Convincing subs in this economy to be safe

Often, when I do safety training, company leaders’ eyes are opened to the perils and potential for greatness. However, doubt sets in.  They tell me that if a smaller contractor starts asking too much from a sub, especially in this economy where there is a qualified labor shortage, the subs will just pick up and find another contractor to work with. In this case, too much refers to what they perceive as annoying safety protocol.


It might be a roofer resistant to wearing a harness, or a mason not wanting to wet cut, or an electrician not wanting to use insulated tools and PPE. We are in an economy where there is a ton of construction projects and a shortage of workers. If they don’t like all the rules, they will just pick up and go. They will find a job with a contractor who will let them do what they want.


How do you set high standards under those circumstances?  That is a tough one to try and answer. As I mentioned in the previous safety blog, I’m not sure if I have a suitable reply, but I will give it my best.


I believe that the following four items can serve as the pillars of creating a strong safety culture:  1. high expectations; 2. discipline; 3. education; and 4. persuasion.


High Expectations and Discipline:


As mentioned in the previous blog, successful companies have proven that it works! We also know that allowing subs to work under unsafe conditions can open you up to all kinds of expensive liability, from OSHA® fines to death benefits in a workers’ compensation case.


Frankly, I understand to fear of losing a sub-contractor, but what is the opportunity cost of losing potential work because of a bad safety record? Or the added obscene cost of workers’ comp premiums or safety fines?


OSHA doesn’t fine the individual workers, only the companies that hire them. So, if you don’t want to send a sub home for his infractions, one idea is to stipulate in the contract that you yourself will impose a fine upon him by deducting it from the next pay period. Do to the sub what workers’ comp and OSHA will do to you!


When they start seeing money withheld, perhaps they will be more motivated to follow the rules.


Education and Persuasion:


  1. Effectively explain the reasons why the rules exist;
  2. Followed by a detailed description of the horrible consequences one can expect; and
  3. Followed by real life stories of people who suffered tragically for ignoring safety procedures.


Education has the purpose to enlighten and instruct why safety is so important. Done correctly, it can be a great motivator. However, job pressures on time and money can often push against them to revert to old bad habits.


Education is the first step and basis for persuasion. However, more is needed.


  1. You need to convince the sub that you really care and that the rules will save their lives.
  2. Back it up with your own example; no one respects a hypocrite.
  3. Build a close business relationship. There are always ups and downs in the economy. Right now, subs can pick and choose with whom they want to work, but later they might be desperately looking for anyone to work with. Build a strong relationship with trust; they will stick by you both in bad and good times.
  4. Share your vision. Yes, share your vision of a great place to work where everyone is safe and finds fulfillment in accomplishing great things. If you share a vision of success where everyone benefits, they will embrace your vision and make it their own. You might be surprised to discover how eager people are to support a grand vision and work to make it happen.
  5. Consistency is important. Random site visits will allow you to discover safety issues that can be addressed through education throughout the year. I say that, because if you just tell them of a random visit, they will get defensive. If you discover something in the walk throughs, prepare training. Not only should you explain the rules, but also the reasons for them, the consequences of ignoring them, and real stories of people that suffered terrible consequences. After that, you will then touch their heart and motivate them to action.


There is no doubt that many of you have a challenge in convincing your subs to adopt a strong safety culture. It can be done, and it is well worth the effort

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