Safe and Sound

Cover the costs of job site safety

Nobody ever talks about the safety of estimators. I guess everyone assumes we are pretty safe in our offices, protected from the dangers of the construction world, but they are wrong! Estimating is a very dangerous job, one that requires a strong focus on safety. Take paper cuts, for example.

Paper cuts are common and can get infected if not properly cared for. I once had a paper cut that required three stitches (but I don’t want to talk about it; I get queasy). Another serious danger to estimators: staples. When the ends of staples are not properly pressed in, the razor-sharp points can bite you like a piranha, leaving your desk and plans bloody.

Anyway, estimators typically look at projects from the parts and pieces perspective, mostly counting only what we see on the plans. But what about the costs associated with safety? Since safety issues are never shown or discussed on the plans, it’s not likely they will be included in your take-off—but they should be.

Safety requires time. Many projects require special training and certification requirements for driving heavy equipment such as forklifts, scissor lifts and JLGs. Most hospital remodel projects carry infection-control training. School projects require drug testing and background checks—both of which require time to fill out forms and … well, you know.

Some installations require special safety equipment: rigging, ropes and other climbing gear, protection suits, masks and other special clothing. Some of this equipment is very expensive. Additionally, learning how to use it, setting it up, putting it on and then actually working with it all requires additional labor.

Safety requires a slow, cautious pace. Typically, estimators cover slow, difficult or hazardous installations by factoring the labor. Factoring can cover the added labor, but that alone will not cover the extra materials and equipment costs. It also doesn’t cover the planning and meeting time these installations may require. You know, the ones where the project manager, the foreman, two journeymen, an apprentice and one other guy you didn’t even know you were paying for are standing around, staring at the ceiling and discussing how to go about the installation.

In the electrical specifications, the word “safety” usually is a brief reference to the Division 1 specification or general requirements spec. I recommend you thoroughly read the Division 1 specs and any related job-site conditions documents. You might be surprised by what you find. I have worked on numerous projects where the Division 1 specification lays out specific safety requirements.

A typical project requirement is weekly safety meetings for all workers. Depending on the project and your average crew

size, this one spec requirement could be very costly and should be -carried in your estimate.

For example, your average crew consists of 10 electricians, and each one has to attend a weekly safety meeting given by the GC. Now, let’s estimate how much time they will need to attend this meeting:

  • Figure 10 minutes for each of them to physically get to the meeting (usually in the GC’s trailer or on the job somewhere). Keep in mind they probably won’t be bringing their tools with them.
  • Add another 5 minutes for waiting for the meeting to start.
  • Let’s say about 30 minutes for the meeting itself.
  • Then add another 10 minutes for all of them to return to their tools, put on toolbelts and personal protective equipment, and get back on the job.

Adding it all up, it’s about 55 minutes for each electrician. You might as well make it an hour. This adds up to 10 hours of lost time. If your average “cost” for labor is $50 per hour, one safety meeting will cost your company $500 each week. If your project is 52 weeks long, this could potentially add up to $26,000.

Perhaps the above example is a bit extreme (or is it?). But even if it works out to be only a half-hour per man, per meeting, or if they don’t hold a meeting each week, it still could work out to be $13,000 or more for the year. Let’s face it—safety isn’t cheap.

So far, only the costs of safety meetings have been covered. What if the Division 1 requirements have other safety issues you need to cover? These could include a full-time safety officer or special security and fire-watch crews. Again, these are actual labor costs, which need to be carried in your bid. The security and fire crews might require special certification or even a quotation from a specialty subcontractor.

Safety is a job-cost item that definitely should be considered prebid by estimators. I recommend adding “calculate safety costs” to your bid day checklist, and at the minimum, discuss this topic on each project. Be safe and bid safely—carry the costs for safety.          EC

SHOOK is the president and chief estimator for his estimating company, TakeOff 16 Inc. He has worked in the electrical construction industry for more than 18 years. Reach him at 707.776.0800 or

About the Author

Stan Shook

Stan Shook was ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR's estimating columnist from 2005 to 2012. He works as an electrical estimator in California. Read his blog at or contact him directly

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