Estimating Hazards: Catching a Threat Before It Becomes an Accident

While in a tire store recently, I observed a major electrical safety hazard. It was bad enough that someone could have been injured or killed if the problem had not been swiftly attended to.

An installation of EMT conduit was routed around some tire racks. One conduit blocked access to a tire rack about 10 feet in the air. It looked like the employees had not taken any care to avoid the conduit while stocking and accessing tires on the rack. The conduit was mangled. It was flattened in places, bent in others, and two couplings were completely separated. The junction box and conduit on the strut rack above were bent down from the rack about 15 degrees.

Obviously, this was a disaster waiting to happen. The next time a tire bashed that conduit could be the time a phase conductor shorted to the conduit or the rack. An employee could be thrown off the rack or outright killed by the shock.

I immediately went to the manager and explained the problem. If I had been an estimator working for an electrical contractor, it would have been the perfect time to pitch my company’s services.

This, of course, was not the first time I had seen electrical hazards waiting to become an accident. There are many opportunities to offer services. The list of potential small repairs that could lead to a permanent relationship with a customer seems endless. Frayed cords with exposed conductors near the ice machine, outdoor receptacles with damaged or missing covers, a shock from touching a surface that should not have been energized, pendant lighting fixtures held up only by the conductors, egress lighting operating incorrectly, uncovered junction boxes with conductors hanging out, nontamper-resistant receptacles in child-care areas, receptacles that show signs of overheating­—the list goes on.

Here is another example that could have become a big disaster. On a cold winter day, an employee in my office leaned against a wall and noticed it was warm. Since this was at an electrical wholesale house, there were plenty of electricians around to help. One of them opened a multigang switch box near the warm area and found glowing red-hot conductors. The electrician immediately turned off the power and made the needed repairs. If not for the attentive employee, this situation could have caused a fire.

I have mentioned before that estimators also are salesmen. Every time an estimator sees an opportunity to help a person or company, they should jump on it. I know many companies may have their own electrician, but you never know when a company may not have an electrician or is unsatisfied with the one they have.

Hazards are not the only thing estimators should look out for. I have a friend who is a marketing genius. I have never seen anybody better at winning and keeping customers. My favorite story about him involves a high-voltage blowup at a college, which left an entire building dark. The college’s EC could not finish the repair for two to three weeks. I don’t know how my friend found out about it, but when he did, he drove straight there, assessed the damage, made a few calls and had the power back on within two days. Now, he is always the first call when the college needs electrical work.

One of my standard practices while employed as an estimator was to look for signs of new construction. The owners of private work often do not advertise: preferring to work with general contractors who they are familiar with. If I saw a construction fence being erected, or read an article in a newspaper about a new development, it was time to contact the owner and offer my employer’s services. If I could not get to the owner, I moved on to anyone else involved with the project, including general contractors, architects and, yes, even electrical engineers.

I hope you get the point here. It may be funny in the movies to see someone get their hair straightened by an electrical shock. However, we all know the reality of what electrical hazards can do. As estimators, we need to be observant as to what is going on around us, and we need to be ready to jump on any opportunity in which we can offer our company’s services. You never know when it may lead to a profitable relationship.

About the Author

Stephen Carr

Estimating Columnist

Stephen Carr has been in the electrical construction business since 1971. He started Carr Consulting Services—which provides electrical estimating and educational services—in 1994. Contact him at 805.523.1575 or, and...

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