I’m a project manager for a custom home builder at the Delaware beaches. We build high-end custom homes and we also do commercial fit outs. I usually have several jobsites going at once. I also used to be a superintendent for a large construction management company in New York City, mainly building high-end office spaces for financial companies. Some projects were large enough that each trade had crews with as many as 20 to 30 people working on them. Managing any construction project can be complex, but throw in the responsibility of maintaining a safe site and your plate is now overflowing… not just “full.”
In New York, safety was much more formalized than it is here in Delaware on the residential side. I went from a company that had a dedicated “Safety Director” and “Assistant Safety Director” to a company where just one of my many responsibilities is safety.
In New York, I prided myself on having a clean record, with zero safety infractions. After moving to Delaware, I found that old habits die hard and more importantly, they make sense—and for a lot of reasons, my bleeding heart for my crews notwithstanding. Despite what my guys may tell you, I do, in fact, have a heart.
I look at it like this (obviously, I also care about people’s well-being). I have to be tough about this, even “dictator-like” tough. Let’s call it “vigilant.”
The most important thing about my job is completing projects—on time—to satisfied clients, with a minimal punch list. I don’t want “Cheap Ladder Bruno” to get hurt, but I don’t want my company to take a hit on an insurance claim or slow down the bullet train of progress I try to start every job with. You can call me a jerk if you want (I’ve heard worse and, just so you know, I don’t give a …).
My site safety rules protect my guys. My rules protect them from getting hurt, from losing income, from shortening their careers, from not going home from work. They protect their families too.
They also protect my company. They protect my boss from workers’ comp claims, insurance claims, and the rest of that endless paper chase. I do not have the time in my day or the patience in my being to fill out accident reports anyway, so let’s prevent that from being a “thing,” shall we?
Call it “employment insurance” for everybody involved.
There are hundreds of construction site safety precautions I could talk about but let's stick to a few basic ones. Here are a few things I’m “dictator-like” about, and I may have mentioned this before, but I really don’t care what my guys have to say about it.
Pre-construction meeting. Among the many things I go over—from framing details and wall sections to plumbing stacks that could be in conflict with a range vent six months from when it was installed—is where the first aid kit is. During framing I usually tuck it out of the way somewhere; sometimes the only spot is in the Port-A-John. I also always have a first aid kit in my truck. You just never know.
Smaller jobs require the typical-sized first aid kits, but on the larger jobs in New York, where manpower numbers were anywhere from 50 to 150, first aid kits can be as big as roll-a-board suitcases and are bolted to the wall in the field office.
Same goes for the fire extinguishers. Everybody knows where they are.
Fire extinguishers and insurance. Do yourself a solid and check with your insurance agent. A simple, 20-pound fire extinguisher—you can buy them in bulk online and enjoy a favorable discount—located at every exit could save you money. If your insurance company does surprise walk-throughs (ours does) and sees properly placed extinguishers, you may qualify for a discount.
Dried-In. Once the house or project is dried-in, I move the first aid kit from its glorious position in the Johnny to a central location inside the house. I then review that updated location during my regular site meeting so nobody can say “Oh … I didn’t know.” I hate when people say that.
Your mother doesn’t work here—clean up. It may look like a harmless empty water bottle just laying there on the ground. But if the cap is screwed on, that’s no longer a water bottle; now, it’s an ankle breaker.
Boards with nails in them, core drill plugs, wrappers, cut-offs. CLEAN. IT. UP.
Sweep the floor.
This reduces the risk of a stupid twisted ankle or worse, a fall. Plus, a clean jobsite is a productive one. Your Mom doesn’t work here, so you have to clean up after yourself, but be sure and tell her that I said “Hi.”
The old saying “perception is reality” applies here as well. Building code enforcement officers who conduct inspections notice when you have a clean site. It shows that you care, and if you care about keeping the joint clean, you care that things are done right. On the other hand, if your site is comparable to a teenager’s bedroom, they are going to think that you are lazy or that you don’t care. That perception carries over.
Temp power. First, check if the breaker in the temp panel is GFCI-protected. If it isn’t, make sure the quads coming out of it are. And if they’re not, there are cords now with in-line GFCIs. I have never been electrocuted before, but I have heard that it isn’t fun.
If I find. If I find a green ladder on my jobsite at the end of the day, I will throw that joker in the dumpster (not this green ladder, this green ladder is cool). I don’t care if it’s brand new. Green ladders are not rated for commercial work. They are not considered “heavy duty.” Orange and blue stepladders are the only ones that are acceptable. If you’re using aluminum extension ladders, make sure that they are rated for a weight that is higher than your body weight combined with whatever you may be carrying with you.
For the life of me, I will never understand why a guy would buy a residential-rated ladder to save $100 and potentially wind up spending a couple days in the hospital. The math doesn’t work.
Hard hats. I wear mine. I require it until there is drywall up in the ceiling. In commercial jobs, they are required until the ceiling is “whited out.” You don’t want to wear it, that’s fine, go home. I will send guys home until they come back with a hard hat. You can call me an _____ if you want. I really don’t give a ...
Harnesses and lanyards. Not only do I require them to be worn for all roofing activities, I will check their expiration dates. I prefer an actual tie-off bracket to an eye screw bolted into the ridge. Are you going to chance living the rest of your life making your loved one clean out your “poop bag” on one of those things? Why would you do that to them?
Construction is already risky enough without adding more risk. I want my guys to go home at the end of the day. I don’t need the thought of a kid or a spouse looking at an empty chair at the end of the dinner table.
Not only do I take having my personal name on a project very seriously, but I also want my job to be safe and secure and my boss’s business and success to be secure.