The HVAC industry recently marked Construction Safety Week, another reminder of the importance of safety for an industry whose workers face risks on a daily basis. A commitment to safety starts in the shop and continues on the road and then to the job site. Unfortunately, it’s easy to become lax about these practices. That’s why it’s up to HVAC contractors to instill a culture of safety at their businesses.
Laura DiFilippo knows all too well how easy it is for safety to become an afterthought. The co-owner of DiFilippo’s Service Co. said that was the case at her Paoli, Pennsylvania, HVAC firm. Then she started to work with her insurer, Federated Insurance. DiFilippo’s became so focused on safety that it won the Super S.T.A.R. Award that Federated sponsors for the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA).
“I don’t think any contractor doesn’t want to be safe,” DiFilippo said. “I don’t think they don’t want safe practices. But we’re doing so much other stuff, sometimes it gets pushed to the bottom.”
Today, the firm uses training Federated provided for them. It also operates a safety committee that includes one person from each department. Their job is to make sure all the safety protocols are working, DiFilippo said.
DiFilippo’s husband and co-owner, Vince, sits on this committee. He brings more than 40 years of experience as a firefighter to the role. The committee focuses on three categories: the company’s offices, traveling to job sites, and the job sites themselves.
Building safety includes making sure fire extinguishers, eye wash stations, and alarms work and that there is a fully stocked first aid kit onsite. This is the easiest area to maintain, but it still requires regular upkeep.
Then there is truck safety, which is the most crucial. Auto liability is the No. 1 source of claims, said Nathan Oland, Federated’s senior national account executive. Oland said distracted driving is a main cause of accidents. This means more than using cell phones while behind the wheel. It includes changing the radio, reaching back for something in the backseat, or even eating a sandwich between jobs. DiFilippo said her firm also works on making sure all items are secured in case of an accident or sudden stop, and making sure each truck has a fully stocked first aid kit.
Auto safety was a source of discussion for DiFilippo and her staff. Management wanted to put cameras in the truck. Staff felt this invaded their privacy too much. In the end, they all agreed to dashboard cameras that face outward and don’t record sound.
“There have to be some compromises,” DiFilippo said. “And there has to be some trust.”
At the job site, a lack of predictability creates new risks. Technicians need to look out for hazards. The biggest safety risk comes from elevated heights, Oland said. HVAC contractors should focus on fall protection from different heights, including roofs, scaffolding, and even ladders.
“Ladders are taken for granted, but there is much more involved with them than first meets the eye,” he said. “There is a right way and a wrong way to use ladders. When you use a ladder the right way, it can make your work easier and faster. But when you use it the wrong way, a ladder can be dangerous.”
Oland recommends that each HVAC firm develop its own safety campaign. It doesn’t need to be a big show, he said, but regular brief safety messages are effective to demonstrate a commitment to safety of the company that includes the employees and their families, along with others who share the road.
DiFlippo take this a step further by having her staff sign off on what they learned after safety training. This gives them ownership of the effort to improve safety.
“It makes it so much easier for us to implement these things,” DiFilippo said.