An outstanding safety program protects not only workers but alsothe profit margins and the reputations of the general contractorand the owners and developers they serve. Having an excellentinternal safety program is not enough; the subcontractors who areso vital to the safe, efficient completion of the work must alsofully understand the requirements, the expectations and the law inorder for the work to be completed on time, on budget and with zeroinjuries.

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As profit margins are squeezed and allowances for generalconditions are all but eliminated, many general contractors arelooking for ways to save on overhead in order to gain the financialadvantage that will secure them the bid. Unfortunately, many lookat the safety department, if they have one, as a convenient placeto cut. This not only shortchanges the safety on the job site andthe safety of the workers, but may lead to losses far in excess ofthe payroll cost of a safety department.

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Such general contractors may base the decision to cut on safetyexpenses on their internal losses, which may be minimal due to themanagement nature of most general contracting jobs. What they failto consider, however, is how a lack of safety diligence on the partof subcontractors may lead to expensive legal costs, such as thedefense of lawsuits filed by subcontractor employees or third-partyliability claims from tenants or members of the general public, aswell as bad public relations for the general contractor and owner.The general contractor who fails to realize that the company's goodname rests on the ability and safety record of its subcontractorsis a general contractor who is waiting to fail.

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As a general contractor, you must understand that although yourname goes on the finished product, the success of the project doesnot depend on you alone. The performance of each of yoursubcontractors is crucial to the project being completed on time,on budget and safely. General contractors are hired to meet theowner's expectations, not to give excuses. Any failure on the partof a subcontractor points to a failure on general contractor's partto manage--a position that is unacceptable.

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When it comes to safety, Sweetwater Construction Corp. hasbrought our subcontractors into the company fold. We make oursafety decisions transparent by providing our subcontractors withclear expectations from the bid process on, including reviewing thesite specifics during kick-off meetings, thoroughly auditing andassessing subcontractors' performance and providing the vitaltraining and support necessary for subcontractors to effectivelymanage their workers.

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We have developed a Safety Incident Tracking System thatcontinuously monitors subcontractor safety records for use inselecting subcontractors during the bid process and as aperformance appraisal tool for project management. The SITS programincludes data from subcontractors' OSHA 300 forms that we use tocompare the number of work-related injuries per employee hoursworked when working for us to the data when working on their own orfor other general contractors.

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Such an analysis provides an understanding of how well yoursafety programs are working by showing a measurable trend whenworking for you by comparison to other general contractors. Yourpreliminary data can show that subcontractors have fewer incidentswhen working for you than when working for other generalcontractors. By going beyond EMR (an insurance industry safetystandard) review, you can learn more about your subcontractors,thus identifying where you can assist them.

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We also conduct a thorough review of subcontractors' internalsafety programs with the intent of determining whether they have afunctioning program or a paper program--one that gathers dust onthe shelf rather than being a living document. Managementcommitment is key to the success of any program, and our review ofsubcontractors' internal safety programs ensures that we have fullparticipation of subcontractor management in our programs.

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Additionally, we incorporate our subcontractor base into ourongoing internal safety training programs. We invite oursubcontractor partners to participate in our internal 10- and30-hour Safety Standards for Construction classes, and we offerthese classes at a discounted rate to subcontractors who choose tohold them internally. Also, we work with our insurance carrier tobring subcontractors who need extra training into our internalclasses at no charge to them.

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The commitment of time and money to a safety program providesyou with a better-trained, higher quality subcontractor, which inturn provides you with the added benefit of improved projectcompletion and higher customer satisfaction.

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Relationships with subcontractors are the linchpin of yourability to consistently bid and win projects. As the late businessconsultant W. Edwards Deming, widely considered the father ofquality management, said, "The result of long-term relationships isbetter and better quality, and lower and lower costs." Yourestablished relationships are not only in your clients' and yoursubcontractors' best interests, they are what set you apart fromother general contractors.

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Patrick D. Moore is environment, health and safety directorat Sweetwater Construction Corp. in Cranbury. The views expressedhere are the author's own.

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