May 2009: Playing It Safe


May 2009

Zach EverettPlaying It Safe

Does the Economy Affect Safety for a Mason Contractor?

Whether the economy affects safety can only be answered by each mason contractor, and it can vary. The economy certainly shouldn’t affect safety, but let’s look at how it could.

When the economy is good, money is flowing and appears to be coming steadily down the pike. At this time, investments in safety personnel, safety equipment or supplies, and programs should be made and maintained easily. But what if there is a down turn in the economy? Money isn’t flowing so freely, and the future holds some lean months or years ahead. How does it then affect safety?

Some may, if I can barrow the colloquialism, “cut off their noses to spite their faces” at the very time they need to be smelling the most. A contractor may get nervous and look to cut costs by doing away with safety-related processes. Equipment is not in safe working condition, so we keep using it anyway, rather than having it repaired or purchasing another. Safety training is time consuming and expensive, so we just send a “greenhorn” out to do a task he is not trained to do in a safe manner. We put an untrained, uncertified employee on a forklift to operate this heavy equipment with people all around him who could be injured or killed. Or a person may be asked to build scaffold when he is not trained on the hazards associated. Maybe we stop buying safety glasses, gloves or face shields to protect our employees and hope they will come up with some on their own.

The fact is, mason contractors who have strong safety programs in action will benefit on their bottom lines.

Consider the following
Injury down time. When safety is sacrificed, injuries are the natural result. When that happens, employees stop working. That costs money. The down time will depend on the severity of the injury.  Some people will stop to help the injured. Some will stop to just watch out of concern. If the injury requires EMS, chances are the whole job will shut down. Supervisors will stop what they’re doing to make sure proper care is given. Time will be taken to conduct an injury investigation, and employees will have down time writing witness statements, if they saw what happened. There should be a safety meeting held immediately to inform the other crewmembers about how the injured person is doing and what happened, so that they can avoid such a hazard in the future. As more information about the incident becomes available, it should be shared with the crew. Additional training may be needed as well. There can be literally thousands of dollars lost solely during down time associated with just one injury. That’s money that doesn’t need to be spent if safety stays the priority even, if times are lean.

Worker’s comp costs. It’s simple: Insurance companies are in business to make money. If they reach a point with a customer when more is going out than coming in, either the premiums go to cover it, or they dump the customer. I realize there are many different plans, refunds, etc., and a company can get with a comp carrier. But the bottom line is that you have to pay for the injuries and lost time. If safety is kept the focus, you can benefit from the refunds or plan perks, since you’re not having injuries. That’s going to put money into your bottom line.

OSHA fines. OSHA fines are given when an OSHA inspector cites a company for a violation of the OSHA regulations. If a mason contractor cuts corners on safety in an attempt to save money, and then OSHA shows up, what is coming next leaves little to the imagination. Fines are scaled by the severity of the violation. A bad extension cord may cost several hundred dollars, and a fall protection violation may cost several thousand. OSHA also will come to jobs when they hear of an accident and, of course, cite the employer due to the hazard that caused the injury. All this can be avoided by a diligent commitment to safety, even in the midst of tough financial times.

Other considerations
There is a host of other points that could be made regarding why safety should be maintained during a poor economy:

Reputation. News of a company’s poor safety habits travels, and it can cause owners and general contractors to give jobs to safer mason contractors.

Morale. Poor safety causes poor morale. I’ve seen jobs that suffered a bad accident, and everyone felt defeated, down in the dumps, and maybe even responsible. Their hearts were not really into the work, because their minds weren’t. One bricklayer I know saw an ironworker fall about 27 feet to the ground. He suffered broken bones. The next work day, the bricklayer said he needed to go home. He just couldn’t get his mind where it needed to be. He was disturbed by the accident and couldn’t work. Morale matters, since happy employees make better employees. They put more bricks in a wall.

The most important reason to continue safety full force, even in a bad economy, is that it’s the right thing to do. Our employees have families who need them. Spouses and kids need them to come back home, safe and sound.

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