Today more than ever contractors have more to worry about, while they have less time for their families.

What issues in your company have left you stressed or frustrated? Maybe you lie awake at night worried over poor cash flow.

Perhaps that "gem" of an employee you hired a few months ago has turned out to be your worst nightmare. You may even be concerned about not reaching your business or personal goals. With all that pressure to succeed, the last thing most owners ask themselves is, "Am I running a risky business?"

If you are a contractor in today's new world, you should be taking your company's safety as serious business, too. As a business advisor helping companies to improve, I am distressed to find company after company without its safety compliance in order. Even more disheartening are the companies that thumb their nose at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and state/federal rules and standards.

This story of a service business company providing property owners and businesses with high quality fencing, emphasizes the importance of safety. At one time, this company was the largest of its kind in New England, with more than 100 trucks, several locations and the employees to back up the operations. One day, an employee was killed on an out-of-state job site, and the firm did not have proper insurance coverage. Overnight, this firm went from being a multi-million dollar, multi-location, significant employer to a small firm with one location and seven trucks. A few years later, unable to handle the stress of the loss, the owner sold the company.

In addition to major tragedies like this, there are other safety issues of which many people are not aware.  Here are a few more examples from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. These examples further exemplify your need to know state law where you do business. Does your company own and operate a forklift? Do you know what qualifies a forklift? If not, you're in deep trouble. In 1998, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Department of Public Safety, adopted the OSHA standard 1910.178, which governs power industrial trucks (PIT- forklifts), in its entirety.

In addition, the Commonwealth's 520 Code of Massachusetts Regulations (CMR) 6.00 regulation contains a mandate for the acquisition of a class 1C hydraulics license. This makes it the law of the land in the Commonwealth, and there currently are no exceptions. Those found to be in violation of any section of the standards risk fines and possible jail time! In 2004, OSHA issued one food distributor in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts more than $114,000 in fines for PIT violations alone. Unless you bring your company into compliance, you risk similar citations.

These examples make it easy to understand why a new state law requiring ten hours of construction safety and health training is important to companies located in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. If your company owns and operates a piece of equipment that falls under one of the seven classifications of PIT equipment under OSHA standard 1910.178, compliance is strict and mandatory. The standard has specific mandates on how a PIT safety-training program must comply. A formal training program is the first component. Classroom training and facility training are the second component. The last component to ensure compliance under the standard is documentation, which does not end with the classroom training or classification process either. Documentation is required every day that your equipment operates-no exceptions.

Yet, many companies I have worked with recently did not even know the equipment they were using fell under the OSHA and CMR standards. Imagine the owners' surprise when I explained to them that the electric hand jack they use in the warehouse and on the road with their drivers is a forklift. I will never forget the remarks of the owner of a landscaping company who insisted that I was "out of my mind," if I thought his Bobcat fell under the PIT classifications. Can you picture the look on a project manager's face when I informed her that the OSHA standard designates the LULL (a rough terrain forklift) on her construction site as a forklift? Power industrial trucks are just one area in which too many companies are at risk. If you own a construction company, you know all too well the issues your industry faces.

I have cited only two areas under the umbrella of safety, governed by strict Massachusetts laws. We have not even touched upon hazardous communication regulations, the lock out-tag out standard (which safeguards employees from the unexpected startup of machinery and equipment, or the release of hazardous energy during service or maintenance activities), material safety date sheet programs (which convey hazard information to customers), emergency action plans, fire prevention plans, blood borne pathogen training, and the ever-changing Department of Transportation regulations (e.g., drug testing, commercial drivers licenses, etc.).

Perhaps some owners believe that nothing will happen to them. It is more likely that the term Risk Management does not "fit" their vocabulary. These companies are truly running a risky business. It is only a matter of time before a catastrophic incident changes the owners' world forever.

Construction Business Owner, May 2006