Subcontractor safety management presents one of the most challenging tasks for project management teams. Occasionally, subcontractors lack adequate internal resources to effectively manage safety. Some subcontractors fabricate or adopt a basic safety program to meet the requirements of the general contractor. Others just lack a safety program all together.

So, how does the general contractor transform safety requirements (their own or those required by the client) into reality without the fear of change orders once the project begins? It’s pretty simple actually. Follow these 3 steps:

1.       Pre-Bid Meeting Communication with Subs

2.       Pre-Award Review with Subs

3.       Pre-Construction Kick Off Meeting

Step 1: Pre-Bid Meeting with Subcontractors

Once you have pre-qualified the subs ability to perform, the sharing of safety requirements must occur along with the project bid documents…especially those that impact cost or time.   Examples of this may include:

·        100% tie-off policy

·        Drug testing requirements

·        On site safety training

·        Weekly safety training

·        Documentation policies or other procedures that the subcontractor may not normally do as outlined in their own policies and procedures.

All of these items may cost the project additional money if not included in the sub’s bid as they will become change order items to their original bid, unless you detail these items early on.

Often, Project Managers create a narrative that accompanies bid packages to highlight vital requirements the sub may not usually budget for or comply with. Infuse safety requirements into this process.   A common place for such issues to be included in bid documents is the supplement or special conditions section and, ultimately, the subcontract agreement. Each specific issue must be discussed in the pre-bid and pre-award meetings with documentation of these items in the meeting minutes.

Step 2: Pre-Award Review with Subcontractor

With the safety requirements effectively communicated during the bidding phase, the money allotted for compliance should be verified in the subcontractor budget. This can be done at the pre-award meeting or “scope check.” Project Managers will query the potential subcontractor to verify the extent of scope – including specifics on safety – that the subcontractor has submitted. This may be done at the home office or in the field. In either case, the construction safety manager or the field construction safety coordinator should assist when this type of person is involved in the project.

Typically, the items described in the supplemental or special conditions relative to safety will be reviewed as well. At this time, costs allocated for safety requirements as well as the subcontractors’ proposed plan for managing these items can be reviewed. This is important for two reasons:

First, the money itemized for the safety requirements should approximately match the dollar amount the general contractor would budget if self-performing the work. If the sub does not have the money itemized to the safety budget, then it may mean that it is included as contingency. Including safety contingency is a problem because the money put in is counted as profit from the day the subcontract agreement is signed. If the safety requirements are to be paid for by the sub from this budget, the quality of safety may be compromised.

Second, if the sub has performed work utilizing similar requirements in the past it should be easy to develop a brief narrative on the plan to present at the pre-award meeting. Potential subs who are unable to quickly develop this narrative probably do not manage safety to the degree the general will require.

The pre-award meeting has proven to be a powerful tool utilized by Project Managers to assess the capabilities of potential subcontractors. This is an effective way to ensure that the project has the necessary resources to reach safety goals.

Step 3: Pre-Construction Kick Off Meeting

Pre-construction meetings should be held with all subcontractors in order to ensure that all parties understand, and are committed, to achieving the same goals as the general. At this meeting, the general should re-address all site policies with the sub and discuss how the coordination of activities will occur. The sub should be instructed to be prepared to fully discuss the site-specific safety plan they have developed to meet the project requirements. The resulting expectations of the pre-construction meeting should be that the general is able to evaluate the completeness of the sub’s site-specific safety plan and address any requirements or expectations that fall short in the sub’s plan.

If an adequate effort is initiated by the general prior to awarding the subcontract, the pre-construction meeting should be a review to ensure that all of the prior discussions have properly materialized into site plans. Ultimately, it should ensure that the subcontractor has planned to adhere to the requirements of the subcontract agreement. If prior efforts have not fostered an adequate site safety plan, this deficiency should be identified at the pre-construction meeting and corrected before field activities begin.

No Change Orders for Safety!

By utilizing these communication tools, the subs will be prepared to meet the expectations of the general. However, bid package development and awarding of the subcontract take place in a short time frame and it is easy for these things to not make their way in. Project Managers, Construction Managers and the SH&E must communicate effectively to mitigate this issue.

Understanding the timing of activities included in the project schedule and getting involved in the procurement process are vitally important in achieve project safety goals and preventing cost change orders.