I recently spoke with Chip Macdonald, owner of Best Safety and Roofing Contractor’s safety columnist, about safety trends in a tighter economy.

I recently spoke with Chip Macdonald, owner of Best Safety and Roofing Contractor’s safety columnist, about safety trends in a tighter economy. The interview was conducted as part of our upcoming State of the Industry report, which will be published in our February issue. (For a sneak peek at the data, visit www.roofingcontractor.com and sign up for our free State of the Industry webinar, which will be held Jan. 30.)

There’s no one who’s more passionate about workplace safety than Chip Macdonald, and there’s probably no one who knows more about it. Chip will wax philosophical on any topic - government legislation/regulation, history, science, medicine - at the drop of a hat, and he often can sound more like a lab technician from “CSI” than your typical roofing professional. So, I knew a few questions about the industry outlook would be all I would need to get him going. Asked about 2009, he replied, “Duct tape yourself to the saddle - it’s going to be a rodeo ride.”

“For the past 30 years my observations of the roofing industry have been restricted to the ‘northeast kingdom’ (New England, New York and New Jersey),” he said. “We have some of the highest population densities, but we’re at the end of he truck route. It’s like living on a dead end street: You’ve either got a damn good reason to be here or you’re lost. Single-service roofing contractors are becoming rarer than hen’s teeth, and we’ve got the largest self-serving insurance lobby in history to thank for that. Every GC I know lies outright when asked by their case agent if they do roof work. You can still see the faded outline for ‘Roofing’ where they’ve stripped off the vinyl truck lettering.”

Macdonald indicated it was a “no brainer” that contractors would change their safety procedures in a tighter economy. “They’ll take their employee’s workplace safety extremely serious, perhaps for the first time,” he said. “In the next decade roofing contractors may not survive a minor lost-time accident, let alone a fatal fall. Safety has become non-negotiable contract article.”

Macdonald offered the following “short list” of safety suggestions, worded as only he can do it:

  • Make workplace safety and health a “condition of employment” - not a slogan. Back it up. First warnings are last warnings.
  • Get serious. Issue an OSHA 1926 Construction Standard to everyone you employ. Assign them regular job-specific topics each month and quiz everyone, including yourself. Take OSHA Outreach Training regularly. Pay special attention to your apprentices because they’re your future.
  • Institute a Near-Miss Program. If you don’t know what that is, you’d better learn.
  • Ask your employees to write their own corporate safety and health program. They’re the ones at risk every day, not you. Have them revise it annually. They will be much better at it than you think they are.
  • Learn to document Job Safety Analysis (JSA) from pre-bid to substantial completion. It’s the only light that works on your road to zero accidents.
  • Establish a “Tag-Out-of-Service” policy company-wide. Put a tag in every pay envelope every week. Equipment-caused accidents are simply no longer affordable.
  • Start a real preventive maintenance program. Invest in quality ladders, scaffolds, and tools and send them back to the manufacturer for annual reconditioning, repair or replacement. We can’t afford the “disposable economy” any longer.
  • Designate a competent person (not your foreman) and make them responsible for the crew’s gear and safety. Have him/her change the company vehicle’s oil and tires, inventory and inspect hand tools, clean the jobsite regularly, check on-site materials for damage, defects and short counts, conduct JSAs, etc. Involvement harbors trust and trust gains loyalty.
  • Buy a $100 U.S. savings bond for everyone you hire and put them in escrow. They’re low interest, but they’re safe. Every quarter an employee works without an OSHA-recordable accident, add another bond. If they have a preventable accident, remove one bond and use it to reward another. The longer they’re employed accident-free, the more they’re worth. After 10 years or lay-off, hand them over.
This is the only incentive program I’ve seen that works.