Recovering Safely

Ulf Wolf

July 1, 2014

This is the scenario: You have just landed a large, profitable job. The schedule is tight, but you can commit to it, and you have. The next
day—bless the chief estimator (and the recovering market)—you land another large, profitable job. It also has a tight
schedule, but not impossible. It is scramble time, though. You need 20 more crew, this week, to start next Monday.
You find them. Two great projects pushing your company to the limit (with
more on the horizon).

This is the question: In face of revived production demands, does safety take a back seat?

To find out, the author asked several company Owners and Safety Directors how they are dealing with the recovering
market and how they now walk the perennial fine line between safety and production.

Manning Up

With jobs returning, how are you manning up new projects?

When it comes to manning up, Jeffrey Shearer, President of Fred Shearer and Sons, Inc. in Oregon, has this to say: “It’s currently a little
slow, so we don’t have a heavy labor demand. But we do have a good union labor pool here, and we also have a great relationship with our
competitors; we work people back and forth with them as needed. Yes, we do knock each other’s heads in at bid time, but once the job has been
awarded we work well together with our competitors and often share the labor pool.”

Craig Daley, President of Daley’s
Drywall & Taping in California,
says, “We’ve been able to meet our
growing needs mostly by re-hiring those
laid off or temporarily loaned out to
our competitors during the downturn.”

Joe Stevenson, Owner of WhiteStar
Enterprises LLC in Oregon, concurs,
“Most of the time we are actually hiring
back the old guys that we had to lay off
during the recession. Since they are
already safety trained by us, our
monthly safety meetings soon bring them
up to snuff again.”

Dave Chaffee, President of E&K
Companies in Missouri, say[s], “Our
biggest recruitment tool is word of
mouth. I know that if we continue to run
organized jobs, if we continue to treat
our employees right, and sell good work,
people will come.”

Patrick J. Landry, Owner and
President of George Landry, Inc. in
Michigan, takes a prudent approach. “We
are manning up slowly,” he says. “We are
very selective about the work we take on
relative to our manpower. We will not
take a job that calls for hiring bodies
quickly that will then have to be laid
off again. Rather, we are rebuilding our
manpower with the intention of keeping
them working.”

Robert Aird, President and Owner of
Robert A. Aird, Inc. in Maryland, has a
different approach to the same end: “Our
area sees a shortage of qualified
employees. We advertise in local
newspapers, spread the word through our
employees, attend job fairs, and cross
our fingers. That said, we pay close
attention to how much work we can
undertake given the size of our
workforce and do not take on more than
we can do.”

It is clear that wherever possible,
many contractors turn to past employees
who might still be out of work. This, of
course, brings back experienced and,
hopefully, safety-conscious employees.

Focus—A Culture

greater workforce demands
in the face of crew shortage, how do
Contractors retain their safety focus,
including the integrity of safety
training and certification?

In Oregon, Shearer reports, “These
days we are very safety focused. In
fact, over the last 7 years we’ve
lowered our EMR [experience modification
rate] from 1.20 to 0.65. One thing that
really helped this effort was a 5-year
Oregon State Occupational Safety and
Health Administration (OSHA) program
called Safety and Health Achievement
Recognition Program (SHARP). Our
management really bought into this
program and worked with it diligently,
which helped us lower the EMR mod factor
so nicely. In fact, we just completed
this program in January of this year.
Both management and labor realize that
safety is a state of mind, a culture.”

Daley says, “We are maintaining our
safety focus, and still require every
new hire, or re-hire, to attend our
safety orientation class before stepping
onto our job sites. Also, we continue to
stay abreast of new safety regulations
to ensure that our workers are trained
on the latest safety procedures. This is
difficult at times when you have jobs
screaming for help, but you can’t expose
yourself to accidents by compromising
safety policy.”

Gary Dillman, Owner of Titan Wall in
Florida, will make no exceptions.
“Safety is, hands down, our first
priority,” he says. “I know that if we
are proactive with safety, we will
create a profitable work environment.
Really, it’s a pay-me-now or pay-me-more-later scenario. Invest in safety
now, because the alternative is not only
costly but can be devastating both to
the individual and to the company.”

For Chaffee, safety has always been a
major factor. “Today, we are more
focused on safety than ever. It helps
that General Contractors (GCs) now
demand safety in their contracts, which
allows us to be more competitive on
projects. It may take longer to be hired
by us than by most of our competitors.
We focus on making sure our people [are]
safety trained before they hit the job.”

Aird reports that he has “a tiered
management system of Project Manager,
Superintendent, and Foreman on all
projects. They all have responsibility
for ensuring the safety of the men and
the project. We also hire outside Safety
Consultants to inspect our job sites and
to train and update our employees. We
fully recognize that lack of safety
(citations and fines or worse still,
injuries) can rob the project of profit
just as much as poor-quality work or low
production rates.”

Brian Allen, President of Precision
Walls, Inc. in North Carolina, shares
his approach to keeping safety front and
center: “I can happily say that in the
recovering market, we have not lost any
focus on safety. We track not only
incidents but also near misses. If we
have an incident on any of our projects,
I get the report personally, and if an
employee is hurt, I’ll call him or her
myself to find out what happened, and to
see how we could have prevented it.”

Allen added, “We have a corporate
Safety Officer, plus a Safety Officer in
each branch office. Also, for any larger
job, say 30 or more employees, we also
deploy a site Safety Officer who is not
involved in production at all but only
monitors safety. The big issue in our
industry is management’s commitment:
Safety has to start and be maintained
from the top. That is the way to create
a safety culture. When you were younger
it used to be cool to take risks, to
jump down from high scaffolds, to drive
fast—now the definition of
“cool” has shifted from taking risks to
coming home to see your wife and kids at
the end of
the day. That’s the new cool. The cool
of a true safety culture.”

Allen does another thing differently:
“We charge any safety cost directly to
the job, not to general overhead. That
means that small jobs can take a big hit
financially. A $30,000 job that incurs a
$100,000 accident will actually end up
$70,000 in the red, and that’ll hit all
involved, from the Project Manager, to
the Superintendent, the Foreman, and
crew. If you charge accidents to general
overhead, the only ones who see it are
senior management.”

Mike Heering, President, and Doug
Lesley, Safety Director, of F.L. Crane
& Sons, Inc. in Mississippi, say
they have
become even more safety focused over the
last year. They realize that their
younger hires require more training
simply because they have never been
exposed to safety on the job site, and
that the safety training provided by
F.L. Crane will save the company a lot
of money over the long haul. Also,
improving their safety culture has
improved their safety record, and the
result is lower insurance rates that
help their pricing when it comes to

Kirk Williamson, Corporate Director
of Safety at The Raymond Group in
California, reports, “As a company, our
safety culture has never wavered. In
fact, I’ve just increased my safety team
by hiring 2 more people, one of which is
a project-specific Safety Director for a
project in San Diego. We have set
standards: a minimum certification for
every employee before they ever set foot
on a project. The Foremen then add to
that as needed.”

Williamson added, “Also, our safety culture is top-down, all the way from our CEO. We all have a 100% buy-in, and
that makes my job a lot easier. I never have to fight uphill battles to maintain safety standards. Now, safety versus
production has always walked a fine line. However, our EMR reflects that, in a showdown, safety will win over production any day. We want the guys
to go home in the same or better shape than they arrived in the morning.”

The bottom line is that when it comes to safety, it seems to be that it is not a job-by-job, hurry-up-and-be-safe issue. It is a company
culture, a top-down, bought-in-by-all atmosphere that keeps everyone as safe as possible,

New Hires

When it comes to bringing about
safety awareness in new hires, what have our Contractors found to work the best?

For starters, many use a mentoring approach.

“When it comes to new hires,” says Stevenson, “we always put them with an experienced crew member—they are basically mentored by the
experienced guys. Also, the Foreman is always there, keeping an eye on them.”

Aird says, “Our long-term, senior employees have been with us long enough to know what safety standards we require. They also recognize that
young, inexperienced employees—not recognizing the hazards to their health and well-being and that being out of
work recovering from injury or illness puts their families at risk—might
take chances that they don’t. So they keep an eye on the new ones.”

Howard Bernstein, President of Penn Installations, Inc. in Pennsylvania, has found that “the safety attitudes of the more senior workers, who
they will work alongside long after our safety man drives away, is what instills the safety culture with the new hires.”

Others get personal.

In Daley’s experience, “there is no better way to move someone into our safety culture than a face-to-face safety orientation. In our safety
training, new hires watch an in-house video that is then followed by a personal presentation from our Safety Director, followed by a test to make
sure they were paying attention, with a review of the answers before they are allowed to work.”

Dillman’s company lets “new hires know that we care for their safety and well-being and that we want them to work hard but to also work safe
and smart, so at the end of the day they can go home to their families.”

Chaffee says, “We take the time to give safety training a personal touch. How many times has a carpenter sat down in a trailer and watched a
safety video? It’s much better to take the time to explain expectations to the person and to get to know that person.”

Shearer says, “Every new hire goes through our orientation when they arrive, and that includes, right up-front, a briefing by either our Safety
Manager or VP [Vice President] of Operations about safety on the job.

“By stressing safety right up front, we show new hires that safety is very important to this company—it sets the safety stage right away.
They see that safety is a culture here. Also, in all the time I’ve been here (since the 1970s), we have never lost any
production due to safety programs and training. For example, we stretch and flex twice a day, first thing in the morning and then again after
lunch. It does take some time, but it never loses us actual production (most likely the reverse since we’re preventing injuries).”

For Dusty Barrick, President of Diversified Interiors of Amarillo in Texas, it comes down to “simplified and direct instructions. Throwing a
book or PowerPoint full of information at a new hire is a waste of time. Be thorough, be personal, but don’t overload.”

At F.L. Crane, Heering and Lesley spend time with new hires personally, emphasizing safety and explaining how their safety incentive program
benefits them directly. And when it comes to some personal protective equipment, which can come in various styles and colors, they have found that
allowing employees a voice in the selection of these items, within the parameters set forth by OSHA, has improved employee cooperation in wearing
personal protective equipment.

Allen says “At least half of our new-hire orientation is dedicated to safety.”

Shelly Sigurdson, Safety Director at Expert Drywall, Inc. in Washington, literally puts them to the test: “We have improved our hiring
procedure, which now includes pre-employment interviews, acquiring a complete work history and checking references, and we are currently in the
process of building a mock construction station in our warehouse to test skills.”

Allen adds, “Once hired, we pair him or her with Senior Foremen for mentoring. The Foremen then work directly with the new hire for the first
week to determine if they have the skills and the safety behavior that we expect from them.”

Williamson’s program, which has
earned multiple safety awards, also
incorporates several methods: “New hires
have to go through an initial safety
orientation: first a safety video, and
then, and more importantly, I speak with
each of them personally (or if not me,
then one of the regional Safety
Directors), letting them know what our
purpose is and that we are a resource
for them. We then provide continuing
mentorship with Journeymen and Foremen.

When it comes to bringing new hires
into the safety culture of the company,
an impersonal video or PowerPoint
presentation alone are just not going to
cut it. Personal contact and
communication, along with long-term
mentoring, are effective strategies.

Old Hands

it can be hard to teach
old dogs new tricks. How do you keep the
old hand up-to-date and safety focused?

Repetition is key—for

For Dillman it is all about “creating
a culture of safety and reminding them
constantly, especially via statistics
that show that complacency with safety
is one of the leading causes of injuries
and/or death.”

According to Chaffee, “You must have
the involvement of all office employees.
You must provide constant reminders,
such as stretch-and-flex [sessions],
daily huddles, T-shirts, posters, etc.,
and you have to give everyone a voice in
safety. You also must not tolerate
employees that ignore safety rules.”

For Landry it is also constant reminders. “If you have been around long enough,” he says, “you have heard the stories of men getting hurt.
Older guys—they work safely out of self-preservation.”

Not everyone subscribes to the repetition method. Thankfully, there are

Aird says that “simply repeating the same information time after time runs the risk of putting the workers to sleep. Having a Supervisor or
Project Manager or Safety Consultant walk the job with the crew, pointing out what is good and what needs improvement is an
active training that is likely to have relevance for the workers and to keep their attention.

“I once had a Safety Officer at a local Contractor ask me how I connect with my employees to get the message across. I suggested that in his
next safety meeting he invite one of his workers and that man’s wife and children. Then send the man out of the room and have the oremen—one
at a time—approach that man’s wife and children and say, “I’m sorry, but because I didn’t manage my job for proper safety, your husband and
father will not be coming home—ever. That is sure to grab the men’s attention.”

Bernstein’s approach is to “share
with the crews the financial benefits to
be had for companies that work to send
their people home safely each night, and
the unbelievable costs that can be
incurred by a single accident.”

Gerald Roach, Owner of Forks Lath
& Plaster, Inc. in North Dakota, has
a pragmatic view: simply “fire the one
who is dangerous and the rest tend to
straighten up quickly.”

In Shearer’s company “it was the
older guys who took on the Oregon SHARP
program and really ran with it. They
were the ones who saw that 7 years ago,
we had far too many accidents and that
we had to do something about it in order
to stay in business. It’s their efforts
that have cut our EMR mod rate in half.”

Barrick takes and keeps a firm
stance. “The older guys will buck and
argue as much as they can, but they
respect anyone who sticks to their
guns,” he says. “State the rules and the
consequences for breaking them, then
follow through.”

A personal approach works best for
Allen. “What works best for us is to
turn to them individually,” he says. “If
it’s an old hand who people look up to
and follow, we make him or her a safety
champion. At meetings, we then have the
Foremen ask them to tell the crew about
near misses or accidents, or how things
can be prevented. We ask the old hand to
be a true champion for safety.”

Sigurdson keeps the older workers
safe with “constant communication and
educating them on all the new methods
and means we use for safety and
production. As an example: We try to
perform as much work as possible using
cordless tools, which minimizes the trip
hazards on the projects. We also use
preloaded strips of screws, which
creates a cleaner project minus the
spilled screws on the floors. They
appreciate that we give them the tools
they need to be successful and to stay

Williamson, “Realistically, of course
we run up against the old dogs who have
been doing this for 20 years—who
am I to tell them what to do? I give
them examples so that they see that
safety has to do with them. If they
still do not get it, we help them find
employment elsewhere.”

Constant reminders and communication
are what build and maintain the safety
culture. Realistically, if someone does
not want to work safely, he or she has
no place in your company.

Words of

Any final
words of wisdom?

Chaffee again stresses communication:
“Make sure people understand what you
are trying to accomplish and motivate
them to buy in to your program. The
police mentality scares people, and
that, in turn, causes accidents.”

Landry: “Nothing hurts profits and
attitude faster than an injury.”

Aird: “It is easy and common for us
to curse the police and OSHA and Safety
Officers. But their mission is to keep
us safe and alive. We need to
acknowledge and appreciate that.”

Roach: “Safety is here to stay
because families depend on it.”

Barrick: “Safety takes continuous
involvement. Once you begin to let it
slide, it’s hard to reel it back in. So,
stay on top of everything and deal with
problems as soon as possible.”

Heering: “It is quite an expense to
run a first class safety program, but
the rewards—both monetarily and
that all
of your employees can go home to their
families each night—are worth
every penny of it.”