Invest in Safety

Where do I focus my attention to get the biggest return on my investment?
By Meghan Stromberg, Senior Editor | February 15, 2006

Three-Part Safety Plan


  • OSHA course
  • 10- to 20-minute weekly or biweekly training sessions
  • Biweekly site inspection by superintendent
  • Subcontractor's contract includes compliance with all rules and regulations
  • Employees and subs' foremen sign off on all training
  • Foreman provides evidence of crew training
  • Inspection form for all site visits
  • Document noncompliance, when and how corrected, and obtain signatures of parties involved
  • Track and reward successes
  • Certificates of insurance from subs

  • "Where do I focus my attention to get the biggest return on my investment?" That's the question Bruce Thompson says all builders should ask themselves all the time. Thompson, an insurance broker, a longtime certified OSHA instructor and a member of the NAHB Safety Committee, says one of the answers is reducing workers’ compensation claims. How does a builder do that? Simple: safety.

    "Focus your attention on employee and subcontractor injuries," says Thompson, who consults with large builders and helps them develop solid safety records that make them more attractive to insurance carriers. It's about more than just guardrails - a well-formulated, well-executed safety plan can lower insurance premiums.

    Thompson says a good safety system has three basic components: training, auditing and documentation. Accident prevention training comes in many forms, the most basic of which is a 10- or eight-hour OSHA course tailored to residential construction and a builder's needs. Training needs to extend beyond a builder's employees to include all subcontractors, or at least their foremen. From there, Thompson says builders should follow up with specific training on hot topics regularly and frequently.

    Attacking the Top Four
    Here are a few things builders can do today to improve job-site safety. Consult OSHA guidelines for specifics.
  • Install guardrails on all stairs and landings, window and door openings, scaffoldings, etc.
  • Cover and mark floor holes.
  • Use slide protection on roofs or insist that roofing contractors use personal fall arrest systems.
  • Use ground fault circuit interrupters.
  • Inspect all electrical cords daily for frayed, worn or spliced cords and damaged prongs.
  • Inspect for proper excavation sloping and shoring.
    Housekeeping & the Basics
  • Provide hard hats, safety goggles and other personal safety equipment.
  • Inspect tools and equipment daily. Make sure tool guards are operational and being used.
  • Make sure every trade cleans up after its shift, including tools, building supplies and trash.
  • Mike Fallowfield, safety and claims manager for Lennar, agrees. In addition to OSHA training, every 10 working days Lennar workers attend a "tailgate meeting" on which they need to sign off.

    Lennar's program also calls for a superintendent site inspection every 10 working days. Thompson says all builders need to audit compliance as well as spell out the consequences of noncompliance in a sub'’s contract. He also emphasizes rewards for compliance.

    Training and auditing are worthless from a premium-reduction standpoint if they are not well-documented, both internally and by subcontractor foremen. Builders also need to get certificates of insurance from their subs naming the builder as an insured, with a 30-day cancellation notice.

    The four basic job-site injury categories are falls, electrical, caught-in (as in an excavated hole or machinery) and housekeeping. Falls are the greatest concern because of the high rate of severe injuries. Thompson says a fall-related death claim is likely to be $250,000, minimum, and an injury that renders the victim quadriplegic could cost $4 million. Any kind of claim means premiums will go up and stay up for at least three years.

    "Our biggest concern is building partners," Fallowfield says. "If injured on the job, they may file a lawsuit. Once you get into lawsuit status, there are no winners."

    Housekeeping injuries (caused by a messy job site) generally aren't as severe as falls, but Thompson says they're vital because of their frequency. Housekeeping also is one of the easiest safety issues to manage.

    Fallowfield stresses that safety must be a concern of every building company. "This is one of the most dangerous industries there is," he says. "The small builder must get involved." One or two workers' comp claims can put a small firm out of business.


    Contact your local home builders association, the NAHB ( or OSHA ( for certified training. Your insurance company also might have safety training, as well as the National Safety Council ( and state organizations. Network with other builders about their safety programs.


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