In a $10 million lawsuit alleging safety-related negligence, an electrician sued his employer, a large electrical contractor, for failing to provide training and equipment that could have prevented the serious injuries he suffered in a job site accident.
It might have been avoided with the kind of alert that appears on every milk carton in the United States, which requires retelling a quick bit of retailing history.
Starting in the early 20th century, product packaging in American grocery stores began to include a code indicating where and when the item had been manufactured. In essence, it anticipated a “sell-by” date. Store employees could decipher the code, but their customers could not. By the 1970s, customers were demanding readable date-coding on supermarket products. Out of that movement came “best if used by,” or just “use by.”
A container of milk with a “use by” mark makes things understandable for everyone and takes away any guesswork.
That brings us to our topic about avoiding a common safety-related risk. Knowing that he had a lot to share, we dropped in for coffee with Pat Stewart, executive chairman of TMX Compliance, Wexford, Pa., which produces software that tracks individual employees’ training, certifications and licenses—and whether they are up-to-date or expired.
Failing to note the expiration dates for licenses, certifications and other prequalifications today can lead to even bigger problems.
The legal ramifications to employers have drastically changed in the past 10 years. Workers can now sue for negligence if their employers do not provide the correct training and equipment to perform their jobs. This can result in significant insurance premium hikes or uninsurability, and possibly federal and state regulatory fines.
What challenges do contractors create for themselves when they continue to track employees’ licenses, certifications and other safety-relevant data “the old way?”
In electrical contracting companies, it’s not unusual for electricians to go back and forth between a contractor’s new construction group and the service and maintenance department. It can soon become impossible, for example, to keep track of training and qualifications that they have acquired in one group or the other. With our system, that information never gets lost or overlooked.
How does your system differ from others currently available for contractors?
Candidly, most contractors are still using a paper-based process. When they use “technology,” it might only be an Excel spreadsheet. Our system does not displace other kinds of software, but serves as an add-on that gives contractors one simple place to store, retrieve and even share the information, if required, with service and maintenance customers.
Every software promises to save contractors money. How does your system do it?
Here’s a perfect example: One of our customers told us that they calculate 40%–60% of their training on new jobs is needlessly repetitive because they do not have records of what special training, licenses and certifications their electricians already have. Aside from causing a lot of unnecessary expense and lost time, this can delay the kick-off of a new job—at a time when everyone is suffering from manpower shortages to begin with.
Service and maintenance requires constant changes back and forth between on-demand service calls to embedded workforce assignments, to new construction sites, to after-hours call-outs for emergencies.
With our system, you can manage unlimited situations by simply creating “groupings” of employees for each job. You can even have an employee residing in multiple “groupings,” each with different compliance items. This allows team leaders to focus on the relevant qualifications that an electrician needs on each of their respective work sites.
We began by talking about expiration dates for food. Tell us about expirations with serious safety implications.
Here is one of the most powerful parts of the software. It creates unique notification timers for every type of compliance item. Some training sessions require signing up weeks or months in advance, for example, to enroll in a refresher class for a license. Our system allows you to customize whether a reminder is sent by text message or email to the license holder of the compliance item.
There is no substitute for a strictly managed system to keep track of each employee’s qualifications. But working safely includes many other factors, like having the right PPE.
Our system allows you to track all of that and more: drug testing, insulated gloves, meters and tools, CDLs, subcontractor insurance or their employee compliance items, insurance certificates, company licenses and any other item that may expire or just need to be tracked. The sky’s the limit.
The sky’s the limit? So, you’re including parachutes?
I’m not falling for that question.
Header image: Patrick Stewart
About The Author
MCCOY is Beliveau professor in the Dept. of Building Construction, associate director of the Myers-Lawson School of Construction and director of the Virginia Center for Housing Research at Virginia Tech. Contact him at [email protected].