Keeping Safety in Focus

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By: Zachary D. Jones

Keeping focused can be difficult. The world seems to be growing ever more complex, and the construction industry is no exception. Where fifty pages of contract documents—including the technical spec’s—might have sufficed a few decades ago, now multiple reams of two-sided, single-spaced contract documents are the rule rather than the exception. Many of the requirements contained in those cumbersome contract documents relate to general conditions. In addition to the contractually required general conditions, contractors are also subject to more regulatory and other legal requirements than ever before. One such requirement that often appears in both the contract and government regulations are safety requirements. In Kentucky, those safety requirements are usually enforced by the Kentucky Labor Cabinet.

For many contractors, general conditions, including safety requirements, represent additional expense that must be endured, even suffered through. For project managers and superintendents, the ability to trim that expense represents easy margin—a way to beat the budget without reducing overtime or cutting into the much loved per diem. In the end, it is easy to view safety programs as merely an added expense and lose sight of why owners, general contractors, construction managers, and lawmakers insist on including voluminous pages of general conditions and regulations.
Safety is not something to be taken lightly. Over the years, safety requirements have grown in importance. On many public projects, for example, contractors must maintain certain safety performance records to even be eligible to bid. And private owners often have similar requirements for not only the general contractor, but all subcontractors on the project too. Thus, maintaining a good safety record can lead to more opportunity.

Having a good safety record starts with having a good safety program. Periodic training, coupled with weekly or even daily safety talks with crews, is an essential component of a good safety program. Depending on the size of the business, hiring a full time safety professional may be a necessary component as well. To that end, many contracts require contractors with a certain number of workers on site to assign a full time safety manager to oversee implementation of the applicable safety requirements. Further, a safety program should ensure compliance with all applicable regulations—including maintaining accurate records of training, accidents, near misses, etc. While implementing a comprehensive safety program will cost money, in the end they typically save much more than they cost.

Not having a safety program may actually cost more than having one. A single reportable incident can result in expenses that far outweigh the cost of creating and running a comprehensive, size appropriate safety program. Considering the potential cost of fines, remedial measures, insurance premiums, potential tort liability, and legal costs, safety programs start to look rather cheap—and certainly more predictable. On the other hand, for contractors looking to grow, owners and general contractors are almost universally dictating that contractors have a written, developed safety program in place. Not having such a program may end up shutting a lot of doors.

In the end, safety is not about the dollars and cents. In the Commonwealth, being a construction worker is one of the deadliest jobs. The Kentucky Labor Cabinet has recently released information indicating that of the jobs it examined, construction workers had the highest death rate. Of those deaths, falls represented the most common fatal hazard. What is frustrating, is that falls are also one of the most preventable hazards. This is even more embarrassing considering the minimal cost of job site management enforcing a 100% tie-off policy and buying each worker a harness and lanyard. Safety is not a general condition expense worth trying to cut.

This week safety is in focus in Kentucky. The 30th Annual Governor’s Safety and Health Conference and Expo is at the Galt House in Louisville starting on May 6th and running through the 9th. For contractors who recognize that they may not be up to date on the latest safety tech, current issues, or trends in safety and safety programs, this expo could be a great way to breathe new life into a forgotten or neglected safety program. And for contractors who simply have failed to ever develop a safety program this expo is a great place to start. Information about the expo can be found at kshn.net.

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