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Staying Profitable with Construction Site Risk Management*

(Photo by Josh Olalde on Unsplash)

Hurt people and hurt profits.

Construction labor is a top occupation for reported injuries and illnesses. That can have a substantial impact on a builder’s bottom line, potentially greater than that felt by operators in other industries. Why? Because job site hazards and tools are usually scarier than office hazards and tools.

For tradespeople, injuries can require 30 or more days of recovery. Then figure that 10 percent of workers might be disabled on any given job, on average. In other words, if you are a skilled construction pro, there’s a chance of being sidelined one month every 10 jobs you do. That’s not great if you have bills to pay. And for company owners, absenteeism at that level can cost valuable time and money, especially with fluctuating labor costs and rising insurance rates.

When you consider a monthly U.S. workforce of 7 million people, solutions that can help keep people safe could present significant upside for the building industry and the economy overall.

Here are some ideas to consider to help your business and country:

Spell it out, leave no doubt.

If construction is being done for a client, there’s likely to be a written contract involved for that work that includes timelines and budgets. One may not plan for injuries, labor shortage or absenteeism when doing up an agreement, but maybe it should be a priority. Profit margins are hard enough to keep without unscheduled costs and stalled productivity.

Involve workers. An extra set of eyes and opinions can be invaluable. Consider previewing worksites with people who are experienced and skilled at recognizing potential hazards. Take note of things that could cause injuries. Also think about issues not related to actual construction work - environmental factors. Get feedback from subject matter experts on best practices that can eliminate those issues or work around them. Share details of the risks and prevention suggestions with all workers and managers in a jobsite playbook.

Involve clients. Think about including a section in the contract that spells-out potential injury risks and how that could affect the timeframe for job completion and related budget factors.

Empower and reward employees as experts and teammates.

It could be practical to prompt conversation about jobsite risks after listing them out before work starts. If people speak openly about their roles, experiences, advice on risks and responsibilities from the start, they may be more inclined and able to watch out for each other. Remember, the guys with surgery scars on their necks, missing fingers or wonky eyes usually have something helpful to share.

Consider a bonus structure for workers who excel at risk mitigation. Perhaps it’s a financial bonus for workers based on the number of hours worked safely. Maybe there’s a leader board where hours without incident are posted and members compete for prizes based on where they are on the list. Maybe workers vote for a hero who was most impactful on keeping everyone safe, healthy and happy on a job. It could be very profitable in the long run to pay something now for great contributors on your teams. Team building and prevention are good.

OSHA, State, Municipal Laws, and Recommended Tools Safety.

Following standard operating procedures for worker safety should be an excellent way to minimize workplace mishaps. It could likely be in line with laws, too. Tool and consumables manufacturers provide instructions and cautions for their products. Know the rules, follow them and share them appropriately.

Under the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has approved regional OSHA plans for most U.S. states and territories.

Individual workers have rights guaranteed by federal, state and local authorities.

That’s a lot of plans. Construction business owners, workers and DIYer might benefit from regular reviews of local and Federal regulations and advice in advance of work projects, and from compliance with requirements.

The most dangerous tool on the job site.

To answer the question of what is the most dangerous tool in construction, an Internet search will lead to any number of personal injury attorney sites. There’s a reason for that. Tool-related injuries are preventable and commonplace, so it’s potentially easy money for injury victims and their attorneys. Sites commonly list ladders and scaffolding, saws and trimmers/mowers, nail guns and chemicals, among other assets. It might be good to remember that any tool, even under the control of an expert who practices every precaution, can cause injury. Having replacement blades, bits and other parts, and ensuring all the critical features of tools and safety equipment are optimal before load out might be a good ritual. The time and money it takes to ensure that blades are properly sharpened or replaced, guards are installed and intact, bits are right-sized and usable, cords are intact, ladders are working, and consumables aren’t expired or spoiled, may seem like a waste and time suck. Plaintiffs lawyers, worker’s comp brokers, emergency room staff and accountants might have different opinions.

Remember, safety first …

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