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10 Tips for Submitting Better Bids

Putting together a winning bid proposal, or even a competitive one, takes knowledge and skill. It’s a bit more complicated than just putting some numbers together and hoping for the best. Good bid preparation requires a lot of time and effort and involves everything from reading and fully understanding the plans and specifications to accurately estimating costs for labor, materials and equipment. Making even the smallest mistake can mean the difference between submitting a winning bid and missing out on a coveted and profitable project. We’ve put together our top 10 tips for submitting better bids.

Select the Right Projects to Bid

You don’t have to bid on every job you come across. Winning jobs your company can’t adequately perform can be just as costly as not winning them. Remember, it is never too late to abandon a bid you are working on. For example, let’s say you have purchased plans, attended the prebid meeting, done your takeoffs and started taking subcontractor pricing. Once you start crunching the numbers you realize that your company won’t make a reasonable profit if you were to win the contract. The best thing to do is dump it and move on to the next project.

If at any time during your bid preparation you realize that your company cannot adequately handle the scope and requirements of the project, you need to make the smart business decision to walk away from the bid. Finding the right balance between bidding and winning enough jobs can be difficult. On the one hand, you don’t want to bid and win so much work that you can’t properly manage and complete the projects you’ve been awarded. You also don’t want too little work that you aren’t making any money and your workers aren’t staying busy. Selecting the right work to bid is vital to maintaining a profitable business.

Visit the Site and Attend Prebid Meetings

Having a good understanding of the existing site conditions can eliminate problems down the line should you be awarded a project. Unique site conditions like limited accessibility or a location that would require additional costs on items like transportation, equipment, material storage and labor could exist. Failing to visit the site would leave you unaware that these conditions exist and that additional costs need to be factored into your bid which would cut into your profitability.

Many times a prebid meeting will be held at the construction site or a site visit will be held directly following a prebid meeting. Prebid meetings are held to in order for the project team to answer questions regarding plans and specifications, site conditions and specific project details. Failing to attend a prebid meeting means you miss out on the best opportunity to get clarification on the requirements of the project. It could be the only chance you get to walk around the site and get a better understanding of exactly what you will be dealing with. If the prebid meeting is mandatory, failing to attend would result in not being able to even bid on the project.  When preparing a bid proposal you want to have as much information as possible in order to submit a competitive bid and refusing to attend a prebid meeting or a site visit will put you at a severe disadvantage.

Seek Clarification

When preparing a bid you need to do your due diligence to ensure that you have all the pertinent information, that the information is accurate and that you have a complete understanding of this information. This means fully reviewing the plans and specifications to determine everything required to bid the project and complete the work. This includes knowing everything from what bonds are required to whether or not there are participation goals for minority business enterprises (MBEs) or if material substitutions are allowed in the bid. If you are unsure of any aspect of the project when preparing your bid, you need to seek clarification the architect, owner or owner’s representative.

Be aware that there are typically cut-off dates in place for questions to be submitted. This allows for any changes to the plans or specifications to be made and for any addenda to be issued to the bidders. If you are unclear on any aspect of the project the onus is on you to get clarification. Making assumptions is no way to submit a winning bid. If you aren’t able to get your questions answered to your satisfaction, you might want to reconsider bidding the project.

Perform Accurate Takeoffs and Measurements

Take the time to fully review the plans and specifications to determine accurate measurements and takeoffs. This will result in correct construction costs when calculating your bid. Takeoff software can ensure that correct measurements are obtained in order to submit an accurate bid. Inaccurate measurements will cause you to miscalculate the amount of building materials and labor needed to complete the job which in turn will lead to either over- or underestimating your construction costs. Using the right units of measure is also important when calculating your bid. Using square feet when you should have used square yards or vice versa can drastically affect your estimated costs.

Make sure that you are taking measurements from the right place. Often the plans will instruct you not to scale the drawings or direct you to use the written or calculated dimensions provided in the specifications. This often occurs when electronic documents are used because enlarging or shrinking the size of a drawing to in order to print them can result in the scale being incorrect.  If there is ever any doubt as to where to take your measurements from you should contact the architect for clarification.

Avoid Arithmetic Errors

Errors with your math can have a devastating impact on your bid. Arithmetic errors can result in your bid being under or over the actual cost of completing the job. Manual calculations can easily result in arithmetic errors. Always use a calculator or some type of construction bid software to ensure that your calculations are accurate. If you are using bid software or a calculator errors can typically be attributed to not inputting your numbers correctly. If you are using a spreadsheet like Excel to calculate costs check that your formulas are correct. Always double-check your math to make sure that all you numbers and calculations are correct. This is another one of those instances where having another set of eyes to look over your figures and calculation can help prevent costly mistakes.

Evaluate Subcontractors & Subcontractor Pricing

Getting subcontractor pricing can be complicated. You want competitive prices from your subcontractors but you also want some assurance that they can perform the work required. This is true whether it is a subcontractor you are using for the first time or one that you have worked with for years. One solution is to set up a prequalification process for subcontractors who wish to work with you. This allows you to have a better understanding of the type of work they are capable of performing by evaluating their quality and performance on past projects.

At a minimum, you should get bids from at least three different companies for each trade you will need to subcontract out work for to ensure you are getting competitive prices. Carefully review and evaluate every subcontractor bid to make sure that the prices quoted are complete and accurate. When requesting bids from subcontractors, clearly define the scope of work that the subcontractor is expected to perform. Failing to do this can result in unnecessary costs being added to your bid from an overlap of work being bid by both you and your subcontractor.

Identify and Manage Risks

Every construction project comes with its own unique set of risks. Identifying and managing risks is probably the most overlooked aspect of preparing a bid. Once you’ve identified the potential risks, you need to analyze and evaluate each one individually so that they can be properly managed and mitigated. Take into account the probability of each identified risk and the impact it can have on the project. A low probability risk with a low impact might be easy to mitigate, but a high probability risk with a high impact that you can’t effectively manage could be detrimental to the profitability of the project. Identifying and evaluating possible risks associated with a project when preparing a bid will make you better prepared to handle a situation when something goes wrong.

Labor Costs

Accurately estimating labor costs can be one of the most difficult aspects to preparing your bid. To determine your labor costs you have to factor in hourly wage rates with the number of man-hours a specific task will take to complete. You also have to take into account the productivity and experience of your workers. Employee turnover, absences and injuries can all affect your actual labor costs. More experienced workers may be able to complete tasks quickly which would reduce the number of man-hours needed, but you will have to pay a higher rate for their services. Workers with less experience will require more man-hours to complete a job but you can pay those workers a lower wage.

Wage rates can vary greatly from state to state and even from county to county. It is important to understand what, if any, wage rates apply to the project you are bidding in order to incorporate those rates into calculating your labor costs. Wage rate determination is required on all federal government construction projects as mandated by the Davis-Bacon Act. Wage rates are determined by the location of the project and the type of construction being performed. Many states also have prevailing wage laws for public construction projects. Always check the current prevailing wage rates where the construction is taking place so you can accurately determine your labor costs. When determining your labor costs remember to factor any projected overtime needs as the wage rates for overtime hours worked can be as much as double the prevailing wage rate.

Materials and Equipment Costs

Costs for building materials and supplies can change rapidly and can vary greatly in different parts of the country. If specialty materials are required that you aren’t familiar with you shouldn’t assume that the cost is comparable to similar items. Your best bet is to call around to local suppliers to get up-to-date costs for materials and delivery. You also need to make sure that the building materials and supplies required in the specifications are clearly defined so your pricing is correct. If you are uncertain of the materials being requested in the specifications you should always get clarification from the architect, owner or owner’s representative.

When putting a bid together you need to make sure that you have all the necessary equipment needed to perform the work. This may mean you have to rent or purchase additional equipment. Even if your company owns all the equipment needed you need to make sure that it isn’t already allocated for use at another jobsite and that no major maintenance or repairs are scheduled that would take the equipment offline for an extended amount of time.

Make sure that the equipment is in good working order and operating at peak performance which might otherwise cause delays in your construction schedule. Equipment that isn’t optimally performing can increase the time it takes to complete certain tasks. Unexpectedly having to rent additional equipment or face delays can negatively affect the bottom line on a project. Remember to factor in fuel costs to operate the machinery and to transport the equipment to the jobsite.

Incomplete Bid Forms and Documents

Failing to fully complete the bid form and submit all required documents is a surefire way to get what might otherwise be a winning bid rejected. Required documents and paperwork can be anything from bid bonds to acknowledging receipt of any addenda. A good way to ensure that you have all the required paperwork for your bid is to use a checklist as you prepare your bid and then go back and double-check to make sure that everything is included. It never hurts to get another set of eyes to look over the bid proposal to make sure nothing has been forgotten before you submit your bid.

There are a few other requirements that go along with preparing your bid that can get your bid rejected if you don’t comply with them or simply overlook them. The first is to get prequalified to bid a project when it is required. The second is to attend all mandatory prebid meeting and site visits. The third and most important of these is submitting your bid by the due date and time. All of these requirements will be clearly stated in the bid.

Preparing a construction bid proposal is no easy task. A competitive and winning bid proposal requires a lot of time and attention to detail. Making mistakes can lead to submitting a lot of overpriced, uncompetitive bids or worse a lot of underpriced bids that you win but make no profit on.  The key to winning more bids is being able to accurately estimate all costs required to complete the job while factoring in a reasonable profit for you company.

Effective Communication = Better Construction Management

Effective communication is vital to the successful completion of any construction project. Good communication can improve teamwork and lead to better project collaboration. Poor communication can result in misunderstandings, delays and issues down the road.

Communication is simply the exchange of information in order to convey a message and good communication involves being able to transmit your message so it is received and understood by the intended recipients. Seems simple enough, right? If you’ve ever played the Telephone Game you know it’s not always that easy. The game involves communicating a message to a large group of people. The trick to the game is that the message must be passed by whispering it into the ear of the next person in line who whispers it into the next person’s ear, and so on until everyone has heard it. The messenger cannot repeat the message and the last person in line must say aloud what they heard.  The message usually gets misheard a few times so by the time it gets around the room, “I like lazy Sunday afternoons the best” gets turned into something like “I saw an alien walking my neighbor’s dog yesterday”.

The Telephone Game is a great way to demonstrate how poor and ineffective communication can lead to misunderstandings and confusion. Being a good communicator is a skill that can be improved upon with practice and training. Here are some simple tips to improving your communication skills:

Establish a communication chain of command.

It’s important to determine a chain of command for communication on a construction project. These are typically spelled out in the contract documents and usually require the owner and general contractor to communicate with each other through the architect. The architect is responsible for communicating with its consultants and the general contractor is responsible for communicating information to the suppliers and subcontractors. The superintendent on a project is typically the main point of contact for the general contractor.

The contract documents, including the drawings, specifications, change order forms and requests for information establish the basis for all construction communication. It is important that any direct communication not outlined in the contract documents receives proper authorization and any changes to the scope or schedule that need to be made are documented and reported through the proper channels.

I overheard a conversation a while back between a superintendent and a subcontractor. Apparently, the subcontractor was not going to be able to start work on a project the following week as scheduled.  Some issue or another had arisen and it would probably be a month before they could start on that project, and insisted they had told “someone” at the general contractor’s office.

The superintendent was understandably upset by this news, not only would this cause a major delay in the project, but the subcontractor had not followed the established communication chain of command.  I don’t know what the final outcome of the conversation was, but it’s probably safe to assume that the superintendent had to scramble around to find another subcontractor to do the work and that the initial subcontractor probably won’t be invited to work with the contractor again.

Establishing a clear line of communication that includes identifying points of contact with contact information for key team members is vital to ensuring that information is getting to the right people in a timely manner.

Choose the right communication method for the message.

We communicate in a number of ways every day, both verbally and nonverbally and construction communication is no different. We text, we talk on the phone and in person, we send emails and some of us in this digital age inexplicably still use the old fax machine. On the construction site, we communicate through signs, drawings, hand signals and meetings. We compile daily reports, take photos, create requests for information (RFIs) and review change orders.

All methods of communication have their advantages and disadvantages. Choosing the right method of communication can expedite and simplify the exchange of information. Sometimes a quick email is all that’s necessary while other instances may call for a meeting of all key personnel on the project. Items like RFIs, change orders and daily reports are usually laid out in the contract documents with their own specific forms and submittal procedures that have to be followed. For example, if you can’t communicate your email message in one or two short paragraphs, or if there ends up being a lot of back and forth, it may be time to pick up the phone or schedule a quick face-to-face meeting.

There is also a host of project collaboration software solutions available that will allow you to quickly share and disseminate information to all stakeholders on a project. All changes and project documentation can easily be stored and updated so everyone has access to the most up to date information. These software solutions and mobile applications can be a great tool for effective communication as long as all stakeholders have access to it, have been properly trained and are committed to using it.

Methods of communication for specific tasks and information sharing should be established early on in the project and agreed upon by all stakeholders. Any deviations from the prescribed methods of communication could result in messages not being received by the intended parties in a timely manner causing delays in the project.

Be an active listener.

When you engage in oral communication, whether in person or over the phone, you want to be an active listener. Don’t just sit there and absorb the information like a digital recorder, that’s passive listening at best. Try to understand what the speaker is trying to communicate from their point of view. Take notes on key points, don’t just transcribe every word they utter and make notes on details you may need clarification on. Make eye contact and provide nonverbal signals such as head nods to show that you are actively listening.

Don’t interrupt the speaker or try to talk over them. Concentrate on what the speaker is saying and avoid forming a response in your mind until they are through. You could miss a vital piece of information that answers your question if you are focusing solely on what you are going to say when it’s your turn to speak. Once the speaker has finished is the time to ask questions and get clarification on any points that remain unclear. Try and rephrase what you’ve heard and understood in order to verify the information provided.

If in a meeting, seek feedback and ask questions when you have the floor. The whole point of project meetings is to communicate and make sure everyone has a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities. Don’t wait until you’ve gotten back to the office or jobsite to send out an email requesting clarification on some aspect of the project because you didn’t feel comfortable asking it at the meeting.

Avoid confusion, be clear and concise.

When communicating in construction you want to make every effort to have your message understood the first time you send it. Avoid using jargon or terms that the people you are communicating with might not understand. Your message should be focused and to the point. Keep it short and simple as much as possible. If you are working on multiple projects with the same owner or architect, focus on only one project at a time to avoid confusion.  The real challenge is trying to be as detailed as possible while using as few words as necessary. Being brief but comprehensive in your construction communication takes practice. Proofread all written message before sending to see if you can edit it down without altering the meaning or leaving out any critical information.

Keep written communication professional at all times.

Avoid using foul language or allowing your emotions to impact your message. If emotions are running high, take 24 hours before sending that email so you can review and make any changes to your message before sending. If a more immediate response is required, read the message aloud to yourself or have someone else take a look at it to get a second opinion. Break large chunks of data up into smaller paragraphs. People tend to scan instead of reading emails so breaking the information up into smaller chunks makes it easier to process. Use numbered or bulleted list when providing lots of information or asking questions.

 

Stick to the facts.

Basically, you want to be the Sergeant Joe Friday of the construction industry. You should only be interested in providing or getting the facts. Don’t overelaborate or include extraneous information in your communications. Unless asked, keep your personal opinions or feelings about a project to yourself. It is, however, important that you share your professional opinions on a project when you feel they could be beneficial to the successful completion of a project. Your company’s expertise is part of what landed you the project, so don’t be afraid to speak up.

In addition to establishing a clear chain of command for communication and determining the best methods of communication to use, you should also discuss how often you should be updating and communicating with the owner and architect on the progress of the project. You may be required to file daily reports, but the owner may only want to be updated every other week.

Another good tip is to document and record all communication you have on a construction project. This is easy to do with written communication and should be filed away for later reference in case there are any disputes or need for clarification later. For all oral communication, make notes of what was discussed along with dates and times of these conversations. If you feel the need to document this, send out a quick email to everyone involved that briefly summarizes what was discussed.

The flow of communication affects the flow of a construction project. Problems and delays start to occur when people stop communicating or responding to inquiries. When everyone is collaborating and communicating effectively and efficiently, projects tend to run smoother and be completed on time and budget.

Fatal Four: Avoiding Construction’s Deadliest Hazards

Construction is one of the most dangerous industries to work in. One out of every five worker deaths last year was in construction, a percentage that has remained fairly constant over the last several years. The four leading causes of construction worker fatalities are falls, electrocutions, being struck by objects and being caught in or between objects. OSHA has dubbed these the “Fatal Four” and in 2014, they accounted for 508 of the 874 construction worker deaths.

The total number of construction fatalities has been on the rise the past couple of years, after declining for six consecutive years which ended in 2012. The fatal injury rate per 100,000 workers has declined the past three years, going from 9.9 in 2012 to 9.7 in 213 and 9.5 in 2014. Construction employment has been on the rise which would account for the rise in total deaths but a slight decline in the fatal injury rates. Employers still need to do a better job of mitigating these four types of hazards to better protect their workers.

Falls

Falls are the leading cause of all construction worker deaths. In 2014, they accounted for 348 of the 874 fatalities in construction. Looking at the most cited OSHA standards violations for the construction industry in Fiscal Year 2015 (October 2014 – September 2015) and it’s no surprise that falls were the cause of nearly 40% of all construction worker deaths.

Six of the top 10 most frequently cited violations deal with protecting workers from fall hazards. The top four have consistently been the most cited standards for the past several years. They are:

  1. Standard Number: 1926.501 – Duty to have fall protection.
  2. Standard Number: 1926.451 – General requirements for scaffolds.
  3. Standard Number: 1926.1053 – Ladders.
  4. Standard Number: 1926.503 – Training requirements for fall protection.

The other two that made the top 10 were Standard Number: 1926.453 – Aerial lifts and Standard Number 1926.502 – Fall protection systems criteria and practices at No. 9 and No. 10, respectively.

In construction, fall protection is required for all employees working at a height of six feet or more above a lower level. It is also required when working at any height directly above dangerous machinery or equipment, including impalement hazards such as rebar. There are exceptions to this rule. When working on scaffolds the height for requiring fall protection is 10 feet.

OSHA has outlined three prescribed methods of providing fall protection to workers: guardrails, personal fall arrest systems and safety nets. Of the three, guardrails are the only method that actually prevents falls. The other two methods are designed to prevent a worker who has fallen from coming into contact with a lower level.

Guardrails are typically used on unprotected edges, scaffolds and around openings such as skylights and elevator shafts. The top edge of guardrail systems should be 42 inches (+/- 3 inches) from the walking or working surface. The top rail should be able to withstand 200 pounds of force and the middle rail should be able to withstand 150 pounds of force to prevent falls.

Personal fall arrest systems are made up of three main components: full-body harness, connecting device and anchorage. The minimum breaking strength for connectors, D-rings and snaphooks, and vertical lifelines and lanyards that make up the connecting device is 5,000 pounds for each component. Personal fall arrest systems should prevent a worker from falling any further than six feet and should prevent the worker from making contact with a lower level. Personal fall arrest systems should be inspected before each use and after any fall to ensure they are free of any damage and in proper working order.

Safety nets should not be placed further than 30 feet below a working surface and be positioned as close as possible to the work area. Safety nets must extend a minimum of eight feet out horizontally from the working surface. A minimum breaking strength of 5,000 pounds is required for all border ropes on a safety net. Safety nets must be able to successfully absorb a drop test with a 400-pound bag of sand.

The top three sources of fall fatalities in 2014 were roofs at 30%, ladders at 25% and scaffolding at 16%. Roofers have the highest fatality rate in construction at 46.2 per 100,000 workers. Employers are responsible for providing fall protection, ensuring safe ladder use and ensuring proper scaffold construction designed by a qualified person and overseen by a competent person. Employers are also required to provide adequate training to all employees exposed to fall hazards.

Electrocutions

Electrocutions, death by electric shock caused by exposure to lethal amounts of electrical energy, were the second leading cause of construction worker deaths in 2014. Electrocutions accounted for 74 deaths, or 8.5% of all construction worker fatalities. Common causes of electrocutions include improper extension cord use, contact with energized sources and contact with live overhead power lines. De-energizing or simply maintaining a safe distance are the easiest methods to prevent electrocutions from power lines.

The most cited violations in construction that can lead to electrocutions include 1926.405 – Electrical wiring methods, components and equipment for general use; 1926.404 – Electrical wiring and design; 1926.501 – Duty to have fall protection and 1926.413 and 1926.403 which are general requirements regarding equipment and worker protection, respectively.

Employers should establish an assured equipment grounding conductor program to cover all temporary receptacles, power cords and equipment. Detailed records of all tests and inspections. Visually inspect all power tools, equipment and extension cords for cuts, frays and exposed bare wires. Ensure that ground prongs have not been removed or become defective Conduct continuity tests on all equipment grounding conductors.

All receptacle outlets not part of the permanent wiring of the structure are required to be protected by ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). GFCIs monitor the electrical current flow from hot to neutral and will trip the circuit to shut off the electricity if an imbalance is detected. To avoid accidental electrocution implement lockout/tagout procedures when equipment and circuits are not being used. A qualified person is required to ensure that all equipment and circuits are de-energized before a lock and/or tag is applied. A qualified person should be available when it is time to remove locks and tags and re-energize equipment and circuits.

Death can occur from exposure to as little as 50 – 100 milliamperes of current. The maximum current that a person can grab and release a live wire is only 16 milliamperes, any higher and they will not be able to release their grip. Paralysis of respiratory muscles occurs when exposed to 20 – 30 milliamperes of current. Most 120 Volt circuits carry 15 to 20 amperes of current. 15 amperes of current is 300 times what is necessary to cause death. Other causes of death from electrical hazards include burns, arc flash and blasts, explosions and fires.

Struck by Objects

Being struck by objects was the cause of 73 worker deaths, 8.4% of all construction fatalities in 2014. A wide range of hazards can cause injuries and fatalities, everything from falling tools to accidental nail gun discharges to being hit by vehicles or construction equipment. The four most common struck by hazards in construction: flying objects, falling objects, swinging objects and rolling objects.

Employers should alert all workers of areas where there is greater potential for struck by accidents to occur limit access to those areas. OSHA requires that employers provide employees with proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). All PPE should meet current American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards. OSHA is in the process of issuing a final rule to update their standards on eye and face protection in construction to be more in line with current national consensus and ANSI standards. PPE should be inspected prior to each use to ensure that it’s in proper working condition and free from any defects or damage.

Struck by Rolling Object Hazards – Rolling object hazards typically involve being struck by a vehicle or heavy equipment while it’s in motion. They also include any object that rolls, moves or slides on the same level as a worker. Equipment operators generally have limited or no visibility when operating in reverse. Workers need to be made aware of areas where heavy equipment is being operated so they can avoid them. Struck by accidents involving heavy equipment often occur when operators have not received proper training on how to safely operate the machinery.

Struck by Falling Object Hazards – Falling object injuries typically occur when tools and materials get knocked off from unprotected edges by employees working at height. Employees should be prevented from working or walking in areas where work is being performed overhead. Toeboards and screens should be used to keep tools and equipment from falling to a lower level. Debris nets and catch platforms can be used deflect falling objects.

Struck by Flying Object Hazards – Examples of flying object hazards include thrown tools or materials, accidental nail gun discharges and using unguarded power tools. Workers should stay out of the line of sight when a nail gun is being used. Avoid working on the opposite side of a wall of plywood or sheetrock because misfires have enough force to easily penetrate both materials and kill someone on the other side. Inspect power tools before use to ensure protective guards have not been removed and are in good condition. Workers should always wear eye, face and head protection when using power tools or working near them.

Two of the most cited OSHA violations in construction involve the standards for head protection and eye and face protection. Issuing workers proper PPE and enforcing their use can go a long way in protecting workers from flying and falling hazards.

Struck by Swinging Object Hazards – Swinging object hazards generally occur when something causes loads being mechanically lifted to sway. Accidents can also occur when a worker enters the swing radius of a piece of heavy equipment like a crane. Employees should never be allowed to walk under a suspended load. Barriers should be erected to keep employees from accidently stepping inside the swing radius of heavy equipment.

Caught in or Between Objects

Getting caught in or between objects rounds out the list of OSHA’s Fatal Four. In 2014, they were the cause of only 12 construction worker deaths. These are similar in nature to being struck by objects, the difference being these fatalities are the result of crushing injuries rather than the initial impact. Caught in or between accidents occur when someone is caught, crushed, squeezed, compressed or pinched between two or more objects.

Getting caught in moving parts of machinery and power tools are common types of caught in accidents. Safety guards that are missing or have been intentionally removed are the most likely cause. Loose clothing can get caught in moving parts and pull workers in. Equipment should be de-energized when not in use, especially when making repairs, performing routine maintenance or changing accessories.

Heavy equipment is commonplace on constriction sites and can lull workers into a false sense of security. Never allow workers to place themselves in between a moving vehicle and an immovable object such as a wall. Caught in or between accidents can also occur when you are behind the wheel of heavy equipment. Never overload or overwork a piece of equipment since it can lead to tip overs. Always wear seatbelts or safety restraints when operating equipment. The cabs of those machines are designed and reinforced to protect the worker. Jumping out or being flung out could result in being crushed underneath tipping equipment.

Unprotected trenches and excavations are another leading cause of caught in accidents. Trenches deeper than five feet must have protective systems in place. A professional engineer is required to design protective systems for trenches or excavations over 20 feet deep. Sloping, benching and shoring trenches can be used to prevent collapses. Trench boxes and shields protect workers from being buried alive or crushed by cave-ins.

Heavy equipment should not be used near trenches with workers inside. They can cause cave-ins and even fall into excavations if they get too close to the edge. OSHA requires trenching and excavation work be inspected by a competent person. The competent person must be trained on the requirements of the OSHA standard, the use of protective systems and soil classifications. They are responsible for identifying and eliminating any hazards before workers enter the area and while work is ongoing.

Nearly every accident at the construction site is preventable when proper planning and safety procedures are established. The keys to keeping workers safe are ongoing training, providing proper safety equipment and identifying and eliminating existing and potential hazards. A strong safety program takes work and requires buy-in from all employees. For more information, be sure to check out our 8 Tips To Building A Stellar Safety Program.

 

How Construction Companies Can Beat A Growing Labor Shortage

Is your construction firm planning to increase headcount in 2016? That could prove to be a difficult task. According to a recent survey by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), 71 percent of firms indicated they plan to increase headcount this year. Unfortunately, 70 percent of firms reported having a hard time finding qualified workers and 52 percent stated worries over worker shortages was their biggest concern for their business.

The recession led to the loss of over 2.3 million jobs in construction from 2007 to 2011. A little less than half of those lost jobs have been gained back. Most of the workers that were let go during the recession either aged out of the workforce and retired or moved on to greener pastures in other industries. The median age of people working in construction is 42.7, while the average age in 1985 was 36. About 44 percent of all people employed in construction is age 45 or older. Compare that to the less than 9 percent that are 24 or younger. Individual companies and the industry as a whole needs to step up their efforts in order to attract more youth to jobs in construction.

In order to attract top talent you have to establish your company as an employer of choice, both within your industry and your local area. Offering competitive wages and benefits like health insurance and gym membership reimbursement to your employees is just the beginning. Remember, you’re competing for employees just like you compete for work.

Set your firm above your competition by creating a strong company culture that values its employees and empowers them to have their voices heard and is backed by a strong leadership team. Engage your employees by offering opportunities that are both challenging and rewarding. Be the first place a candidate applies to when seeking a new job rather than being their last resort.

Construction firms need to increase their investment in training and development of the workforce. Make sure you are making opportunities such as training and continuing education courses available to both your new and existing employees. Offer to reimburse employees for classes once they’ve successfully completed them. Potential employees want to know that there are advancement opportunities and multiple career paths to move up within an organization.

Retaining good employees should be as important to your company as recruiting them. You want to keep the good workers once you’ve hired them. This means investing in them and their continued growth and success with your company. People want to feel like they are contributing team members as opposed to just employees who show up to do a job. Show your employees they are appreciated and valued. Keep employees motivated by recognizing and rewarding them for their hard work and dedication to your company.

“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” – Richard Branson

Seldom will a job candidate walk through your door with all the prerequisite skills, education, training and work experience listed in your job posting. Remember, skills can be trained, a strong work ethic typically cannot. If you’re willing to put the extra time into training a new hire make sure they have the right attitude, integrity, are reliable and willing to put in the same amount of effort you are investing in them.

Conduct background checks, drug screenings and pre-employment assessment tests on potential new hires before you make that job offer. Make sure the candidate is a good fit for your company by asking for references.  Contact them to get an idea of what kind of employee your candidate will be. One of the best questions to ask a reference is whether they would hire/rehire the candidate.

Even after you’ve done your due diligence and made a job offer, not everyone you hire will be a good fit for your firm. This will be evident after the first couple of months they are on the job. Sometimes businesses are hesitant to let someone go considering the time and money that went into recruiting and training an employee. Don’t continue to spend your time and money on an employee who isn’t working out.

Construction firms need to look to the future by offering internships and co-ops to local high school, trade school and college students. Reach out to your local universities and community colleges that offer courses of study in the construction industry. More and more companies are setting up training programs with community colleges and vocational schools to offer training programs to meet their needs.

Consider getting involved in youth programs aimed at getting kids interested in construction careers. The ACE Mentor Program and MAGIC Camps, which stands for Mentoring a Girl in Construction, are both great programs to get involved with. The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) Education Foundation (NEF) offers a number of education programs for both adults and young people. Their Block Kids program introduces grade school children to careers in construction. They also have a CAD/Design/Drafting Competition and an Accessory Structure Project competition for the high school level. You can learn more about the NEF programs here.

Find local apprenticeship programs, or consider starting your own registered apprenticeship program so you can offer industry specific training programs that that can benefit your company.  This creates an additional pipeline to tap into when it comes time to hire a new employee.

Don’t forget to look to veterans and active-duty military who will soon be transitioning to civilian life and looking to start new careers. There are a number of programs like Helmets to Hardhats, Veterans2Construction and Veterans in Piping are all geared to attracting and training veterans for careers in construction.

We’re already seeing reports of construction delays due to worker shortages in states like Florida, Georgia and Texas. This issues are only going to get worse and spread to other areas of the country, especially for construction companies that aren’t being proactive and creative in their recruitment efforts. The December 2015 Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) had the seasonally adjusted rate of job openings in construction at 207,000. That’s the highest level since February 2007. The entire construction industry needs to pull together to develop a fundamental change in its approach to attracting more people to careers in construction.

8 Tips To Building A Stellar Safety Program

8 Tips To Building A Stellar Safety Program

Ask any construction business owner, regardless of the size of their firm, what their top priority is and we’re guessing you’ll get the same response every time: worker safety. The real question owners should constantly be asking themselves is whether or not their safety program is robust enough to meet their commitment to protecting their workers.

One out of every five worker deaths occurs in construction. The total number of construction fatalities has been on the rise over the past several years. Creating an effective safety program and promoting a culture of safety throughout your organization can go a long way helping you achieve your goal of zero accidents, zero injuries and zero fatalities on every project you undertake.

We’ve put together the following eight tips for building a stellar safety program:

A Commitment to Safety Starts at the Top

Getting your employees to buy into your safety program begins with buy-in from your leadership team. Prove your commitment to safety by providing training and personal protective equipment to all your employees. Make sure your tools and equipment are inspected regularly and are in good working order. If equipment is faulty or in disrepair, make sure it is taken out of service until it can be repaired or replaced.

Have a written safety policy and make it available to all employees. At a minimum, it should cover procedures for injury reporting, basic safety rules, preventative measures, emergency procedures and all policies and rules that promote and enforce a safe working environment. Each employee should be responsible for reading and acknowledging that they fully understand and agree to comply with the safety policy.

Have a Plan for Every Project

There’s no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ safety plan. Every project is different and every jobsite is unique. Before any work begins on a new project, identify all existing and potential hazards that could crop up throughout the duration of the project. Determine what controls need to be instituted to mitigate or eliminate those hazards.

This is also the time to identify and inspect the tools and equipment that will be needed for the job.  The safety manager should work with the project manager to discuss the schedule of work in order to plan out the weekly safety meetings. An emergency response plan and a jobsite specific first aid program should be developed for each new project. The safety plan should be shared with everyone setting foot on the jobsite.

Training Never Stops

All new employees should be provided with in-depth training on safe work practices and all applicable OSHA standards. Employees should be able to recognize hazards and unsafe working conditions. Train workers on the safe operation of machinery and equipment regardless of their skill level. Employees should not be allowed to operate any equipment or machinery unless they can prove that they can do so safely and proficiently.

Safety training shouldn’t start and stop with new employees.  Repeated and ongoing training not only reinforces your company’s commitment to safety to your workers, it keeps it on the top the minds of your employees. Be sure to use site inspections as teaching moments when safety procedures are not being followed. This can be done as one-on-one training for isolated events or to the whole team if it appears the issue is more pervasive.

Basic first aid training should be taught to all employees. Even if you have a trained medical person on the jobsite every day, they can’t be everywhere all the time. The sooner first aid can be administered to an injured worker, the better, even if it’s just basic care.

Corrective measure such as retraining should be a part of any disciplinary action taken when someone is caught not obeying the rules or for any unsafe or reckless behavior. It’s always a good idea to do a little research before handing down punishment. Was the behavior a result of a blatant disregard of the rules or did the employee not receive proper training? Your training program should be evaluated regularly and adjustments should be made as needed to make sure your employees are receiving the best possible instruction.

Stay on Top of the Rules

OSHA is constantly issuing new rules and making changes to existing rules with the intent of helping owners provide the safest work environments possible. In 2016, OSHA is expected issue a final rule on occupational exposure to crystalline silica as well as final rules to improve tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses and to update eye and face protection to meet current consensus standards from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). In addition to those final rules, OSHA is also planning to issue a proposed rule for crane operator qualifications in construction as well as a proposed rule to make some clerical corrections to the crane and derricks in construction standards. Not to mention the fact that OSHA fines are set to increase by more than 70% at some point in 2016.

In order to remain compliant with OSHA standards, you need to stay up to date with all the rulemaking changes that will impact your business. There is always a window of time for the public to respond to any proposed rulemaking with written arguments or evidence for or against a proposed rule as well as request a public hearing if one isn’t already scheduled. This is an opportunity to make your voice heard if a possible rule could negatively impact your business.

Go Above and Beyond the Standards

Think of adhering to OSHA standards as the bare minimum to stay compliant. Just doing enough to stay compliant can lead to complacency. To truly have an effective safety program you should be going above and beyond the rules laid out by OSHA.

This doesn’t mean you have to make sweeping changes to your existing safety program or policy. Take a look at what you are currently doing and determine if there are measures or procedures you can implement to improve worker safety. Repeated accidents involving the same type of work activity is probably an indicator that your safety program needs some improvement.

Hold Everyone Accountable

Jobsite safety is the responsibility of every worker, not just your safety managers. Again, this starts at the top and goes all the way down to your project managers and site supervisors to skilled workers and your laborers. Empower your employees to speak up if they notice an unsafe work environment or hazard. Employees shouldn’t be afraid or embarrassed to tell a superior or a coworker to put their hard hat on or to quit using the power tool with the frayed power cord.

If you are a general contractor this means holding your subs accountable for following your safety requirements. Reviewing a subcontractor’s safety policies and procedures along with their safety record should be a part of your prequalification process. Make it clear to everyone working on the project that they will be held to the same high safety standards that you hold your own employees to.

Conduct Regular Inspections and Create a Culture of Safety

Frequent, regular inspections of the jobsite are vital to ensuring your safety plan and program is effective. Create a safety audit checklist for each job and make notes as you perform the inspection. Spend some time observing workers to make sure they are working safely and productively.

Have a camera or smartphone on hand to document any areas that may require additional safeguards or controls. Take time to chat with employees to discuss any safety concerns they may and address them accordingly. Regular safety inspections reinforces your company’s commitment to safety and along with the other tips allow you to create a culture of safety.

When accidents do occur, be sure to conduct a thorough investigation so you can uncover the root of the problem. Typically when an accident occurs the cause is either inadequate training or where an employee didn’t retain the information they were taught.

Never Stop Improving 

Your company may already have a top-notch safety program in place, but there’s always room for improvement. The first of the year is the perfect time to evaluate your current program. Take stock of what’s working well as well as areas that may need some revision. Be sure to get all your employees involved in the process. Your workers are the ones on the jobsite day in and day out and are probably the best suited to help identify deficiencies in your safety program and offer suggestions for improvement.

Once you have a rock solid safety program in place you’ll start to reap additional benefits other than just protecting you top commodity: your employees. Companies with great safety programs also tend to see lower insurance premiums, better quality of work from employees and fewer injuries. Your company’s reputation will also grow with your commitment to safety which can lead to more contracting opportunities as well as establishing your firm as an employer of choice among jobseekers.                            

How Technology Impacts Communication in Construction

9 Ways Technology Impacts Communication in Construction

Misunderstandings between contractors can result in soured relationships and burned bridges, delays and costly mistakes, or, at the extreme, million-dollar lawsuits and even loss of life. So we benefit from any tool that helps avoid these breakdowns in communication.

Here are nine construction processes that live and die by the speed and accuracy of information, and a look at the ways technology has changed communication in construction.

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Managing Millennials in Construction

The Construction Pro’s Guide to Managing Millennials

There’s a construction worker shortage—but I don’t need to tell you that. While the economy rebounds and the projects roll in, Baby Boomers are leaving but Millennials (the generation born between 1980ish and 2000ish) aren’t taking their place.

Why? Some theories:

  • They crave financial stability, and construction work is largely seasonal.
  • They value formal education, and construction is an apprentice-based profession.
  • They want flexible schedules, and construction is a 9-5 (or, let’s be honest, a 7-6) job.

Without a doubt, those are all valid theories, but there’s not much you—as an individual employer—can do about them.

So I’ve come up with a guide to managing Millennials in construction: Five characteristics of typical Millennials* and practical ways for a business of any size to adjust. Most of these ideas will be an easy adjustment, others will take more planning or resources, but all should help you find and keep the new workers you need.

(*Obviously, people are different and it’s not fair to lump them all together just because of when they were born. But for the purposes of this blog post, I’m going to do it anyway.)

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If You’re An Entrepreneur – Read This

Today’s post comes from Ken Y, Training & Development Manager. He shares words of wisdom that every new entrepreneur should read. Check out this construction advice courtesy of Ken.

As a young man starting my own millwork company, I had all the confidence in the world. I had access to tools that weren’t exactly new, but were capable and dependable. I found a great facility that gave me space to do complicated projects while streamlining the process for production boxes. And perhaps most importantly, I had several talented builders coming to work for me. I had the tools and talent to produce high-end millwork and install it as well as anyone in the industry.

I had a solid business plan and I knew enough people that would feed me consistent work. I got the proper insurance and workman’s comp. coverage, an accountant, and a bank account and I was ready to go. Or so I thought.

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Construction Hiring Best Practices

Hiring is a big deal right now in the construction industry.

In fact, according to the Associated General Contractors of America recent “2015 Construction Hiring and Business Outlook,” 80% of contractors are planning on hiring this year. Moreover, of those that report that they’re hiring, 87% are finding it difficult to hire qualified craft workers and 62% are finding it difficult to hire professionals like estimators and projects managers. 81% think finding qualified craft workers will not get any easier in the coming months.

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How Do You Set Yourself Apart in the Construction Industry

How Do You Set Yourself Apart in the Construction Industry?

You hear a lot about cost in the construction industry, but the fact of the matter is that sometimes it doesn’t come down to cost. So I sat down with Ken Y., Training & Development Manager, and asked him, how do you set yourself apart in the construction industry? Here’s what he had to say:

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