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Better safe than sorry.

A good safety plan can reduce on-site injuries, ease OSHA inspections, and lower your insurance premiums. Here's how to develop one.

There are four good reasons you should write a safety program for your business right now.

First, builders who take the trouble to write and implement job site safety programs have fewer accidents and less down time than those who don't.

Second, builders who write and implement safety programs pay lower worker's comp premiums. Robert Masterson, safety manager at Columbia, Md.-based Ryland Homes, says his company has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in worker's compensation premiums since adopting an aggressive safety program in 1988. John Schumacher, a residential-construction safety expert with Cory & Associates, a Chicago insurance broker, says he's seen some builders' premiums drop $80,000 or more after adopting a program.

Third, it's the law. And, OSHA's new inspection policy "rewards" builders that have written safety programs. As of October 1, OSHA limits inspections to the Big Four: fall protection, electric grounding, "struck-by" protection, and excavation safety - if a written plan is in effect. OSHA's goal is to free up staff and focus on the "bad actors" (builders without safety plans).

Meanwhile, "bad actors" will face full-bore OSHA inspections coveting more than 100 other standards, like recordkeeping and keeping material safety data sheets for hazardous materials on hand. Says NAHB assistant safety director Regina Solomon: "Theoretically, the nit-picking will go, because if you have a written program and you're implementing it, the Big Four will be taken care of." (The 23 states with state-run OSHA programs have the option of adopting OSHA's new inspection policy. Contact your state HBA to find out if they did.)

Fourth, builders who have written safety plans can document "good faith" efforts to run a safe work site and are likely to face smaller fines if there is a violation, says Paul Wilms, regulatory affairs director at the North Carolina Home Builders Association. "In North Carolina, the average penalty for a safety violation is $7,000, yet the average fine collected is $700." That's because many builders, says Wilms, were able to document that they had written safety programs and that they were following them.

Considering that OSHA fines average $7,000 per violation and can go as high as $183,550 - the record-setting residential fine OSHA slapped U.S. Homes with in 1994 - writing a safety program is nothing if not financially prudent. "You have to look at safety the same way you look at every other part of your business," says NAHB safety specialist David DeLorenzo.

Hazard communication--Written program           2,044
Hazard communication--Training                  1,667
Employee training                               1,519
Head protection                                   901
Open-sided flors--Guardrails                      879
Hazard communication--No MSDS for chemicals       800
Excavations--Employee protection                  777
Branch circuits--Ground fault protection          749
Hazard communication--MSDS not accessible         701
Welded frame scaffolds--Guardrails                668
Inspections by competent persons                  652
Electrical--Grounding path                        627
Safety programs                                   614
Stairrails and handrails                          514
Scaffold access                                   489

Source: OSHA

Note: Figures represent all construction

So why don't more builders write and implement safety programs that comply with federal or state OSHA standards? Builders, says DeLorenzo, are often overwhelmed by the sheer volume and complexity of OSHA's construction standards (which take up 412 densely written pages), or they don't know how to write a program, or they give into the "macho thing and think nothing will ever happen to them."

How do you write a safety program that will tame the top-plate cowboys, drive down premiums, and make your next OSHA inspection as pleasant as a visit from the Good Humor man?


There's no standard kit, no one-size-fits-all safety program. The reason, says Masterson, is that every company faces different hazards, has had different experiences, works with different personnel, and, in addition to federal OSHA standards, must comply with a dizzying range of state safety rules. What's more, safety standards are always Changing, says Solomon, so programs must perpetually be revisited and revised. "There's just no single way to write a plan," she says. "It's a daily job that you do forever."

That said, here are a few tips to help you get started.

* Know the standards. You don't have to read all 900 pages of the OSHA rule book; not every rule applies to home builders. In fact, only 70 key safety standards do apply, says Wilms, who recently distilled the relevant ones into a handbook published by the North Carolina HBA. NAHB publishes a manual entitled An Occupational Safety Program for Builders: Guidelines for Residential and Commercial Construction.

At a minimum, the NAHB manual says, federal and state laws require safety programs to cover fall protection, pollution control, fire prevention, ground fault protection, personal protective equipment (like hard hats), HAZCOM, excavations, a training program, and assurance that there's adequate first aid on site. But the specifics on how they apply vary from company to company and site to site.

The first step is to contact NAHB, which has a whole catalog of safety materials. Then call your HBA - more than 100 HBAs have safety committees that monitor requirements and try to foster better relations with OSHA.

Another option is to contact the state or federal OSHA office and request a copy of its inspectors' residential safety checklist. (Most OSHA offices can put builders in contact with their free consultation programs.) The American Subcontractors Association sells OSHA inspection checklists for $2 a pop. Schumacher provides his clients with a home-grown checklist of 35 items that run the gamut from making sure open trenches are protected and ladders are tied off to verifying that the OSHA safety poster and emergency phone numbers are prominently placed.

* Identify your problems and your goals. Do your own safety inspection. Take the checklist or NAHB's safety standards handbook and walk around your site checking for hazards. Make a list of the kinds of work being done and note which safety standards apply. Double check your company's insurance needs and legal risks. Make a list of recent accidents that have happened on site.

Now outline the basics that your safety program must cover. "Every builder will have different experiences, and their programs will have to be tied to those experiences," Masterson says. "Every company's safety program will be a little different."

* Write it out. Now get out a pen and some paper and start writing. DeLorenzo suggests starting out with a statement that you're committed to run each project in a safe manner, that your employees and subs will comply with all applicable state and federal safety laws and regulations, that you will provide all the equipment necessary to ensure your workers' safety, and that you will conduct an ongoing effort to improve your workers' safety practices.


Next, you'll need somebody to run and monitor your program. Pick a supervisor who has training in OSHA rules (or is willing to get it) and is quick to spot on-site safety hazards. Such training can be obtained in one of the 10-hour or 30-hour courses provided by state and federal OSHA offices, NAHB, and private consultants. (Programs typically cost $45 per person and up; contact NAHB or your OSHA office for a schedule.)

Make the safety director your point person for implementing your program and ensuring that everybody on site knows about it and receives safety training appropriate to their jobs. "Your employees need to know who to go to on site and in your company when safety issues come up," says DeLorenzo.


Have your safety director distribute a copy of the safety program to every employee and subcontractor before they walk on site. Take time to explain it to them. Some builders send out copies to subs one or two weeks before they come on site, to give them time to familiarize themselves with the rules, observes DeLorenzo. If you put a written copy in everybody's hands, it's tougher for employees to question your rules down the road.

Have your subcontractors sign a form acknowledging that they received the safety plan. Keep the signed forms on file. The rationale? Making them sign for it proves "good faith" on your part to implement the program (not to mention good faith on their part to obey the rules), says Schumacher.


"The best way to deal with OSHA is to be in compliance, or to try to be in compliance," says Wilms. "The key to compliance is education." In other words, training. Besides giving everybody a copy of your safety program, train them.

Private consultants provide on-site training for fees as high as $1,500 a day (depending on the number of people being trained). There are, however, cheaper alternatives. Several manufacturers, like the Duo Fast Corporation and DeWalt Industrial Tool, offer free on-site safety training on their equipment.

Other training resources include state HBAs, the education and compliance divisions of state and federal OSHA offices, and the American Red Cross (for CPR and first aid). Most fire departments will provide free training to prevent falls, fires, and caveins. "There are a lot of great resources out there that don't cost a lot," says Pam Hicks, safety coordinator at Baltimore-based Winchester Homes.

Don't rely on subs to do the training, Schumacher warns. OSHA's multi-employer work site rules allow OSHA to fine builders as well as subcontractors, because the general contractor, in theory, controls and is responsible for what happens on site. (Last March, he notes, a fall-protection rule violation triggered a $3,200 state OSHA fine against a Northbrook, Ill., builder, in addition to the $4,500 fine charged the roofer.)

Training programs don't have to be complicated. At Winchester Homes, which has a 35-person field crew in Maryland and Virginia, the program starts with a slide show of recent on-site safety violations and illustrations of appropriate safety compliance. That's followed with a site tour where Hicks and other trainers point out key issues, like askew ladders or uncovered trenches. "A lot of subs start off complaining about the cost [in lost time]," she adds, "but over time they see fewer accidents and lower premiums."

One Portland, Ore., builder holds monthly training seminars for 120 field workers the third Wednesday of the month. Topics, which range from fall protection to fire prevention, are developed by a joint management-employee safety committee. To promote attendance, the firm raffles off gift certificates for items like tires and bowie knives. What's more, the builder's subcontractors are happy to sponsor the raffle, because, one company official says, the training "has saved them from possible violations, so they're grateful."


In addition to training seminars, builders should consider scheduling weekly or biweekly toolbox talks on safety topics. A toolbox talk is a quick (five to 20-minute) lesson, usually delivered by the safety director, on a specific issue, like handling tools safely or fall protection. "The idea is to bring the crew together and get them thinking about safety," says DeLorenzo.

The raw material for a toolbox talk can come from anywhere. Ryland has invited paramedics and fire chiefs to talk about CPR and fire safety. Most state OSHAs have libraries of safety training videos, and NAHB is producing a series of 15-minute safety talks. Some builders subscribe to Safety Meeting Outlines in Park Forest, Ill., a private service that supplies a year's worth of stand-alone weekly safety lessons, for about $54 a year.

At least one state - California - requires a toolbox talk on each site every 10 days. Most states, however, only require occasional toolbox talks. In Asheboro, N.C., Mark Trollinger holds a weekly five-minute toolbox talk before handing out paychecks to his 12-person field crew. "If there's a new element in the safety program, or the need to improve a particular area, toolbox talks are a fast way to get the word out," advises Ryland's Masterson.


Have employees and subcontractors sign forms verifying their attendance at seminars, training sessions, or toolbox talks. The same goes for workers trained on new pieces of equipment. The reason, says Wilms, is to have a record of your effort to implement a safety program. If there is an accident on site, you will have the documents to prove that you are implementing a written safety program. That can go a long way to demonstrating "good faith" on your part, says Wilms, and good faith can go a long way to mitigating fines.

Builders should also document their safety programs' effects on accidents and down time. Annually reviewing your documentation "can help you fine-tune your program," adds Winchester's Hicks.


If everybody on site is supposed to wear a hard hat, then take off your favorite ball cap when you walk on site and put on a hard hat. Otherwise your employees will notice and your program will lose credibility. "If you want your employees to follow your rules, then you have to follow them yourself," says DeLorenzo.


There are carrots and there are sticks.

The obvious carrot is to create a reward or bonus program tied to safety records. One builder credits its "Safety Bucks" program with helping it reduce worker's compensation claims to 7 percent of their 1986 figure and earn a $750,000 refund from its worker's compensation insurer in 1993.

Here's how the program works. A subcontractor or employee who works 3,000 hours without an accident (about 18 months), receives $75 in Safety Bucks for every additional 500 accident-free hours on the job. The builder has agreements with area retailers so workers can cash in Safety Bucks for tools, tires, belt buckles, and other items. After 10,000 accident-free hours, the rewards go up to as much as $150 for every additional 500 hours. (The builder wouldn't disclose the program's cost, but company officials said it is easily covered by lower insurance premiums and higher productivity.)


The other "incentive," of course, is the stick. A good safety plan needs a written disciplinary procedure. "If you're not reprimanding anybody for improper procedures, why should anybody follow your rules?" asks DeLorenzo.

DeLorenzo suggests giving workers and subcontractors a verbal warning for the first violation, a written warning for the second, a one-day suspension without pay for the third violation, and termination for the fourth. "Once it gets to the written warning stage, 90 percent of the time that person is going to shape up," says DeLorenzo, who also advises builders to post the names of warned employees to trigger peer pressure.

Builders who are reluctant to fire subs for fear of project delays and tight labor markets are courting disaster, NAHB's Solomon argues. "Imagine getting a $30,000 OSHA fine because of something one of your subs did," said Solomon at a recent Minneapolis training session. "I guarantee you'll start telling yourself that not having that sub and falling behind would have been a lot easier to deal with."

There's another reason why builders should quickly fire repeat violators: liability. That's because a written safety program and documentation could come back to haunt you as evidence that you understood the rules and did nothing. In states with tough worker-safety laws, like New York, documented inaction has triggered six-figure judgments against builders. "If they have documents that they reprimanded a worker but took no action, they've hung themselves," Schumacher says.

Bottom line, says Masterson: "Once you implement a safety program, you have to keep it going and never back off for production schedule reasons." That's not just because of your liability, but "because the subcontractors have to know what's expected of them. Consistency will make the program successful."

Don't expect success overnight. Given the high turnover rates at most construction sites, getting workers to take your program seriously is an ongoing effort. Nevertheless, Solomon is convinced that as more builders focus on safety and implement plans, reckless workers will shape up or find themselves unemployed. "It's not going to happen tomorrow," she acknowledges, "but, one way or another, the industry's safety culture has got to change."


If you're not sure how to get started, and you don't want to hire a consultant, you can do what builder Fred Schaub did. He got help from OSHA.

Schaub is division manager for Morrison Homes in Winter Park, Fla., and has 100 houses under construction at any given time. He says he can show up unannounced at any site and find 95 percent compliance with his safety program. It hasn't been easy, but he's accomplished it in one year.

"My approach was this: If I save lives I'm a hero, but while I'm putting the program in place, I'm going to be a pain in the ass."

Schaub took advantage of OSHA's voluntary inspection program to help him get on track. "We had a state official inspect our sites without the risk of fines or citations," says Schaub. "He took pictures of our most common violations, and then gave our company a slide show and pointed out the hazardous conditions." Schaub then wrote the company's mission statement and notified OSHA that he was working toward compliance. "We were working in the spirit of cooperation," he says, "and that made a big difference."

Morrison Homes' safety requirements extend to their subcontractors, who sign a compliance agreement built into the company's contracts. And subs are greeted each morning by signs reminding them of the rules at the entrances to Morrison's communities. Even customers are asked to wear hard hats when they're on site.

"Our buyers are aware of our safety efforts," says Schaub, "and it makes them feel like we're more serious about the quality of our work."


Talk with contractors who've coped with serious injuries or death on the job, and you'll learn that fines, rate hikes, and lost time were the last things on their minds. Their first concerns were for the victims and their families. And that, after all, is the heart of all safety programs.

You'll also find these contractors among the strongest advocates for safety programs and enforcement. "I'm helping other people avoid what I went through when I was a contractor," says Roy Austin, now safety manager for Stahl, a roofing company in Broomfield, Colo. "1 wouldn't wish that on anyone."

In 1982, Austin owned a small excavation company and worked for builders around the Denver area. One day, one of his employees was killed when he jumped into a trench and fell onto his shovel handle. While co-workers attempted to rescue the injured man, the trench caved in. "OSHA ended up calling it a cave-in," says Austin. "It devastated me - it didn't break my business - but it devastated me."

The accident happened first thing on Monday morning. Ironically, Austin had fired the worker on the previous Friday, but hired him back over the weekend. "I had problems with the guy and fired him," says Austin. "I shouldn't have given in when he pleaded for his job."

OSHA investigated, and while they didn't find Austin negligent, they fined him $500 because he didn't have a written safety program. But the emotional effects have lasted. "Everyone assured me that it wasn't my fault," says Austin, "but it didn't make me feel any better." Twelve years later, it still haunts him.

"Since that accident, I've been 100-percent safety-oriented," says Austin," and it's paid off in a great safety record."


"If you think somebody can't die on one of your sites, think again," says Anthony Clatterbuck, president of Ace Carpentry in Manassas, Va. Each year, Ace's 200 employees and 100 subcontractors frame 400 houses and trim-out another 1,000.

"Two years ago one of my subs fell from a two-story house and was killed," says Clatterbuck. "It was the most sobering thing that's happened to this company, and it removed all resistance to safety measures."

Now, safety is the company's primary focus. "We want to protect our employees," he says, "first, because we care about them, and second, because if they get hurt they lose their paychecks and we lose able-bodied workers. If we conserve our manpower, we conserve our profits."

Clatterbuck hired safety consultant Tom Bailey of Asset Management in Vienna, Va., to develop his safety program. "We serve as Ace's safety department," says Bailey. "We wrote the company's safety plans."

Here's what Aces safety program looks like.

* Monthly safety meetings with its 25 supervisors.

* Weekly toolbox meetings with crews. There, supers pass out written summaries, and employees read and sign them.

* HAZCOM training and books on site to identifying hazardous materials and treatment for exposure to them.

* Basic first-aid training, first-aid kits, and CPR certification for supers and company owners.

* Daily visual inspection of all electrical cords.

* Quarterly circuit tests on all electrical cords. Cords are color coded with tape to show they've been inspected during that quarter.

* Workers wear eye protection all the time. (Fifteen percent of Ace's accidents were eye injuries. This requirement eliminated the incidents.)

* After installing the first course of ply-wood, workers wear fall-protection devices, even during roof sheathing.

* Until they're working indoors, workers wear hard hats on site 100 percent of the time.

* Safety incentives, including bonuses and prizes.

* Consequences for safety violations, including lost benefits and, ultimately, firing.


Here are some tips from safety experts to help you avoid injuries.

* Keep carpenters off the top plates on exterior walls. Have them set joists, trusses, or rafters from staging or stepladders. Allow them to walk top plates only on interior walls, where they can't fall as far.

* Don't hang sheathing out over bottom plates to cover the rim-joists when panelizing walls. Carpenters can walk out onto unsupported sheathing and fall.

* Cut subflooring flush with stair and chimney openings, rather than running it wild into the openings. That way, workers can't step on unsupported subfloor.

* Tie-off ladders to keep them for sliding.

* Have your carpenters wear safety glasses and hard hats all the time.

* Tie-off onto roofs for high work, and wear safety harnesses, not belts. Belts can interfere with breathing when you're suspended from them.

* Don't tamper with guards on saws.

* Check electrical cords for damage daily; circuit-test them quarterly.

* Keep the job site free of debris.

* Tie-off scaffolding and use guard rails and toe-boards.

* By telephones, post emergency phone numbers with description of site location.

* Provide well-equipped first-aid kits.

* Provide basic emergency training on when to move someone, when not to move someone, how to treat for shock, how to stop bleeding, and how to administer CPR.

* Don't be macho. Don't take chances with an injury - send the victim to see a doctor. If it's more serious, call for help. Don't hesitate.


State HBAs, safety agencies, fire departments, and American Red Cross chapters often provide free or low-cost videos, speakers, and training manuals on safety issues. Here are a few other resources builders can tap for safety training programs:

* NAHB/1-800-368-5242

Safety Doesn't Happen By Chance: A Basic Safety Orientation (video, $62.50).

Watch That First Step! Stairways and Ladders (video, $43.75).

The HAZCOM Kit for Hazardous Communication Compliance ($68.70).

An Occupational Safety Program for Builders, a 93-page guide to writing and implementing a safety program ($22).

Building Safety Quarterly, a quarterly review of OSHA compliance issues sent to HBAs and local builder safety committees (free).

* American Subcontractors Association/(703) 684-3450

Offers a wide range of videos, checklists, and training kits on complying with OSHA rules and preparing for inspections. Cost: $50 and up.

* Associated General Contractors of America/(202) 383-2732

Offers safety training videos on a dozen key OSHA standards, including a general training video. Cost: $165 each; $55 for members.

* Safety Meeting Outlines/(708) 481-6930

Weekly Safety Meeting for the Construction Industry provides weekly topics and data for toolbox talks. Cost: $54.50 for one-year subscription.
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Title Annotation:includes related articles; job site safety plans
Author:German, Brad; Schwolsky, Rick
Date:Jan 1, 1995
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