I’m sure that if he wanted to, an OSHA inspector could find one or another minor technical flaw in our safety program on this roof framing job. That day’s work doesn’t represent perfection. But it is what I call a “perfect try.” And we have put in place what OSHA asked us to: a written safety plan, a chain of responsibility, a good-faith effort to comply with the rules, and our best attempt at safe practices. I’d be comfortable if someone showed up to inspect any our sites, and I would have no trouble explaining why we proceed as we do.
A good safety program is about more than equipment, and it’s about more than rules. It has to do with awareness: Safety should be actively managed in the same way that every other aspect of a project is managed. This requires skill. At my company, having a capable and intelligent foreman like Frank has been a real plus. Frank has a talent for organizing the work on site, and he knows how to manage the crew’s activities as well as his own movements. He never seems to be rushing, yet the work always moves at a good pace. On our sites, organizing for safety seems to dovetail with organizing for productivity.
People sometimes complain about the cost of OSHA compliance on the job. And it’s true that this stuff does cost money. I’ve invested thousands of dollars in safety harnesses, scaffolding, and the like. The temporary bracing alone on this job cost me hundreds of dollars in materials.
But you also have to consider the payback. This was a very efficient framing job — there was nothing haphazard about it. The meeting at the beginning of the day helped to focus the crew members’ minds and got them all on the same page. The scaffolding at the ends of the trusses and the rolling staging in the middle took a while to set up, but in the long run they saved us time and money. For instance, hitting the minimum time I had budgeted for having the crane on site saved me $500 — the very least I would have had to pay to bring it back for a second day.
Also, keep in mind that the scaffolding at the eaves served multiple phases of the work. The roofers could work from it when they applied their first courses of shingles, and the trim carpenters could work from it when they ran soffit and fascia. The comfort of working on a secure platform really improves our efficiency, especially when we’re working two or more stories off the ground. A lot of jobs go faster when you have good scaffolding.
And then, of course, you have to back out the cost of injuries. I’ve had guys hurt on the job before, and even a relatively minor injury carries a significant cost. I get hit with increased comp premiums, and I have the cost of replacing that worker while he’s out of work. Why not spend that money up front on safety training and equipment?
And there’s one other way my company has benefitted from having a good safety program. During this recession, I’ve branched out into commercial work. In the commercial world, safety plans and OSHA inspections are a given. Having a squared-away safety program has helped me compete in that market as a professional.
So on balance, even though we were initially forced into compliance because of an OSHA inspection, I believe that developing a good safety program has been extremely beneficial to my company in all sorts of ways.
Architect and builder Andrew DiGiammo owns and operates Residential and Commercial Master Builders of New England in Freetown, Mass.