Tips on getting your employees to care about their safety on the jobsite.

Your employees are constantly exposed to ever-changing hazardous conditions which could cause serious injuries, possible death and major financial company losses. At a recent convention, two mechanical contractors, one company’s jobsite foreman and I enjoyed lunch together. After discussing my Value Engineering University, I asked the foreman two simple questions:

1.How effective is your safety program?

2.Have you had any accidents or OSHA citations?

He smiled as he replied, “Our safety sucks!”

His answer shocked his boss until the foreman explained: “We hold weekly tailgate safety meetings, and we provide hard hats, safety glasses, harnesses and lanyards, and ear plugs. I am a close friend with all my employees and really watch and worry about their personal safety. We have a first aid kit to take care of minor cuts or injuries. But I cannot watch every employee every minute and we’ve had four serious injuries this year. We also had one OSHA inspection with three citations. That sucks!”

His boss, a licensed plumber, interrupted. “We are very concerned and involved with safety, but he is right, it sucks!”

This opened the door for me to share my own personal safety experiences, as well as critical rules for OSHA compliance and practical documentation.

In our family company, I always considered our employees as part of the family. Many were blood relatives, but all of them were members of our proud craftsman fraternity. We extended every effort to help each employee advance to his full potential and earn as much money as possible, but the top priority was always safety. Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration did not enter our industry until 1971, we abided by Pennsylvania Labor and Industry Department safety standards.

I have been a full-time safety director for the last 12 years and certainly agree with that foreman and his boss’s statement that “safety sucks.” The foreman’s explanation that he cannot watch every employee every minute tells the whole story.

Employees just don’t care! You have all heard these excuses:

  • I have been doing this for five, 10 or even 20 years and never got injured.

  • It takes too long if I put up that railing or go get another ladder.

  • I always turn my head so that those sparks don’t hit my eyes.

  • That hard hat is uncomfortable and falls off when I bend over.

  • It is too cumbersome to cut with that guard on the saw blade.

  • I know that’s not the proper tool but it does the job.

  • I don’t need shoring in that deep ditch because I won’t be there very long.

  • You don’t need to cover that hole in the roof deck. Everybody can see it’s open.

  • We don’t need a ladder in that ditch. We can easily climb up the bank.

  • Who needs a fire extinguisher? We are not going to start a fire.

  • Why should I wear a harness and lanyard in a snorkel lift? I’m not going to fall out.

  • That tape on our electrical extension cord is OK. A new one would cost too much money.

  • We don’t need a warning line at the edge of the roof. We know where the edge is.

  • I know we should not work in clutter or debris, but we didn’t put it there.

  • You are not really concerned about our safety, you are just trying to avoid OSHA fines!

    This list is only a starter and you could easily double it. I recommend creating your own list and add what could happen to your employees and what it will cost your company for each item. Every time you hear one of those “safety sucks” excuses, you need to confront your employees with these statements:
      1. You cannot save money by working unsafe.
      2. You cannot save time by working unsafe.
      3. We want you to go home safe and sound.

  • Plan of Action chart

    Safety success

    You can imagine my frustration with that “It can’t happen to me” attitude after all my decades of jobsite experience. I tried every method I could think of, as well as copying everything that I saw other contractors doing. Let me share some of the ideas we tried.

  • Years ago we offered a financial reward to the foreman who had the least injuries on his jobsite. This created an awareness of our safety efforts but, unfortunately, it didn’t reach the working employees.

  • Back in the early ’70s we initiated tool box talks (or tailgate meetings) on each jobsite once a week. Our employees sat and listened, but most of the topics did not relate to the dangers they were exposed to that week. We also maintained documentation of each meeting to be compliant with OSHA rules.

  • About 10 years ago we installed a once-a-week Safe Plan of Action, which is site-specific for any hazard that could appear during the next full week. This has been the most effective for the foremen, but still doesn’t overcome employees’ “It can’t happen to me” attitude. (See the Safe Plan of Action chart below).

  • Having been a working foreman and job superintendent, I know a foreman has so many responsibilities that he cannot watch every employee’s safety every minute. So we initiated 8:01 a.m. and 1:08 p.m. safety-only inspections, which our foreman must document in his daily log. This helped a lot, but still did not overcome the “It can’t happen to me” attitude.

  • The “Free Ticket” innovation makes our employees think about the real possibility that they could be injured, disabled or even killed (see page 32). They now look carefully at their work area for any type of hazard, fill out this ticket each week and hand it to their foreman. This also creates positive discussion about specific dangers.

    If needed at your company, you  can easily duplicate these tickets in Spanish. Four tickets can be printed on one sheet of 8 1/2–in. x 11–in. medium paper stock. This idea is a great one to share with other contractors and any trade associations.

    I’m sure you have had success with other safety measures that you would like to share with Plumbing & Mechanical readers. Anything we can do to ensure our employees’ safety and welfare will benefit everyone involved in our great construction industry.

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