Contractors Tackle Safety Issues

September 30, 2000
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Safety — it’s an important part of any project or any service. Good safety measures ensure fewer accidents and minimal injuries, keeping workers safe and saving the company time and money. A glowing safety record can also foster employee goodwill and serve as a good recruiting tool — and it can be the determining factor in winning bids. A good safety program may not get the most attention from the trade media, but it takes a backseat to no other program when it comes to priority. Just as workers need sales and technical education, they require heavy doses of safety training, too.

In this installment of The News’ Contractor Consultants’ question-and-answer session, we will look at some of the ways our panel members ensure safe workplaces and provide ongoing safety education.



What type of safety program does your company have in place?

Tom Lawson (Bossier City, LA) said he has always considered safety a number one priority, which explains his company’s safety program.

“We participate in a safety program through the Safety & Occupational Health Council,” he added. “We have at least twelve safety meetings a year. Usually a video is played which deals with an issue of concern to the hvacr industry.

“Then the designated safety personnel have time to answer questions or add to information from the video. Our company has a written safety policy in which everyone, office and field, is expected to abide by.”

Aaron York (Indianapolis, IN) said, “We offer pre-employment training on Hazardous Materials and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). We also issue an ACCA safety handbook. Employees must read it, discuss it, and sign off that they have read the handbook and understand it.

“We have regular training sessions specifically emphasizing safety involving insurance carriers. A safety board is displayed showing number of days since a lost-time accident.”

Jeff Somers (Fairfield, NJ) responded, “Employees for both the office and the field go through an orientation process that includes a comprehensive manual that must be read and then signed, showing the person understands its contents.

“We stress the importance of safety at orientation and on a daily basis. We have an ongoing program that includes weekly ‘Tool Box Talks’ that are done by project managers and foremen for our installation department. We also have quarterly safety talks with a quiz given to service technicians.”

Scott Getzschman (Fremont, NE) added, “Our safety program is primarily in place due to the amount of commercial work we do.

“We are members of a program set up by one of the general contractors we work with. This program includes many subcontractors who meet quarterly with the general contractor to discuss ways to make the jobsite safer and to cover safety rules and regulations.”

Mary Marble (Detroit, MI) said, “We have a safety manual that was reviewed chapter by chapter with each service technician when we rolled out the program.

“When we have a new service associate join our team, we review the manual with them and they are given a hard hat, protective eyewear, water bottle, MSDS book for their truck, and a new ladder.”



Examples of other ongoing safety programs?

Steve Miles (St. Charles, MO) stated, “We have purchased some very helpful programs. ‘Project Site Safety Meetings’ by U.S. Compliance Solutions [800-400-4463] has a syllabus for safety meetings that is very comprehensive. “The ‘OSHA Guide for the Construction Industry’ also provides us with regulations, sample programs, and forms. “Our insurance carrier and ACCA have numerous video safety programs available. These items have titles like ‘Driving in the Rain,’ and ‘It Only Takes a Minute.’ The videos run from three to twenty minutes, and after that we open the floor for discussion and comments.” Hank Bloom (Mentor, OH) said, “We have made a major commitment on safety to ourselves and our employees. “We hold a mandatory safety meeting every month. We have two field people and one shop person in charge of safety. The programs that we use and document are from our worker’s comp people. There are also safety meetings one time per week on the larger projects.” Tom DiPietro (Haverhill, MA) said his company recently appointed a full time Safety Officer. “The Safety Officer is developing a safety orientation program. The program is being designed to benefit and educate all employees. We presently have a compensation incentive program for all company employees. “We are members of the National Safety Council and are active members of the Associated Builders and Contractors Safety Committee. We also plan to have a large number of our workforce attend an OSHA certification program.” Harry Friedman (Sarasota, FL) commented, “Safety is always a key issue. We have a safety committee that reviews all incidents, accidents, and damage reports. They make sure MSDS are up-to-date and accessible. “We also hold periodic inspections of vehicles focusing on fire extinguishers, first aid kits, support belts, etc.” Bob Dobrowski (Hayward, CA), a member of Blue Dot Services, said his company has a person who acts as a liaison with a director of risk management and a safety manager at Blue Dot corporate. “We have also worked with our past insurance company to tape safety films on several topics,” he said. “The insurance company provides a safety ‘library’ for the companies it insures.”

What are the results and the rewards?

Lawson, whose company is mainly residential repair and replacement, said, “In 1998 there were 30,258 hours worked and one recorded accident. In 1999 there were 33,625 hours worked and no recorded accidents.”

Miles, also a residential contractor, said company workers benefit from good safety records. “We recognize and reward our employees by using gift certificates, hats, T-shirts, etc., based on months and quarters worked safely.

“There are individual and group levels for rewards, based upon injuries and accidents.”

York added, “We award safety certificates and are discussing other recognitions such as hats, jackets, and patches.”

“To help focus everyone on safety, we have Safety Bingo (B-SAFE),” said Friedman. “Every morning a number is given out with a safety message. Whoever has a winning card must also not have had any accidents, incidents, or missed any days during the game.

“The winner receives a substantial cash prize.”

But employee recognition is not the only “reward” that results from good safety practices. A company’s MOD rating (the experience modification rate used by insurers to measure a company’s claim experience vs. another company in the same industry) is very important, too. Many companies will not do business with a contractor whose rating is higher than 1.0.

“Safety is a very important selling feature for us,” added Somers, a commercial-industrial mechanical contractor. “Our pharmaceutical and industrial customers insist on our past three years’ reports and a low MOD rate. Our rate is .647 and is very acceptable for our clients.”

Getzschman said, “We work on some industrial sites which require weekly meetings onsite, employee drug testing, and our workers compensation has to have a MOD rate of less than 1.0.”

York said that residential contractors also benefit from a good safety record. “There are many projects that we must be pre-qualified with a great safety record or we are not even allowed to bid them.

“Customers appreciate emphasis on safety because safe workers protect customers’ premises.”

A company’s safety record is only as good as the people who administer and oversee it. Marble said she likes to lead by example.

“Our technicians know if they go into a building and there is a safety concern I will pull them off until the customer provides a safe work environment,” she added.

“I do not ask my technicians to perform a job that I would not do myself.”



Sidebar: Ten Safety Tips to Remember

According to The News’ Contractor Consultants, here are ten points to keep in mind when implementing your safety program:

  • Maintain and post required safety records.
  • Take advantage of OSHA training programs and other programs offered by groups such as ACCA, SMACNA, etc.
  • Ask workers to share safety tips.
  • Check and replace unsafe tools like ladders and electrical cords.
  • Encourage workers to be friendly and courteous drivers.
  • Set up a CPR certification program for workers.
  • Review your cellular phone usage policies.
  • Encourage jobsite monitoring by supervisors.
  • Involve everyone. Make sure that warehouse workers and office workers alike learn about such topics as proper lifting techniques and forklift safety.
  • Serve the customer correctly by taking your time and doing it right the first time.
  • Publication date: 10/02/2000

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