by Bob FitzGerald Most successful mechanical contractors know that investing in a strong, proactive safety program is an important foundation for well-run projects because, first and foremost, it protects the lives of a company’s most important asset: its workers. However, among the many other pressing concerns that accompany our day-to-day operations, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that a lack of attention to safety can mean not only loss of life, property, and time, but also a real hole in the bottom line. It’s my contention that a strong safety program is not only a defense against loss, but is also an affirmative, profit-making measure. Monetary losses from poor safety performance can take many forms. Most visibly, of course, workers’ compensation insurance costs can increase substantially with worker injuries. Less visible, but also important, is the time lost on the job after an accident due to the very human curiosity of workers as they wonder what happened, why it happened, and what effect the accident will have on them and their co-workers. A change in the overall construction environment also has made owners, general contractors, and construction managers much more sensitive to the importance of safety performance. Accidents Don’t Just Happen
It’s often said that “accidents happen,” as if we have no control over their occurrence. If we’ve learned anything during the past 25 years, it’s that accidents are often the result of inattention to detail, insufficient safety training, and a lack of corporate commitment to safety rather than a series of random incidents beyond our control. Here at FitzGerald Contractors, we recognize that having a safe company is a lifelong commitment. We’ve been recognized by our peers at MCAA and given an Award of Excellence from our insurance company for the last four years. However, but the real reward is when our customers confer on us the designation of “preferred contractor,” as one national industrial company has. Our corporate commitment to safety is visible to everyone. As CEO, I am intimately involved in all aspects of safety. Our company-wide drug testing starts with me; no one is exempt from this requirement, no matter his or her position in the company. Every employee is required to read and sign off on our written company safety program. Employees are encouraged to ask questions during regular safety talks on specific topics. We also encourage workers to take responsibility for their own safety. They are expected to be consistently aware of the safety aspects of the job they’re working on and to use appropriate personal protective equipment. When an accident does occur, post-incident investigation is immediate and thorough. Finding out why an accident happened is fundamental to prevention of future incidents. Another important element of our program is providing incentives for achieving safety excellence on the job. At FitzGerald’s, individuals with superior safety records are eligible to win cash in monthly raffles. And, once each year, we recognize an individual — nominated by supervisors — who exemplifies safe work practices. There are many ways in which companies reward safety excellence, and most of them work because they provide consistent positive reinforcement for behavior that is important to everyone on the job. Associations Can Help
The resources that we have used to enhance our safety program at FitzGerald’s have come primarily from the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA). A few years ago, the association made member safety improvement a key goal. Since then, MCAA’s Safety Excellence Initiative has distributed more than 40 new topics that are specifically related to mechanical construction and service. With the manuals, videos, model programs and other materials provided, MCAA members are equipped with the know-how to save lives, reduce pain and suffering, and run productive, profitable businesses. I would recommend that any contractor interested in improving safety performance find some source of reliable safety information to help in putting together an effective company safety program. The Effect on Industry Image
As a final note on the importance of effective safety programs — that is, safety programs that actually prevent injuries and illness — I’d like to mention the larger effect of these programs on the image of the construction industry. Two of the negative stereotypes that young people hold about the construction industry are that it’s dirty and dangerous work. If we want to attract high-quality young people to all levels of the construction industry, we all must work on not only saying the right things about the industry, but also backing up our words with action. When the construction industry is perceived as a safe endeavor — because we contractors have made it safe through constant attention to this essential element of our work — then we will have performed in a way that is not only profitable for our own companies, but is beneficial for the industry as a whole. Bob FitzGerald is CEO of FitzGerald Contractors, Inc., a fourth-generation, family owned commercial HVAC contractor in Shreveport, LA. He is also the president of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA). FitzGerald can be reached at 318/861-5447 or by e-mail at [email protected].