Part 2 - Exploring the True Cost of Jobsite Safety

The Direct Costs of Safety Producing Activities

If you ask the question, what does jobsite safety cost? The likely answer is, it depends. No two organizations or contractors are going to arrive at the same costs because of all the complex variables to construction jobsite safety. Contractor’s attitudes and efforts toward safety range from minimal compliance to total commitment. And then there’s the human component. Not everyone thinks and feels the same way about risk. What one person perceives as “risky”, another may think is quite safe. Taking risks is a very personal matter. It is based on one’s appetite for risk, personal life experiences, as well as belief in one’s capability or ability to identify and assess exposure. Imagine if we had no OSHA standards as a guide to help maintain some semblance of order and control out here. Yes, OSHA’s Codes of Federal Regulations (CFR’s), which define what is generally acceptable or unacceptable safety protocol, can sometimes be expensive, appear unnecessary or extreme, or even just a pain. But when faced with the alternative, a robust safety program is a far better option. 

Case Study Format
The best way to accomplish our objective of identifying and clarifying safety costs for this series is by utilizing a case study-type format. We will base our case study on outfitting a crew of 5 (the average size of our residential framing crews) for full OSHA 1926 compliance. In order to calculate and standardize costing we have determined that a 5-man framing crew would be able to build approximately 25 – 3,000 square foot homes per year. Using that figure, were are then able to calculate out the per/home safety costs to an annual dollar figure.

Safety costs can be divided into two categories: the cost of safety-producing activities and non-safety costs. Safety-producing activities can be described as all efforts an organization or contractor does to help prevent injuries to workers. They include, but are not limited to, administrative costs for developing and maintaining a safety program, tools & equipment necessary to conduct safe jobsite activities, personal protective equipment (PPE), training activities, time dedicated to safety related meetings, inspections, and audits, as well as all supplies for safety undertakings. Non-safety costs are those expenditures resulting from a lack of safety, such as accidents, incidents and lawsuits. Both categories have direct costs and indirect costs and that’s why accurately tracking the price tag for safety can be so complicated as well as a time and effort consuming process. 

For this installment of our Exploring the True Cost of Jobsite Safety series, we are going to concentrate on the direct costs of safety-producing activities. It is a legal requirement that each contractor that comes on a construction jobsite must institute and maintain a company program of policies, procedures, and practices to protect their employees from, and help them recognize, job-related safety and health hazards. This includes the prime contractor and subcontractors of any tier who agree to perform any part of the contract work. In many instances, this legal obligation generally results in a large binder with multiple sections dealing with a variety of subjects regurgitated from the OSHA standards. While some of the legal requirements are satisfied, safety results are hardly achieved, especially if the binder is setting on a shelf gathering dust. Programs are written guidelines and not much else. For a program to deliver safe operations, it has to be implemented and actively managed. Everyone in the organization is a stakeholder in safety including owners, managers and workers. Each company, and in fact, each project, needs a safety program designed to address the operational risks unique to that organization and to that job. Contractors are great at planning the work. The key is to plan the work with safety in mind. 

Development and Production of a Safety Program & Manual - $2,500 - $4,000+
The first direct cost of safety-producing activities is developing a program itself. You can develop it in-house or pay an outside safety consultant to do it for you. This document needs to outline the company’s safety policies and procedures including all the rules, expectations, and responsibilities for management, employees and subcontractors for accident prevention. Once written, it is the duty of the employer to designate & train what is referred to as the competent person. Simply stated, a competent person is someone who knows the hazards existing and likely to exist on each jobsite. They know how to control or eliminate the hazards and has the authority to (and does), promptly correct those hazards. In addition, employers are mandated by OSHA to provide training to all employees in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe workplace conditions, hazards and regulations specific to their line of work, materials and equipment used, as well as harmful substance communication. Having an outside safety consultant develop and maintain a program will cost about $4,000 for the first year and then less each year to tweak the program and provide training and audit services. If you develop and implement a program internally and perform the necessary training yourself, you can expect to spend a little more than half that consultant fee, but generally if you have hired a consultant you have their expertise and participation in arbitrating with OSHA if  fines do occur. Also, many contractors prefer an outside source as it adds credibility, experience and professionalism to the overall program, especially the training. Documentation is also an important component of any safety program as it is the law that a contractor must provide proof of frequent and periodic safety review, training, and inspections. While we will assign no monetary value to this paperwork, understand that it does take time for adherence. 

General Safety & Emergency Considerations - $275 for a packaged tote
This component includes general requirements that each contractor working on a site is responsible to adhere to. These items include a fully stocked ANSI approved First Aid Kit, a working 2A Fire Extinguisher with an up-to-date monthly inspection tag attached, a placard of emergency phone numbers, Material Safety Data Sheets for all hazardous materials that will be handled on the site and an air horn to notify the crew in case of emergency situations. It also lists all workers on the site and clarifies the training each has undergone and should have a written copy of the site safety plan. We package these items in a durable rubber tote for our crews with a cost of around $250 - $300. Crews are instructed to pull the tote out when they first arrive on site in the morning and pack it in the truck last thing in the evening. If an OSHA inspector comes on site this is typically the first item of discussion to ascertain the level of general safety knowledge that a crew exhibits. 

Personal Protective Equipment - $35 per person/$175 per 5 man crew
A basic residential construction PPE package includes a hard hat, safety glasses, and proper work shoes being worn (tennis shoes only when actually on the roof working). Noise protection must be worn when sound levels exceed permissible noise exposures (table D-2 1926.52d). For our case study we will only consider the hard hat and safety glasses as direct costs for PPE.  The hard hats range from $10-20 and safety glasses are about $10.  We will use $35 per person as an average cost for PPE because multiple pairs of glasses will normally be needed throughout the year. Some larger multi-residential and commercial construction sites may require an approved safety vest with average costs of $15 per vest.   

Hand, Power Tools and Electrical - $1,000 per year per 5 man crew
“I don’t really look at hand and power tool safety requirements as a cost associated with safety,” claims James Mills, of Mills Builders, a framing contractor who operates a large stable of framing crews. “You need to outfit your crews with good equipment and it’s true that safety regulations regarding tools have definitely increase tool maintenance expense, but I look at it as a cost for keeping good equipment on site, not a safety-specific cost.”  There is certainly some added expense for tools and electrical due to heightened safety standards, mainly the cost of purchasing equipment with double-insulated cords and guarding apparatus. Pneumatically driven nailers and staplers which operate at 100 psi shall have a safety device on the muzzle to prevent ejecting fasteners unless the muzzle is in contact with a work surface. But, the real expense comes in keeping that equipment in good working condition as deemed by OSHA standards. “Cords and pressure hoses to equipment and tools take a beating and often wear out around the plug and tool-to-cord attachment areas well before the tool itself goes bad,” adds Mills. “But, by OSHA standards, if a cord is frayed or cracked or damaged in any way, you have to take the tool out of service. Any tool cord repair must be performed by a certified electrician so you can’t fix it yourself and you certainly can’t put some electrical tape on it and keep working like you used to. So, damage to a couple dollar part often forces you to spend another $140 for a new device, not to mention down time if you don’t have extra tools on hand. It becomes very difficult and expensive to keep tools, cords and hoses up to OSHA standards.” 

Even though James Mills does not consider tool maintenance expense due to safety standards an actual safety cost, it is a significant enough outlay that I felt it was important to include it in the direct cost component of safety activities.  In surveying our framing, roofing, exterior trim and interior trim crews, we determined the yearly average spent on tool, cord, and hose maintenance cost, was just over $1,000 per crew, which included smaller three-man roofing crews. 

Ladders are a critical component to any contracting crew, especially framing, roofing and trim crews that our company deals with. Every crew has to have a collection of appropriate type and size of ladders to perform their tasks and each must be ANSI approved, and meet OSHA standards. “With ladders, there is added cost to meet OSHA standards,” states framing contractor, James Mills. “I mean it’s hard when you see a ladder at a big box retailer on sale for $80 and maybe it does not meet the requirements, but it’s gonna do what I need it to do. But I will have to spend double that on a ladder that meets the standards.  So yes, safety standards have increased the cost of ladders that can go on a construction jobsite even though I do not consider ladder costs as a safety related cost, similar to tools.”  

According to Tom Rosso, manager of Ladder Man, a distributor of ladders, scaffolding equipment and fall protection gear in Columbus, not all ladders are considered equal and you really need to match your needs to the equipment. “I cater to contractors and the minimum rated ladder I sell is Type IA, which has a 300 pound capacity. OSHA allows a Type I with a 250 pound rating but most contractors don’t want to risk a fine or injury for overloading. You take a 210 pound guy with a 15 pound tool belt carrying a sixty-five pound bundle of shingles up a 250 pound rated ladder and you are in violation.” 

When asked what it would cost to outfit a framing crew of five with a brand new Bauer ladder package, Tom figured it at just over $1,400. “That price includes 2-32 foot extension ladders, 2-10 foot step ladders and 2-6 foot step ladders,” adds Tom. “I would suggest swapping out the regular step ladders for platform step ladders at a total cost of about $350, as they are definitely safer units to work from.”

Where ladder costs can escalate regarding safety is keeping them OSHA compliant. Adds James Mills, “Making sure that your ladders stay compliant is a constant challenge. Ladders take a beating and if you get any dent, bend, or flaw in the rungs, rails or feet of a ladder you are expected to repair or replace it. One of the hardest things we have to contend with is keeping stickers or labels on them. They peel off so easy and if the label is missing that shows all the specs and rating information when an inspector comes on site, you can expect a hefty fine. So, while I don’t consider ladders a direct safety cost, you can argue that being safety compliant has definitely increased what I have to spend on ladders every year, and it’s not a small number.”

There were a couple of interesting side notes regarding ladders that I gleaned from my interview with Ladder Man’s, Tom Rosso. “There has been a move toward fiberglass ladders over aluminum in the past decade. We sell 80% fiberglass over aluminum, even though they are a little heavier and more expensive than aluminum ladders, but they are stronger and don’t damage as easily. I think contractors just feel more comfortable investing in a fiberglass ladder.” Also, many contractors have moved toward platform step ladders. “We are selling 40% more platform ladders than we did five years ago,” explained Rosso. “They are a safe alternative for contractors who need to be on a particular ladder step for longer periods of time. The platform is 14 x 15 inches and has a railing and non-slip surface for safety as well as comfort.” 

Scaffolding - $600 per house
Scaffolding can be a complex, yet important area to tackle regarding safety. Over a third of the fall-related deaths on construction sites are associated with scaffold falls so protecting these workers from accidents associated with scaffolding hazards is an essential part of any jobsite safety program. Assigning a “competent person” to oversee all scaffolding activities so that all guidelines for erection, usage and dismantling of scaffolds of all types are adhered to, is the critical first step to any successful effort. 

The most recognizable scaffolding system is a metal tubular type setup that supports a work platform and guardrails if the fall potential is greater than 10 feet. But for many subs, they are just not practical, especially if you are performing leading edge work like framing. You can’t place it on the outside of the foundation because most sites are not backfilled at frame-stage. And with all the wall bracing and interior wall connections, it just doesn’t make sense on the interior. One alternative to these traditional metal scaffolds is the construction of “makeshift” or “field-built” scaffolding systems built and supported with wood. Many markets, including Columbus jobsites, readily use these field-built systems to install second floor joists and roof trusses. “It is against OSHA regulations to walk walls now so a lot of crews set up a makeshift scaffold made of 2 x 4’s and 2 x 10’s inside the two bearing walls to set floor joist and trusses,” shared Terry Worrix, Production Manager for Contract Lumber’s framing division. “There is less than a 6-foot fall hazard so they are not required to have safety guard rails around them and they can move freely and safely along the wall to maneuver and secure framing members. As long as these makeshift scaffold systems are correctly designed, built, braced, and supported adequately, inspectors seem comfortable with them.” There is some debate surrounding these field-built scaffolds (much as there is with every CFR area), much of it revolves around the potential inconsistency in their construction.  But, as Terry Worrix explains, “You can’t find anyone who will tell you exactly how to build scaffolding, OSHA included, because no one wants the liability in case there is an issue.”  

Regarding safety costs and scaffolding, many look at it similarly to ladders. They don’t consider the cost and erection of metal scaffolding as a specific safety cost. However, with makeshift scaffolding there is a cost to both the wood material and the time it takes to build. “It takes two men, three hours each, to build scaffolding,” claims James Mills, owner of Mills Builders. “At $25 per man-hour that’s $150 in labor to field build scaffolding per floor.  I spend over $300 on an average house when you add in the time to tear it off from the second floor to move it up so you can install the trusses. The materials cost $320 so it is an additional $600 cost per house that we never had prior to 2010 when OSHA cracked down on walking walls.” 

One interesting alternative to both the traditional and makeshift scaffolding is a product called Wall Walker Scaffolding systems. It consists of metal brackets that hang over a structural wall. Each set has platform arms that extend off the vertical beam so that staging lays across it to form a scaffolding system. It also comes with vertical guardrail posts that affix to the end of the arms that allows for the construction of an OSHA mandatory guardrail system on any heights that expose a ten-foot fall hazard. While the system is slick, the initial cost is prohibitive for many contractors at over $3,500 for a 40 foot setup and transporting from job-to-job can also be problematic.   

All-Terrain Forklifts – ATF Operation Certification $200 per crew 
All-terrain forklift (ATF) use on jobsites has been a growing trend over the last few decades, to the point now where most sites, large or small, make use of their versatility and productivity gains. Every construction project involves some type of material-handling function and the ability of these lifts to improve efficiency, quickly allows for a return on a contractor’s investment, whether they rent or purchase one of the many different types of equipment available. The most common type of lift you’ll find on today’s hectic jobsites is the variable reach forklifts, also known as boom lifts or telescopic handlers. “Boom lifts are an essential tool on most jobsites,” declares Mills Builder’s owner, James Mills. “We can unload trucks, place materials exactly where we need them to maximize work efforts, including being able to reach three and four stories in the air. You can really get the most out of your crew with a reliable ATF and a good operator.” 
That’s where the safety component of All-terrain forklifts come into play…the operator. These are complicated and potentially dangerous pieces of equipment, operated in tight confines over rough terrain, trying to run the gauntlet of obstacles that commonly adorn a typical job site. Catastrophic results are likely if great care and safety is not practiced. Continues Mills, “I don’t look at having an ATF as a safety related cost. We use it to do different tasks on the site and there are times when it allows us to do a task safer but generally, I don’t look at it as a safety cost. Now there has been new OSHA requirements regarding training to operate mobile jobsite equipment and that has added some cost. It costs about $200 to get a lift certification and I have seen it marketed for as high as $500. Typically, the crew leader of each crew has the certification and is fully trained and designated as the “competent person” for safety. This includes conducting the mandatory daily inspection on the ATF along with required recordkeeping. Lifts take a beating on the jobsite and we ask a lot of the equipment and the operator. You just can’t afford to take shortcuts, either caring for, or safely running an all-terrain lift on a construction jobsite.” 

Crane Rental – Increase of $300 - $500 per house  
While you may question why I would include Crane Rental in this report on direct safety costs, it became obvious to me while interviewing framing contractors that there could be correlating effects related to changes in safety regulations. Crane rental costs doubled for framing contractors because OSHA changed how they allowed trusses to be loaded onto a roof. Again, framing contractor, James Mills. “Basic crane rental charges are $150 per hour. When OSHA changed the standard that you could only fly one truss at a time, rather than the old system where you’d crane a whole stack of trusses onto the roof and the guys would get out there, move them into place and set them, it doubled the crane time needed to swing trusses on a house. On a small house it added two hours or $300 and on a larger home, say 4,000 SF, it adds at least three extra hours, so $450 - $500 more than it did 5 years ago. So, the result is that my crane bill has doubled on every house I frame due to safety regulations.”

Stairs & Openings - $200 M&L per house
OSHA regulations require that any opening in a wall or floor be protected against a potential fall hazard. Stairway floor openings and two-story openings to below, are the most frequent consideration and must have a vertical guarding system that meets OSHA standards for height, size of wood, and placement of posts, railings and toeboards. There have also been products developed to assist in guardrail compliance. The Safety Boot Guardrail System (pictured right) is a system that some builders have progressed to and they keep it in place throughout the construction process for other trades and even homeowners touring the house. 

Nailing 2 x 4 slats across window openings with a potential fall of 4’ or more is the other common safety task to maintain OSHA compliant regarding stairs and openings. Costs are estimated at $150 for materials and $50 for labor totaling $200 for most homes to field-build stair and wall opening railings.    
Fall Protection
Fall protection certainly needs to be a part of any discussion regarding the direct cost of safety producing activities on construction jobsites.  In fact, it is such an important component that it deserves its own separate article since fall protection is easily the most in-depth and expensive component of jobsite safety.  Our next installment will focus exclusively on how fall protection requirements have impacted direct safety costs for the contractors. 

Tabulating Direct Safety Costs 
As you can see in the chart below, direct costs for safety producing activities can add up quickly, and remember, these numbers are not inclusive of fall protection which will be featured next week. Our case study concludes that an average five-man residential framing crew would be subject to a financial outlay of between $31,650 and $35,650 to be OSHA 1926 compliant on his jobsites this year for the aforementioned categories. Bear in mind, this is not yet a comprehensive picture but just a snapshot of the safety costs. Over the next few installments of our series you will come to fully comprehend the True Cost of Jobsite Safety.