“Fresh Meat” :: 10.5 Ways to Improve Residential Construction’s Falling Safety Standards.



At the AGC Safety & Health Conference in Portland, Oregon 3 weeks ago there were 158 construction professionals in the room.

There were zero residential construction professionals in the room.

Not one.


But that’s not strange.

This was a Safety conference after all.

It draws a lot of Safety experts in construction.

In residential construction, there aren’t many Safety experts.



Pointing out the lack of Safety experts on homebuilder payrolls draws the same reaction as pointing out the lack of white landscapers: No kidding.


I worked in residential construction for 11 years and never met a “Safety guy” – at any company. And by “Safety guy” I mean a guy whose only job was to help identify, educate and mitigate the number of unsafe conditions & practices.

Not one.


But back to Portland…

First speaker on Day 1: OSHA Deputy Director Dean McKenzie.


What’s OSHA up to?


While largely irrelevant for those in attendance, OSHA is focusing heavily on residential falls.



“Fatal falls in residential construction is a primary focus for us.”

“Residential falls are up 59%…”

“33% of falls are from 15’ or less.”

“In 2013, the #1 most common citation was regarding falls in construction.”

“There is a Local Emphasis Program for residential falls in every state.”


And this one: “There’s a lot of fresh meat out there…. As the market picks up, new guys are coming on the job without any training.”


The commercial safety guys patiently waited for the next topic (Backovers – more relevant). Residential falls wasn’t a priority for these AGC guys. I wondered about the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) – was this a priority for them?


So I visited the NAHB website.


Screen shot 2014-08-11 at 3.34.54 PM



There’s no mention of safety on the home page.


I clicked on “Education & Events” and there was a drop-down menu of 7 items.

None regarding safety.


I saw “E-Learning: Webinars and Online Courses,” so I clicked there.

6 courses were available.

None on safety.


4 courses were coming soon… None on safety.

But one on Twitter.


I saw “Course Overviews.”

There were 54 titles.



There it was: “Building Safety Programs.”

1 out of 54.

(There were 17 – almost a third – for Sales & Marketing)



I clicked on “Designation Overviews & Resources” to see if NAHB encourages any safety certification.

STS – Safety Trained Supervisor – maybe?



CHST – Construction Health & Safety Technician – maybe?



I notice “CSP” – Certified Safety Professional – really?


Wrong one.

CSP: Certified New Homes Sales Professional.


The odd thing about this canyonesque safety gap between Commercial and Residential construction is money: we all use the same color money. An injury and/or death from a fall is expensive (in hard costs and soft) for both. OSHA’s Multi-Employer worksite laws ensure everyone can be liable. 


So what can be done?

Well, having worked with a foot in Residential & Commercial construction, I’ll suggest a few simple steps residential builders can take to stay off OSHA’s radar.



1. Join the Conversation.

If no serious conversations about safety are taking place in the NAHB, join the AGC also and sit in on the safety forums. Your perspective will change quickly.



2. Focus on similarities, not the differences.

There is a tendency to think, “Nope – that won’t work for us because _______.”

Don’t do that.

It’s construction.

We’re all digging holes and then putting one thing on top of another.

Focus on the similarities.



3. Find a Commercial GC mentor.

This is guaranteed to be a clash of egos, but get over it. Find a local commercial firm with a confident, but likable (they’re out there…) Safety Director and ask for some coaching.



4. Put a Safety Consultant on retainer for one year.

You do it for Land Acquisition attorneys all the time. Cut the check – up front, in full – and get him on a jobsite once a week. Give him autonomy and full power to shut sites down. Identify the most common risks and then…



5. Get back to training.

Most residential companies that made it through the economic collapse saw “rightsizing” of 75% or more. That means there’s a lot of new faces around. Consider a blend up custom training videos & eLearning modules delivered on smartphones and tablets as well as monthly classroom-style training on-site.



6. Don’t ignore the language barrier.

OSHA is specifically focusing on Hispanic injuries and deaths. Why? Hispanics are nearly 2x as likely to be injured or killed due to language and cultural barriers. Next time you’re on the job, listen to what language is spoken on the roof…. Teach construction managers some Safety Spanish so they can say things like:

“Be careful.”

“Are you tied off… yes or no?”

“Stop now please. You will kill yourself doing that.”

“Excuse me sir… Are you trying to orphan your kids?”


You know… relevant stuff.



7. Get Purchasing Involved.

You have the subcontractor’s utmost attention at one point in time: right before you award the work.

Make the most of that attention.

Get Purchasing involved to set the right expectation regarding safety. Make the owners of subcontractor firms sit in your office and watch your Safety Orientation. Give them a quiz after the video and before awarding the work.


You don’t have a safety orientation?



8. Create a Safety Orientation.

Having a 1000 word addendum to the standard contract is not a safety orientation. You can have a custom Safety Orientation video completed in English and Spanish for under $10K. Provide a quiz afterwards to ensure understanding. Make anyone stepping on the job follow this process. It’s money well spent to set the correct expectation on the job.



9. Have field managers earn STS credentials.

Investing in STS (Safety Trained Supervisor) certification will differentiate your people, your company and safety program. If you haven’t been investing in safety training, how do you know what your team does & doesn’t know? The STS prep courses will establish a baseline. Passing the exam will be proof your team knows what safety looks like.



10. Have the C-Suite take an OSHA 30 class.

100% serious. Industry-wide changes in behavior like this demand behavior changes by those in the C-Suite. My guess is few executives at the nation’s largest homebuilders have been through an OSHA 30 course in the past 7 years. They need to know what to look for. They need to care. Actions speak louder than words.



10.5. Buy a drone.

Half-serious…. Drones are being used more and more by construction firms to access areas at heights for both quality and safety purposes.

Think you’ve got a leak up there near that 30’ gable?

Is that guy on the roof actually tied off to a bunk of shingles?


Fire up the drone and take a look with its high-definition camera while viewing on your iPhone.

Cool, right?



OSHA Deputy Director Dean McKenzie is right.

You’ve got fresh meat out there.

You’ve spent the last several years fighting for survival, let’s make sure those individuals you’re putting back to work survive too.




Bradley Hartmann is founder and El Presidente at Red Angle (www.redanglespanish.com), a training and consulting firm bridging the English-Spanish (and a bit of Polish…) language gap in the construction industry.

Categories: Construction Spanish, Jobsite Leadership

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 replies

  1. Brad, we started our Safety meetings 3 years ago have our one super doing the 30 hour course and the other two the 10 hour. Safety meetings were held the first Monday of the month; we arranged our office to comply. We have our trucks equipped with MSDS, first aide and fire extinguishers. We have hard hats, fall protection and plastic placards, in English and Spanish, posted at jobsites and given to trades.

    We are a $3.5 to $5 million home-building company with 10 employees of which 4 are in the field; we subcontract most trades. It takes some patience and perseverance to continue our safety program when there are so many other things that need attention. Thanks for the swift kick to get us back on tract with safety.


    • Hi John – Thanks for the note!

      Hats off to you and your team. There are plenty of companies with more resources who aren’t doing half of the things Liberty is. For many, Safety only becomes an issue after an injury/death or right after insurance premiums increase. Best of luck – keep up the great work!

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