Many remodelers feel uneasy when they hear the word “safety.” But until recently, there has been little cause for concern that “the man from OSHA” will show up on your jobsite. In fact, unless there was a fatality or a catastrophe on site, a remodeler had better odds of winning the lottery than of being visited by OSHA.

But times have changed, and according to OSHA's database of inspected construction companies, in 2005 83% of OSHA's construction inspections were of non-union, small, specialty, or residential contractors — so remodeling companies account for a significant portion of that 83%. More importantly, 46% of the companies cited and fined by OSHA in 2005 are now out of business.

Fear of OSHA has spurred remodelers to focus on costly safety compliance measures that show little to no return on investment. There is a better way to achieve safety: Focus on profitability.

Best Practices As you develop project management best practices, you will identify possible risk exposures, and you can create procedures to prevent those exposures from becoming losses. For example, during the sales process, you should take note of potential safety hazards, then plan during the project's estimating phase to manage those hazards prior to production. Let's say, for example, you will be replacing windows and you notice that two windows are close to an electric service cable. OSHA's standard says that your workers cannot have a ladder or a scaffold within 10 feet of live cables. Either the power must be shut off at the pole or the cable must be blanketed. This will involve extra cost to the homeowner, the need for worker training, and schedule coordination. By taking these steps, you just made more money and eliminated the chance of a worker being injured. You've also taken another step toward a sustainable business because your employees have learned how to do the work both safely and effectively.

You can reach beyond your own experience to train workers in best practices by sending them to classes sponsored by trade associations, industry consultants, or trade shows. Reference manuals such as the JLC Field Guide to Residential Construction (published by Hanley Wood) are also excellent resources for developing proper procedures.

True Profitability Focusing on code compliance, regulations, and specifications as an afterthought is reactionary, and a reactionary business is always less effective. Good planning, sound strategy, efficient operations, and ongoing training will create a system that is sustainable and can be duplicated to produce the same results over and over. No shortcuts. That's the road to true profitability.

Along the way, you'll find ways to incorporate compliance into your best practices.

Profitable commerce begins with the head of the company. Know your company's strengths and weaknesses. Use past project analyses to document on which kinds of jobs injuries, property damage, or material waste occurred. Use that data to develop procedures; then either seek training from outside sources or create your own training program.

Courtesy Thomas Ryan

Monitor your company's procedures and training to ensure that you meet local standards and codes, and track the performance of field staff to ensure that they are adhering to the guidelines. Most importantly, never violate your own procedures. You set an example. Your workforce will meet your expectations by listening to you and by watching what you do. Reward employees who follow safety procedures, and correct and retrain those who do not. —Thomas Ryan has more than 20 years experience in the construction industry and has a Ph.D. in construction business management. He is the general manager of Stewardship Construction Services Corp., which provides services and training to the construction industry.