by David Ur

As business owners, we can never be safe enough on and off the jobsite.

Just in the past year, we've seen our share of equipment failures and other incidents on construction jobsites.

These incidents change rules and regulations, cost us additional money, cause inspectors to shut jobs down and so on. So, what can we do as owners to prevent, or at least minimize, the impact of these incidents? Below are three crucial safety tips that will protect your employees and company, reduce downtime and improve your bottom line.

1.  Initial Costs and Hiring

It all starts with cost. How much are you willing to spend on your company's safety? This is in addition to hard hats, safety vests, safety glasses and gloves that should be mandatory for all employees. By investing now in your company's safety, you will be saving yourself from headaches down the road.  Some people ask me how much money to invest into a safety program. 

I ask them, how much is a life worth? Or an arm or a leg? Each business is different and can only allocate so much to programs. I suggest that you do as much as you can with what you have. You can always improve your safety program throughout the year, which is what tends to happen in conjunction with new rules and regulations. By doing this, you may also reduce your insurance depending on your carrier.

Being a contractor and business owner, not to mention spouse and parent, creates a very hectic schedule. Business owners cannot be everywhere at all times and PDAs, cell phones and two-way radios can only do so much. To keep up with everything that's going on, hire someone that will handle the safety issues from preventive safety to day-to-day safety management.

The safety employee should be multi-functional. For instance, we employ a safety supervisor and safety coordinator. The safety supervisor, who is also our road supervisor, will visit various jobsites before the crew arrives to scope out the entire site looking for anything that might cause an issue that day. He will also go from jobsite to jobsite throughout the day monitoring employees and working with fellow subcontractors and general contractors so everyone is on the same page.

The safety coordinator is also a driver and operator. He works alongside our workers everyday and everyone on the job knows to contact him first when an issue arises. The safety coordinator assists employees by driving them to renew their commercial driver's license (CDL) and other licenses; schedules and drives employees to random drug tests that we conduct, etc.

If an issue arises on the job, the safety coordinator responsible for going to the scene of the issue, gathering all of the information and writing up a report. He then reports the information to the safety supervisor. The safety supervisor will review the incident information, follow up with employees and witnesses and fill out the proper paperwork needed for the insurance company.

The safety supervisor implements and monitors the three-strike policy. He will write up employees for not following the proper safety standards set in place by the company. If the employee reaches three strikes, they are out of work for a day without pay.

Currently our safety supervisor and coordinator are taking classes at New Jersey and New York private construction safety schools to become certified in construction safety for both states. These schools are run by state certified construction safety officers. Both the safety supervisor and coordinator are also consistently studying New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and federal Department of Transportation (DOT) laws.

In addition to hiring a safety coordinator and/or supervisor, you must be very critical of who you hire in general. Always look for the best person that will work with your crew and take into consideration language. We have employees that speak multiple languages such as English, Spanish and Portuguese. The general contractors we typically work with speak English, so our employees are able to communicate with them as well as the labor on the jobsite. Quality employees may take some time to find, but are worth the search. Remember, you're only as good as your crew.

2.  Education and Communication

The second safety tip that should be implemented in your company is safety education and constant communication through rank and file. Teach all employees that safety is first. You can always replace a broken track on your machine but can't replace the operator. Hire a safety professional that will teach your employees safety rules and regulations, and take the guesswork out of the employees' minds.

For instance, since we have a large fleet of dump trucks for our hauling business, we've hired a private company, who was referred to us by a fellow contractor, who sends a safety professional to our office a few weeks each month. He teaches our drivers preventive safety measures and New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and federal DOT laws. Eventually, we will be testing our employees on these safety and DOT laws which they will be required to pass before they are allowed to work/drive a truck for us.

Does educating your employees about safety cost additional money? Yes. Is it going to protect the employees and save the business time and money down the road? Yes. Do I take these tests, too? Yes. It's a must for all business owners to understand the latest laws and regulations that could affect their business.

Include an incident report kit in each vehicle, and teach your employees how to use it. The incident report kit should include accident report paperwork, witness form, pen, disposable camera, etc. Every employee should know what to do when an incident happens and know how to complete the proper paperwork. This incident report kit and educating the employees how to use it will help you resolve these issues quickly and thoroughly.

Teach your employees to look over the equipment before operating and before taking it on the road. Most of us already conduct this step, but it's important that you implement equipment safety procedures that instruct the employee to do an equipment walk-around before they begin work. For dump trucks and other road vehicles, have them conduct similar walk-arounds looking for rocks stuck between the tires, making sure their load is securely attached to the bed with proper tie-downs, check all air brake and hose connections, etc.

A good example of this: In one week, we blew thirty-five dump truck tires, which cost a pretty penny to repair, not to mention the downtime and potential accidents that could've occurred. We found that one particular jobsite had mud and rocks in the loading area, typical for a jobsite, but this one caused some major issues. The weight of the trucks combined with the muddy soil pushed the rocks in-between the double tires of our trucks, which made it very difficult for our drivers to see them when conducting their post loading walk-around.

We quickly implemented a detailed tire check and added an employee to the loading area with a crowbar. His job was to work with the drivers and inspect the truck after it was loaded. If they were to find jammed rocks in the tires, he was to pry the rocks out before the trucks left the site. The next week we only had two flats, and the week after that there were zero. Needless to say, these steps saved us time, money and potential accidents.

Communication is a large part of every business, especially for the contractor. Each project is different and there is a different safety issue at each one. Teach your employees to look over the jobsite before starting work. Look for certain things that might cause possible issues. For example: Soft spots where equipment or trucks could get stuck, power lines and other utilities, trenches and shoring, traffic and pedestrian traffic, etc. Have them communicate to all other employees on that job about the issues so everyone is on the same page.

3.  Preventive Maintenance Programs


Whether you use an equipment dealer to handle your maintenance or have a mechanic on staff, it's crucial that all equipment is checked daily, especially the road vehicles such as pickup trucks, mason dumps and larger dump trucks. Little things like non-working backup beepers can cause serious accidents. Keep your equipment clean both inside and out; especially the mirrors and interior floor. You don't need bottles or garbage getting stuck under your pedals.

Most of the time, mechanics will find the problems before the driver or operator will experience them. For example; wear and tear on certain parts, cracking or breaking brake and hydraulic lines, etc. These preventive maintenance steps will improve your uptime and minimize potential accidents.

Construction is a dangerous business and by implementing good safety standards, you will protect your employees and your business.

Construction Business Owner, November 2008