned veterans will start to let safety practices slip.  A supervisor can remain objective and remind all workers about the company ‘s commitment to the safety program. 

While quality of work and price will always be major factors in the decision to hire a contractor, make sure the people you hire are also firmly dedicated to keeping your property accident-free.  It will be good for the workers, good for the project and it will be good for you, as well.