Safety is fundamentally important to all involved in a construction project, and the supervisor is at the heart of any job-safety program. Each job for which the electrical supervisor is responsible must have a specific, well-designed safety program. The supervisor’s role is to craft such a program for his or her workers. That program must be consistent with the hierarchy of safety programs at higher levels on the project and with the company’s safety program. Moreover, it must be compatible with the general contractor’s safety program for the project and with the project owner’s safety program. It must also meet the safety requirements of local, state and federal laws.

Developing and implementing a construction job-safety program can be daunting. A comprehensive resource designed to support the development of such a program, sponsored by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), is available on the Web at civilx.unm.edu/cshms/index.htm.

There are many benefits to a job-safety program. The first and foremost is enabling each worker to return home in good health at the end of each shift. For the project, benefits include increased productivity, higher profit margin and lower insurance costs. For the electrical contracting company, benefits include better personnel policy, legal compliance and enhanced reputation.

One of the primary impediments to creating a job-safety program is the perception that it costs too much. Small contractors are especially prone to this perception. However, sophisticated companies recognize their safety program as a profit center, not a cost center. In other words, every dollar they invest in safety returns several dollars on the investment, and implementing an effective safety program makes the company more money than it costs by significantly diminishing risk.

Let’s look at how much an accident really costs. Some sources say the hidden cost of an accident varies from 1.5 to 6 times the true cost of an accident. The higher multiplier tends toward the lower direct cost accident (see table). Direct costs are those normally covered by insurance, including treatment for injuries, temporary wage replacement, permanent impairment awards and the replacement cost of damaged property or equipment. Indirect costs are those that we do not normally consider, such as losses in productivity, uninsured employee costs, uninsured supervisory costs and uninsured costs related to non-injured workers.

In addition to estimated total costs for an accident, the table shows the volume of work that must be completed by the company just to offset the accident cost. The table shows this for a company profit margin of 1 percent, 3 percent and 5 percent. Remember the average profit margin for a contractor is around 3 percent. If we take a relatively small accident for which the direct cost is $10,000, the chart indicates a company with a profit margin of 3 percent must successfully complete $1.3 million of work to offset the cost of that accident. Why? Because neither job nor company operations have a category in their budget titled “accidents.” Profit is the only line item the accident cost can come out of.

In the next few articles, we will consider a number of specific safety topics, including safety responsibilities and activities of the supervisor, eliminating job-site hazards, recognizing and correcting unsafe behaviors, job-specific worker safety training, and emergency preparedness and response.

ROUNDS is the AGC endowed chair and professor of civil engineering at the University of New Mexico. E-mail him at jlrounds@unm.edu. SEGNER is a professor of construction science at Texas A&M University. Contact him at rsegner@archmail.tamu.edu.