Facing Safety

Contractors share their top 10 challenges in implementing a safety program

With insurance coverage restrictions and limitations on the minds of most roofing contractors, worker safety becomes even more important as contractors try to keep losses to a minimum. But doing so requires hard work—on the part of management and labor. Professional Roofing asked three leading contractors what the top 10 most important challenges are to implementing an effective safety program; following are their responses.

Robert W. Bubenzer

Henry C. Smither Roofing Co. Inc.

  1. Inspect, don't expect. We all expect safety to be a high priority in our companies. Obviously, no one wants to get hurt or create unsafe conditions. It is important to conduct regular inspections through all levels of a company. Field operations always are a priority, but it is important not to forget office, shop and warehouse environments. I think contractors need to remember to conduct frequent safety walks and know a proper inspection takes time.

  2. Top down, not bottom up. Ultimately, company culture is set from the top down. It's typical to set policy and procedures and implement them, and our challenge is to lead our safety efforts from management. In my company, we ask ourselves: Does the office get as much attention as the field operation? Is the office focused more on the bottom line or the economics of safety? The saying, "They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care," applies in the case of implementing a safety program. For example, we have joined forces with some of our competitors to form a safety group. We hired a safety-consulting company to provide us with "credits" we can use for anything from job-site inspections to safety meetings in the office. Another example of showing we care is we hired a nondenominational chaplain to act as a counselor to our workers. All his meetings with workers are confidential, but he does provide a log of how many workers have used his services. So far, he has been a popular resource for our workers.

  3. Own versus rent. Another challenge facing roofing contractors is whether to use "canned" safety programs or develop a customized program. For example, should a contractor adopt forms and policies from other companies, organizations or businesses, or should he develop his own? Owning an integrated safety program is considerably more expensive, but it will give employees a sense of ownership in a safety program rather than considering it "just another program."

  4. Walk the talk. I think company owners should make sure safety walks are conducted in addition to safety talks. Most of us conduct safety talks regularly. Safety walks, on the other hand, are "hands on" and an effective way to eliminate safety hazards. A walk can be done by management personnel or assigned to a crew member. Safety walks take time, and it will mean a lot to a crew if a company owner takes the time to show up on a job.

  5. Hit the target. To know whether our safety program is effective, we have a target with measurable results. There are several standard ratios used in the industry to determine whether we are hitting our mark. Some things we analyze are experience modification rates, recordable incident rates, loss-time frequency, attendance at safety meetings, drug testing, etc. With our database of information, we are able to tell whether accidents are more frequent with a certain foreman or crew, specific to a labor classification or common to a phase of work and specific to roof systems. In addition, we can see whether our paperwork requirements are too cumbersome.

  6. Sugar versus vinegar. Successful results come from positive reinforcement. Most safety programs tend to focus on the punitive, disciplinary aspects and not rewards. There are several incentive programs that have been developed, and rewards don't always have to be financial. We currently are in the process of developing an incentive-based program. Until the program is complete, we continue to stress positive attitudes, such as focusing on what was done right in addition to what was done wrong.

  7. Power in numbers. It's a lot easier to move a boat if everyone is rowing in the same direction. Our goal is to make sure all the people in our company are on board with our safety program (from the office personnel to the crews). If a contractor has a union shop, he should ask himself whether the union membership and leadership buy into his program. If a union contractor is facing resistance from his crews with regard to safe work practices, he should become more involved with the union and invite union business agents to safety training meetings.

  8. The only constant is change. Safety programs are dynamic. It takes a lot of time for a safety culture to develop and mature. Shifts in crew composition, changes in management teams and changes in roof systems installed all affect how well a safety program can be implemented.

  9. No job is complete until the paperwork is done. Another hindrance to an effective safety program is keeping track of the training conducted, drug tests administered, safety meeting rosters, toolbox talk participation, CPR/first-aid certifications, driving qualifications, etc. We need to make sure all components of our safety program are fully integrated. In addition, if our safety program flounders, we may consider whether our record-keeping process is too complicated or cumbersome. We need to make sure we gather the correct information and know what we do with the information we gather.

  10. Accountability. Finally, holding people accountable is crucial to a successful safety program. We try to make sure everyone knows his specific role and responsibilities and what will occur if they do not fulfill their responsibilities. We currently are developing a series of checklists specific to our program and job classifications.

Lindy Cutrona