Not a Safe Bet
Let’s agree: the roof-contracting business is risky. Yes, there are plenty of other adjectives that may apply to the trade, but I’m focusing on risk for now.
I say roof contracting is risky because, among a multitude of other factors, regardless of what kind of roofing work you do, it’s always carried out at height. The potential for being involved in the next fall incident is part of the daily routine in the roofing business.
For several years, there has been a focus by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on the issue of fall protection for roofing workers. The relative value of OSHA’s efforts is still yet to be fully measured, but it would be difficult to argue that it hasn’t made a difference in how we operate on the roof in this country.
Whether or not OSHA is doing the right thing has been the topic of other columns and will undoubtedly be so in the future. This time, I want to simply consider how you view safety.
Over the years, many in the industry have viewed safety programs through the lens of cost. While not ignoring the obvious need to keep our workers safe, they questioned employing extraordinary measures to maintain a completely safe work environment. Work would grind to a halt. Costs would go through the roof. It wouldn’t work.
So, I want to take different approach, looking at how not making safety the number-one priority in your roofing business can create additional costs. Yes, with the needed equipment, policies and procedures, worksite planning, worker training and even marketing, safety does cost. Proponents have been telling us for years, however, that safety pays. I believe it does, and what follows may help explain my reasons why.
Ten things that not making safety your number-one priority may cost you:
Differentiation. The holy grail of sales. You may be losing out on one great opportunity to set yourself apart. Don’t put safety at the top of your list, and you run the risk of looking like many (if not most) of your competing roofing contractors. Make safety your first priority, and everyone who sees your place of business, vehicles, personnel and worksites will see something different. And everyone includes two of your most important constituencies: your own personnel and the consuming public (the ones you are presently servicing, and the ones you would like to some day).
A great recruiting tool. Savvy employers tout their great safety records. Roofing workers may not be overtly concerned about the risks of their profession, but they all know just how risky it is. Talking about safety constantly is a hallmark of a company with safety as its top priority, and a safe work environment is attractive to good people.
Profits lost to high insurance premiums. Any business with the kind of risk similar to those associated with roofing faces high insurance premiums. Roofing contractors who have dedicated themselves to safety over time have set themselves up with a distinct competitive edge by lowering their risk factors and costs.
The ability to bid jobs for Fortune 100 companies. Most large companies are mostly self-insured and have high sensitivity to risk. Many of them will simply not do business with you if you can’t demonstrate that your safety ideals and record match up with their needs.
The ability to bid jobs for the military and many other governmental agencies. This isn’t a new paradigm, but as roofing contractors grow and seek to bid work for the government, they often learn that a safe operation is the calling card needed just to get in the door.
The ability to bid jobs for many institutional building owners. Many institutional owners operate the same as large businesses. Institutions that hold a safety-first standard won’t tolerate vendors that don’t fall in line with their standards.
Productivity. To have a safe operation, you must be well organized and deliberate in your approach to the worksite and the work. Same as with a productive operation. The two go hand in hand. Lost time due to incidents of loss or injury can drain the life out of an operation, but time spent preventing them is easy to plan for and measure.
A more robust organization. When safety is the number-one priority of your roofing company, it impacts all aspects of the business. From the first contact with a potential customer through the bid phase to contract completion, every touch and transaction is viewed through the lens of keeping the operation safe. The result is all personnel pulling in the same direction, which has the benefit of not only a safer operation but one that’s more organized, intentional and robust.
Dollars in the value of your business. Some day you may want to take leave of your business. All of the things mentioned above — a great insurance rating, an organized approach to work, an intentional and robust organization — are things that add value to your business. These things can be measured when it comes time to assess the value of your business prior to offering it for sale.
A heightened sense of self-worth. As leader of your roofing company, you must recognize that your satisfaction with the job you and your company do isn’t only measured in dollars. Knowing that you are leading a safe, clean and organized operation will help you maintain the emotional energy required to lead your team forward to the next challenge. And what can be worth more than that?