When it comes to acquiring crafty quotes and insightful input, magazine editors sometimes have to get creative.

Such was the case regarding the stories set to appear in next week’s issue (Dec. 18) of The NEWS. I was tasked with writing an article on safety practices for entry-level technicians. This seemed like a slam-dunk assignment. Most HVAC contractors strive to keep their employees safe, right?

As fate would have it, a press release from Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) touting its 2017 Safety Award Winners landed in my inbox. I chatted with one honoree, Ken Johnson, vice president, commercial division, GRP Mechanical Co. in Bethalto, Illinois, who exemplified the importance of safety on and off a job site.

Seeking another source, I turned to a closed-group HVAC contracting forum on Facebook that was recommended by a trusted source who happens to work with one of the nation’s largest contracting associations.

With 30,000-plus members, I felt as if I’d hit an untapped vein of journalistic gold.

Trying it out, I posted a few questions regarding HVAC safety, such as: “Do you have a manual you require new employees to read?” “Must new employees accompany a senior tech or service manager into the field?” and “Do you conduct emergency preparedness trainings?”

In less than 10 minutes, I received a rather unexpected warning.

“You are about to be bombarded with lies of how they [techs] wear their harnesses and tie off their ladders every time and that new people never go on site alone … On planet Earth, that stuff only happens when it’s convenient.”

The next morning, I replied: “Oh, so harsh. I know a lot of HVACR companies that take the time to train employees on safety and practice what they preach. This obviously hasn’t been your experience?”

This garnered another response from the original respondent:

“I know a lot of companies that take the time to train employees on safety as well … but they turn around and do all sorts of stuff to save money.”

The individual went on to describe specific scenarios he has witnessed where safety has taken a backseat to the budget: ladders being used beyond their lifespan because there’s not enough room in the budget to replace them, contractors that send one tech on a two-man job because it’s too expensive to send both, asking an inexperienced apprentice to perform a job that’s way out of their skill set, or techs who have to MacGyver their way through an install or repair because the company doesn’t provide the necessary tools.  

“[It’s] whatever gets the job done faster and cheaper … and, I am not immune to any of this. I do the same stuff. I know I’m supposed to do a lot of things that I don’t do for whatever reasons.”

I elected not to reply to the thread, though the individual continued the conversation.

“All that is very harsh, but I live on planet Earth, and I’ve been doing this since 1994. I’ve had daily safety meetings at several jobs. But, on this planet, you either can’t or don’t do it the way they show you in a video. Owners live on planet fantasy … workers live on planet Earth.”

So, readers of The NEWS, is this a heavy dose of truth serum or one opinion that’s completely missing the dart board? I’m curious to hear what “planet” the HVACR industry truly operates on. Care to share your experiences?

Post them in the online comment thread below this article at www.bit.ly/HVACSafetyTruth or share them via email at herbwoerpel@achrnews.com.  

Publication date: 12/11/2017

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