By Katherine Lewis
While most office workers are turning up the thermostats on their heating systems this time of the year, that’s a luxury most construction workers don’t have. We’re often working on sites without power or permanent amenities, so keeping warm can be a challenge.
One of the obvious solutions to this problem is to use portable heaters. So, we’ve put together a brief guide to the types of heaters you can install, as well as how effective they are, and how much they cost. Read More
Here’s a simple way to maybe win a pair of work boots by Wolverine valued at $333. Go to this site and leave a comment that answers the question: “Where Do You Wear Your Workboots.” Entries close on January 20 with a winner announced on January 23. If you win, you’ll get a boot called the Wolverine Northman and they have some interesting features like genuine Horween Leather.
While many people might read that phrase in the product’s description and simply skip over it, I was curious just what Horween Leather is. Come to find out it refers to the products of the only remaining tannery in Chicago and it is run by a member of the fourth generation of Horweens who have been in the tanning business there since 1905. The company claims to make high grade and exacting leather that is used in an array of products from sporting goods and bags to, you guessed it, shoes and boots. Other features of the Northman include Gore-Tex waterproof lining, Vibram outsoles and Thinsulate insulation.
Just because your line of construction might be slow in the U.S. it doesn’t mean that’s the case across the globe. In fact, many countries are not only busily building things but they are also importing construction products and services from companies in the U.S. These companies are not only the large, multinational construction firms, but include small businesses as well. Here’s a case in point.
SteelMaster Buildings, a company in Virginia Beach, Va., that designs and builds prefabricated steel buildings for a variety of industries, exports those buildings and its expertise at erecting them across the globe. The company recently won an export video promotion contest co-sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration and VISA. SteelMaster received a $12,000 award, including cash and travel costs to participate in the awards ceremony, and a Department of Commerce Gold Key matching service. Learn more about SteelMaster’s exporting story by watching the video below. Then, check out all the helpful tools at the SBA, right here, that could jumpstart your very own exporting effort.
Assuming you have a motivated employee who wants to move to a new level within the company, and you have a qualified coach, there are a few steps to take that will help to make the adventure successful.
- Outline the desired outcomes: If your company has job descriptions this will be a fairly easy task. You will compare the job description of the employee’s current position to the new one and list the new, or upgraded, behaviors. If you don’t have job descriptions then one approach would be to have a broad statement like; Employee will be able to manage the day to day operations of a construction site so the project comes in on budget, (or say within a percentage), and on time while following company established rules and job requirements. In this case the person’s degree of success will probably be gauged against others who perform these same jobs.
- Assign a project as the training ground: Ideally the person will start their training on a new project so they don’t inherit issues left behind by someone else.
- Schedule the coach time: Initially the coach should be working at least half days with the trainee, and more if possible. The coach will perform all the normal tasks associated with the project as the trainee shadows him while also accomplishing some of the tasks him or herself. This is the “watch and learn” approach and for most people it works well as long as there is enough time allotted for the two to work together and the coach has a highly successful style and understanding of the work.
- Gradually release tasks to the trainee: As the coach witnesses the trainee catching on, more and more of the tasks are released for the trainee to do on his or her own. As this begins to happen the coach’s time with the trainee begins to diminish, slowly at first.
- Evaluate and adjust: In this stage the coach will carefully review the trainee’s performance, suggest changes, reinforce positives and offer suggestions for improvements. It’s also perfectly okay during this time to entertain ideas the trainee has come up with for ways to be more efficient, or streamline work, or to even accomplish things in his or her own style. A good coach will be able to assess these initiatives and help the trainee to understand why some may work and others may not, without putting the damper on the trainee’s budding attempts to innovate.
- Acknowledge the end of training: Here is where it might be a good idea to have a ceremony or social event where the person is recognized for their achievement while at the same time is shown a clear ending point of being in training status. From here on out, normal employee controls are picked up and followed.
This is a simplified look at this process that makes a lot of assumptions. The main point is that coaching doesn’t have to be a highly difficult and time consuming event, and if entered into with people who have the best interests of each other and company at heart it can go a long way toward helping to fill the ranks from within.
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There is all kinds of advice on how to manage the right way, but every now and then by looking at the topic from another angle we can get a new perspective of the process.
So here my short list of things to do if you want to be continually and wildly unsuccessful at managing any construction project.
- When things don’t fit, ignore the plans. This will ensure that what is supposed to be getting built will not get built and will earn you exceptional notice along with a place in the Dumb Idiot Hall of Fame.
- Act like you know absolutely everything about everything and make sure co-workers and subordinates know that you know, you know. By doing this those incorrect decisions you make about how to do things will be magnified because nobody will question them and will execute them exactly as instructed in all their glorious incorrected-ness. This probably explains how things like windows end up being where doors ought to be.
- Resist the temptation to tell your boss in a timely manner what’s really going on. That way when the owner is on the final walk-through and 45 telephone jacks haven’t been installed yet you can look shocked and say something memorable like, "Geez, those were supposed to have telephone jacks installed! I don’t think they were on the plans."
- Ask the building inspector where in the hell he learned how to build.
Maybe you have some tips that you’d like to share. Comments are always welcome.
History so far has shown that if there is anything you an depend upon it is that costs of things will always go up. Lately it seems fuel is leading the charge and of course that affects almost everything since fuel is so deeply imbedded in the economics of supply and demand.
Normally prices of fuel inch up over a period of time and so everyone has a chance to adjust and gradually get used to the necessary changes, not the least of which is the increase in costs of goods and in doing business. The rapid increases are causing many in construction to re-think how they do business.
According to various news reports here are some of the ways contractors are adjusting for the higher costs of both gasoline and diesel.
- Eating the additional costs on jobs already under contract and passing them on in all new contracts;
- For contractors with service fleets many are adding fuel surcharges shown on the invoices while others are increasing their service and/or hourly rates;
- Requiring carpooling for superintendents and lead carpenters traveling to job sites;
- Paying closer attention to regular vehicle and equipment maintenance;
- Eliminating idling;
- Replacing gasoline vehicles with diesel vehicles;
- Converting diesel vehicles to vegetable oil vehicles;
- Marketing closer to the home office;
- Eliminating free estimates that are further away than a specific distance from the home office;
- Combining material runs from a number of job sites.
What’s missing here? Examining why people are driving and if the trips are even necessary, where they are driving to and if the destinations are really part of the job and identifying other ways to accomplish things that don’t require driving.
On second thought maybe you should just go to lunch together, and each of you buys your own. This is Building Safety Week, as advanced by the International Code Council, and it says some of the credit for safer buildings goes to all those people who ensure construction goes according to code. This includes not only building inspectors but also structural engineers, plan reviewers, and fire officials. Another idea would be to have a pizza party Wednesday afternoon and invite them all. The ICC offers a series of Top 5 building safety tips here, and a list of events for the week including a fireside chat and tools you can use to promote building safety in your community.
I’m a history buff so what I also discovered at this site fueled my thirst for answers about building code origins. Apparently there are some records that show codes, and the penalties for not following them, go back a long way. According to the ICC’s publication "Building Technology-Then and Now:"
…more than 4,000 years ago, the Code of Hammurabi, circa 2200–1800 B.C.E., prescribed the execution of any builder whose faulty construction of a house caused the death of its owner.
Early codes in the U.S., circa. 1625-1630, dealt with fire safety relative to roof coverings while another outlawed wooden chimneys, (scary thought) and thatched roofs. I suppose if you had a building with both a thatched roof and a wooden chimney you might call it…a torch?
Then in 1788 the first formal code was established in what we now know as Winston-Salem, NC, and was entirely in German. Interestingly it was New Orleans that became the first city in the country to require inspections of public buildings.
So there is your Monday morning primer on building codes and if people were really daring enough to use wooden chimneys once upon a time then we ought to be thankful for building codes.
As the drumbeat of “green” continues at a frenetic pace, and businesses all over the globe contemplate ways to make money on green, I thought it might be worthwhile to look at simple ways construction companies can do green things without the appearance that they are just riding the wave to better profits. Simply promoting and using green products is only part of the process.
So, here are ways to be green for real if you are in construction.
- Find ways to decrease the waste generated at your construction sites;
- Find alternative uses and recycling opportunities for the waste generated at your job sites;
- Adopt processes that reduce your reliance on gasoline and diesel fuel;
- Look for and adopt all the ways you can to eliminate printing things on paper;
- Stop traveling and commuting when web conferencing, conference calls, telecommuting and other forms of remote communication are really all that’s necessary;
- Set up policies, or install electrical and mechanical devices, that prevent energy from being used when it isn’t needed;
- Ask your employees, partners, clients and suppliers how they think you can operate in a more energy efficient fashion, and then take those suggestions to heart.
There is something more though to consider. Words and actions that aren’t heartfelt, (that don’t spring from a place inside you that makes them meaningful), can be seen by others as insincere. It seems it would be far better to say you don’t buy into all the green rhetoric and then just don’t participate, than it is to say you do but then only participate when it is profitable. If you really “feel” green then let it show. If you don’t then why not use other ways to improve your bottom line.
Looking back we can see the dawn of the awakening to green, and at that time it was just about energy. In the aftermath of the very first energy crises in 1973 the U.S., and the world, had its first wake-up call. There was a flurry of activity aimed at fixing the problem and they all focused on government and business efforts. Today, we see those earlier efforts by those entities changed very little the ways people create, acquire and use energy. Some may question when we will finally realize this is about individuals and the choices that individuals make. When individuals in business and government act from a heartfelt place of green then their actions will begin to have the most positive long term effects.
There are about 304 million people in the U.S. today, and a little more than 6.5 billion people in the world. A tree planted for every one of them this year might have an interestingly nice effect for all earthly inhabitants.
In this podcast I talk with Jim Upton, a specialist in AEC and facilities management software, about the role of integrating business data and functions. As companies continue to seek out efficiencies the process of bridging disparate networks so that information is shared by contractors, subcontractors, suppliers and others is a key focal point.
Jim highlights reasons why companies are sharing more and more data. He talks about strategies and issues and he offers some advice about what to focus on and when to consider getting your business linked up with others.
Jim’s company, JCU Services LLC helps companies to select software and make it work optimally for them. They also work with software vendors helping them to understand the needs of the AEC and facilities management industries and how to market software to these industries. Send email to Jim.
Podcast-Interview with Jim Upton
This time of year there is no shortage of crystal balls foretelling things to come. One prediction that may be weighing heavily on the minds of construction pros was broached by Verizon in its “Top 10 Hot Business Technology Trends for 2008.”
The company points out that the proliferation of data away from the main office portends to be a challenging issue. Since more and more construction firms, along with everyone else, are opening up their networks to suppliers and partners in order to craft some new efficiencies they will find that in so doing their data will be increasingly strewn across networks that they don’t control. When you add in the data that is being carried in cell phones, PDAs and mobile computers you can see the potential for problems.
Verizon says it is necessary to “protect every end point, application, user and device connected to…networks,” along with making sure that everyone connecting to the networks are authorized users.
To me the greatest point of challenge is at the user level. You can much more easily and effectively put safeguards in place on systems than you can on end-users and their equipment. The keepers-of-the-big-picture in companies are going to have to figure out what kind of data is being carried in all of these devices and then identify not only fool-proof backups for sensitive information but also address things like the need-to-know, and policies regarding the use of passwords or other schemes to make sure only the appropriate people are using the devices.
With those things as background here is my short list of steps in locking down end-user devices.
- Establish and enforce policies regarding what kind of company information can be kept on each type of device.
- Make sure that only the appropriate people are using these devices by funding the most reliable and effective methods that will ensure this.
- Require regular reviews of the information and data that is actually being stored on each of these devices.
- Fund the most effective backup system you can find for these types of devices.
- Train everybody who uses these devices so they know the policies, the types of information and data each device can have on it, and how to do the necessary backups.
To some all of his may seem a bit overboard but remember it often isn’t a single stray piece of data in the wrong hands that hurts you, but rather the aggregate of many stray pieces that does.
It doesn’t seem likely the increasing costs of health care in the US can be sustained. According to the National Coalition on Healthcare (NCHC), “Unless something changes dramatically, health insurance costs will overtake profits by 2008.” This was taken from a 2004 report by McKinsey and Company.
The NCHC and others show health care costs accounting for 16% of the gross domestic product (GDP) and one-fourth of the federal budget. Just to put that into perspective Switzerland, Germany, Canada and France all have health care spending between 9.5% and 11% GDP and those countries insure everyone. US health care spending is expected to reach 20% of the GDP by 2015.
Small businesses, the employers of the lion’s share of employees in the U.S., are struggling to keep costs affordable but are losing ground. So more and more of them are turning to Wellness Programs to help out. These programs focus on educating your workforce about healthy lifestyles and then offering opportunities for them to practice healthier lifestyles. There are companies you can hire that will do an assessment of your company and put together and even administer a program. But with some thorough planning you can implement your own.
A case study of one of the early adopters of a wellness program shows the company was able to keep health insurance cost growth to a very low level, drastically reduce employee turnover and send their worker’s compensation costs into a nose dive.
The Canadians have quite a bit of experience with this and at their Centre for Occupational Health and Safety they have a page with steps to developing a wellness program. Here is a Wellness-Program that I created using some of their information and adding some of my own to that. This will get you started at making your own program. You will need to assign resources and work with the hours. I set it up to be a project that was worked once a week on Wednesday so if you change those parameters to what will work for your organization then you can compress or expand the project accordingly.
For those of you who don’t have MS Project here is the same thing in MS Excel.
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The Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America has a hearing damage page at their site. You can click on various noise producers like normal conversation or jack hammer and see the decibels (dB) that are produced by that activity. It’s surprising to see that a spray painter actually peaks at a higher dB than a lawn mower.
But there’s much more here. They site things like the fluidity of construction activities, the outdoor effects on sound, and the movement of big noise producers (earth moving equipment) as particularly troublesome noise control issues for builders.
The surprising thing is that rather than issuing ear plugs and other hearing protective gear they insist control needs to be focused on engineering and administrative efforts first. The standard they say is for ear protection to be provided when dB exceed 85, or shouting becomes necessary in order to communicate. But that should be the last resort.
Here are some of the things they see as the best ways to reduce the danger of sound to workers’ hearing.
- Use quieter processes – boring is quieter than pile driving;
- Buy quieter equipment – noise levels go down as equipment gets newer and there are some noise cutting saw blades that can cut the noise levels in half;
- Modify older equipment with new mufflers and sound absorbing materials;
- Maintain equipment because when it is well maintained the noise levels can be reduced by up to 50 percent;
- Locate noisy equipment as far away as possible;
- Use temporary barriers to reduce noise.
According to the Workers’ Compensation Board of British Columbia, Canada, eight percent of all hearing loss claims are attributable to construction activities. And while other high risk industries like sawmills are seeing drops in hearing loss claims those in construction are not falling. Most telling is that the studies behind this report found hand tools and other machinery caused background noise levels to exceed 80 dBA which is high enough to exceed Canada’s occupationally acceptable noise limits.
The University of Washington did a five-year study on noise-induced hearing loss in the construction sector focused on noise-induced permanent threshold shift (NIPTS). The issue with NIPTS is that it progresses unnoticed until it starts to interfere with communication. This study nearly matched the Canadian study by finding that construction workers averaged 85 dBA noise exposure in 70 percent of the shifts using the NIOSH exposure standard. Using the less restrictive OSHA standards 30 percent of the shifts were exposed to the same levels. The research uncovered the fact that while the use of hearing protection could provide adequate noise reduction, workers only used it 20 percent of the time they were exposed to noise levels over 85 dBA.
It may seem like there is no end to the kinds of injuries we can do to ourselves while we work. So much of the reasons we do things unsafely comes down to money and profits. It takes too long to put on the right gear. Or, it costs too much to do it another way. Or, we won’t get the job if we have to build in too much expense for safety. In the end we will endlessly create human disabilities and escalating long-term health care costs if we don’t change the way we think and act about safety on our jobs.
Many businesses have found they can enhance their relationships by having active blogs. Active is the operative word because a blog that doesn’t have regular posts is just wasting your time and energy. What’s regular? Once a day is a good target, and every business day (five days a week) is also a strong schedule. A weak schedule would be anything less than once a week. However, you should resist posting for posting’s sake. The information always needs to be interesting and informative if not compelling. The idea is to get people to come back because they found something interesting and useful.
It might be hard to imagine how you could find enough to write a post every day about construction. But when you think about all the relationships your business has, and the multitude of topics that spring from it, you can begin to see content opportunities.
I think there are four “connections” that can be improved and maintained by using a blog in your construction business.
- Customer Connections:Blogs are not only a natural place where you can post highlights of work in progress, but they also can serve as a medium for explaining the nuances of your operations so customers get a deeper understanding of your business. On top of that they can be a guide that shows customers where to find answers to their questions. A blog can also directly supply those answers.
- Team Connections: All of those other players who you work with on a day-to-day basis are interested in your business and in what’s going on behind the scenes. In your company blog you can showcase new customer service initiatives, team initiatives and your company philosophies and why you have embraced those philosophies.
- Employee Connections:Blogs are great places to post recognition for well-done work and to highlight employee advancement and training. Speaking of training, blogs can be an interesting way to keep things like safety at the forefront, and to use case studies to explain and advance particular ways of doing things.
- Industry Connections: Here’s where you toot your horn when you’ve received an award or landed a contract. It’s also where you post industry-related articles that deal with finance, insurance, labor and all of the other issues the industry faces as a whole. Where do you stand on immigration reform? What approach to mortgage financing reform do you think should be pressed for in state and federal government initiatives? Sharing your opinion with others in the industry promotes an open exchange of ideas and viewpoints ultimately helping everyone to find common ground.
By now you should be seeing that there are not only a multitude of topics but each topic has many parts to it as well. You don’t have to cover a topic completely the first time you write about it. You can cover it in parts over a period of time. If you list all the topics anyone of the connections above could find informative and useful you will have quite a list. Ideally you will create a blog editorial schedule, much like magazines do, so you know at least monthly what topics will be covered. Then, if you divide the responsibilities so that different people within the organization write about topics relative to their work you will have a good start at publishing an active blog.
The other thing the list does is it gives you the chance to get ahead. There’s no reason next Monday’s blog can’t be written today. This isn’t hard news so timeliness is not nearly as critical.What tips and tricks do you have for keeping your blog active and informative?Post your comments and let us know.