Things are tight and still getting tighter. How much can we cut our already lean bids and still get the job? If we eventually win the bid, can our crew feasibly get it done given the M-L-E (material, labor, equipment) ratio so common these days? If we unfortunately forgot something critical in the estimate, is there enough “fat” somewhere to balance the loss or will the profit column have to take the hit? What if four “weather days” in September turn unexpectedly into 14 come October? What if you lose critical, skilled manpower to an erratic schedule, resulting in temporary layoffs? How will you get the job done under budget and ahead of schedule with predominantly novice roofers? Now that lag time between bid and build can amount to 60 to 120 days, how will the unstable economic winds blow you around in that extended amount of time? We can hardly imagine what the roofing industry will look like 12 months, much less 12 years, from today. So how can you compose a Health and Safety Program (HASP) that has any meaningful effect on your bottom line if you don’t know where or on what you’ll be working?
We all know how much the costs of industrial goods and services have risen over the past 10 years. But when a 5/8-inch diameter by 20 foot long laid nylon lifeline costs almost four times more than a similar length of half-inch diameter hardware line, when will the cost of compliant safety equipment actually reach a ceiling limit? We know that none of the safety equipment we purchase daily was designed to last forever, but we inevitably and unreasonably expect it to survive in the workplace two or three times longer than it actually does. I am constantly amazed at how quickly newly purchased rigging can be made defective and taken out-of-service, usually due to a lack of competent employee training and on-site evaluation.
When you hire a professional safety and health instructor to perform specific safety task training for your crews, you can expect the fees to run $90 to $150 an hour, depending on the training topic and equipment required to perform simulation exercises and field evaluations. The less your employees practice what they’ve learned, the more frequently refresher training may be needed; is this training value-added and will it eventually result in a reduction of costly corporate losses? The important matters of training and evaluation often succumb early to the starvation diets many companies must undergo during this “lean and mean” economic period.
I have a “more for less” idea that works almost every time I’ve tried it on the job. Buy a small, pocket-sized, spiral-wire, lined notebook and waterproof pen for every one of your employees, but keep the books anonymous. Have the foreman for each crew write the day’s date at the top of first page followed by the first task to be performed that day by the crew (i.e., unload trucks, protect landscaping below eaves with tarps, set up roof scaffold brackets, etc.) written across the top of the two opposite pages. Turn the page and write the second task of the shift across the top of pages three and four, and so on until the work to be accomplished this shift has been enumerated.
Next the foreman should sit his crew down for a pre-shift safety briefing and explain what he expects of them. As each roofer works on his assigned tasks, he’ll be asked to briefly write down any particularly hazardous acts or conditions he may witness while working. The foreman will explain that he fully expects production to fall off slightly and that he’ll never reprimand anyone on his crew for taking the time to jot notes in their book during the shift. He should hand out sufficient books to keep the men writing down their observations, which should be brief in length and concise in description. At the end of each shift the foreman should meet with his men and pass his hard hat around for their notebooks. He will add the assigned tasks to their next day’s heading. He’ll hand them out the following morning. At the end of the week, he’ll compile a master list of all of the project steps and hazard identifications for each step accomplished during the week and present them in that week’s debriefing meeting on Friday afternoon.
The additional capital outlay in material, labor and equipment for this exercise is probably less than $50 a worker and, in a relatively short time, the safety of the crew, organization of the project, and gross profit margin of the job will all show measurable signs of improvement. Have your foreman hand the books back out randomly at Monday morning’s safety meeting. Workers will likely receive someone else’s book and be able to see what site hazards others had identified the previous week. Monday’s safety meeting will be designed around the hazards identified the previous week by the very men who were potentially exposed to them. Hazard control methods may then be discussed and agreed upon by the crew members who will be implementing them. By week three the overall efficiency of the crew will have improved dramatically and the crew’s camaraderie will be noticeable and unbreakable.
As long as your employees’ input is requested, collected and processed honestly by middle and upper management into site-specific, safe work procedures, they will become and remain your best fiscal assets on the books and your best partners on deck. In time every employee will become a de facto member of a safety committee, able to review procedures, audit worksites and discuss preemptive control tactics in ways you could never have expected.
When you consider how much you spend per man for personal safety equipment and training every quarter, this practical procedure of involving your crews directly in their own safety and health hardly consumes a fraction of your gross capitalization and may yield much larger returns in both tangible and intangible assets. When it comes time (once a quarter?) to review your corporate HASP, these inexpensive notebooks will become a virtual road map to zero accidents, giving you unlimited opportunities to “observe, act and verify” unsafe acts and conditions on all of your sites. And it didn’t cost any of your employee’s an arm or a leg to implement.