The ‘facts of life’ of foremen on the jobsite.



That question and answer came up during our lunch break at a convention seminar. We were talking about a jobsite foreman’s decision-making responsibilities. The question came from an open shop plumbing contractor with 14 employees; the answer from a union HVAC contractor who had 84 employees at that time. The HVAC contractor added that he was not even aware of the “power of attorney” that he delegated to a foreman until his foreman attended one of my seminars at the contractor’s shop.

The plumbing contractor interjected, “I don’t even use a foreman on our jobs. I will send one or two plumbers, as well as a helper or two, and they only need to do what I tell them. They don’t have to make any decisions for my company!” The HVAC contractor smiled as he said, “Paul, you need to explain the facts of life to this guy.”

Let me share those “facts of life” with you, and I hope you will, in turn, share them with your employees:

1. Jobsite Liability And Responsibility. Your foreman is classified as a “white collar” management employee with delegated authority to execute and control everything that happens on his or her jobsite. If you do not designate or appoint a foreman, the government will assign this foreman status to the employee who reports back to your office!

  • Jobsite safety and rapid response for accidents or injuries. Your foreman must ensure that none of your employees are exposed to dangerous conditions that could cause death or injury. If an employee is injured, your foreman must be certified to provide immediate life-saving first aid. Without this updated first-aid certification, a death on your jobsite could result in a $70,000 OSHA fine and 42 months imprisonment for your foreman, in addition to the costs and liability for your company.

  • Government agency regulations and compliance. Your foreman must avoid unfair labor practices regarding NLRB and BEOC guidelines on union activity, layoffs and firing, discrimination and sexual harassment.

  • Total compliance with contract language, plans and specifications, and building codes. Your foreman must check and confirm shop drawings, dimensions and details, alternates and addenda, and change orders.

  • Jobsite paperwork and office coordination. You must depend on your jobsite foreman to document daily logs, timesheets, accident forms, delays and deliveries. He or she must maintain updated as-builts and initiate written change orders for extra work or changes.

    2. Profit-Producing Jobsite Efficiency And Control. Your foreman should use a one-week schedule to ensure lead time for all necessary manpower, materials, tools and equipment. He or she also should maintain a P.E.P. (predict emergency preparation) checklist to maintain progress when something goes wrong.

  • Wasted minutes cost company dollars. Your foreman must control starting time, coffee breaks, lunch time and quitting time to make sure you receive eight hours of working time for your eight-hour paycheck from each employee on that site. The foreman also must be certain that each employee is productively working at assigned tasks or duties before he or she becomes too busy.

  • Maintain or beat critical path schedules. Job schedules are important to the owner, general contractor, all of the other trades and your suppliers. Your foreman should concentrate on critical items and ask for help to prevent any delays. He or she also should utilize float time to keep crews busy as well as minimizing future pressures.

  • Jobsite coordination and cooperation. Your foreman needs to establish and maintain a positive working relationship with all of the other trades, the general contractor, the architect, engineers, inspectors and the owner. All of these individuals are in a position to help you or unfortunately to delay or hurt you, depending on that foreman relationship. The foreman should go out of his or her way to help any of these people whenever possible. We have always called that “horse trading” and it works very well both ways. This horse trading should always be documented to prevent any future misunderstandings.

  • Quality workmanship. In addition to performing quality craftsmanship, your foreman is responsible for quality installation by each and every employee on your payroll. Your name and reputation is on their work.

    3. Team-Building Human Relations And Motivation. Your solution to our critical skilled manpower shortage is completely in your jobsite foreman’s hands. He or she is in a position to train, develop, motivate and maintain all of the proud and productive quality craftsmen you will ever need.

  • Provide human relations and coaching training. Every employee who is in charge and responsible for another employee should have this training. The ability to perform our complicated construction tasks is not related to building proud craftsmen.

  • Establish a written chain of command. This defines who is responsible for whom. You must respect this organization chart and give orders or discipline only to the individuals who are directly under you. No one can answer to two bosses.

  • Designate who is in charge. On each jobsite, decide who will be responsible for that site and provide a proper title of foreman or superintendent.

  • Use skills inventory. Your foreman should use your database skills inventory to properly train each employee and ensure proud, quality workmanship. This also gives you a monthly report on each employee’s progress.

  • Measure production on jobsite. Your foreman must measure each of his or her employees’ production and keep score. This ensures proper recognition and reward. You can do this with our 6-8-10 daily ratings or with piecework. Your employees should always know: The more you do, the more you make!

    As you read these basic facts of life, I’m quite sure that you will agree that you have to have a CEO on every jobsite.

    Construction, as with all trades, is a very informal industry where no one is called sir or mister. We use first names and nicknames like Fuzzy, Spike, Buck, etc., without regard to position, authority or responsibility. However, that does not eliminate your legal and financial liability in this great, competitive profit-making industry.

    Union contractors negotiate “work rules” that define the role and responsibility of a jobsite foreman and also the chain of command. Unfortunately, a union foreman wears two hats. He or she is legally a white-collar management employee as foreman, but a blue-collar labor employee as a member of the union.

    Although your foreman is unofficially your chief executive officer on the jobsite, I am not recommending that you give him the working title of CEO; but you should definitely discuss the critical decision-making responsibilities that he must make.

    We can use those same initials - CEO - with regards to your foreman concerning each situation and/or problem he or she faces on the job, and that is “consider every option.”

    You also could call this value engineering to remind your foreman that there is always a better way. By considering what the positives and negatives are of every possible option before he makes a decision that will cost time, materials and company money, he will definitely fill that role of chief executive officer.

    I hope you will share and discuss this article with each of your foremen. Establish and abide by a written chain of command with proper and complimentary titles for all of your critical decision makers. You will be very pleased and proud to have a CEO on every jobsite.


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