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Utah Skiing and Construction Photos

Just got back from a few days skiing in Utah.  Here’s a few pictures of some new construction(crane pictures are of a hotel being built at Deer Valley, and dream homes that I saw at The Canyons. The last picture is of the author at Snowbasin.  In addition to the helmet, I’m also wearing an avalanche beacon.  Just because it’s fun, doesn’t mean it’s 100% safe.  Avalanche danger was low-moderate, and because of the stability of the snowpack and the mellow angle of the slope(less than 35 degrees), we were able to ski that area with confidence.  And the ski patrol had bombed the hell out of it that morning. ;)  Even on vacation, I can’t escape risk management.

Categories: construction, dan phelan

Why Contractors Should Have a Facebook Fanpage

01/26/2010 4 comments

If you don’t know what the title means, head to this LINK and follow the directions on how to create a fanpage, then come back here for some ideas on what to put on it once it’s up.

These are some idea I got from other contractors on Contractor Talk

BrainHay:

No, I don’t think anyone goes there with intention to look for a Contractor. When I started my page I was thinking much the same way as HomeSealed touched on.

A lot of the people on my friends list are into Earthmoving, Excavating and Construction as well. So are their friends and friends of friends. As Facebook grows in popularity more and more of our customers will be in there as well (many probably already are). Makes it real easy for them to tell their friends about us. They can also comment on the page and write reviews about our business.

So my hope with it is that some of them will like the Spyder Hoe pics or want to follow the progress of our business and become a fan of the page. When they become a fan of the page then a link shows to it in their profile and exposes me to all their friends.

Also people searching for others with common interests and groups to join will find the page adding even more exposure.

Homesealed:

I think the purpose is more for networking then advertisement. Many times a friend of a friend will notice your line of work and become a customer… At least that is my experience.

Smadax:

We’ve had a Facebook Page for a while, it’s a good way to network amungst your friends and family; but it’s also a great opportunity for paid advertising.

Advantages…
1) Direct marketing; States/Provinces, City, Age, Gender, Educ levels, etc…
2) Pay per click
3) Daily spend limit
4) FREE WEBPAGE
5) Easy to use and update
6) Directly bills to your credit card
7) Can have scheduled start and end dates.
8) Ads can be paused and/or deleted at any time.

Smadax:

Advertisement directly marketed to my city, approx 70,000 population.

Examples of market information, based on one day…
4,508 times my ad was displayed on facebook.
26 hits on my business page
4 unique visitors
2 linked through paid thumbnail advertisement cost me 60 cents
1 time picture file was viewed

General Statistics…
58% Female viewers 42% Male viewers
5% of viewers are 18-24 yrs old
47% of viewers are 25-34 yrs old
42% of viewers are 35-44 yrs old
5% 45+ yrs old

Pay per click is great because a person has seen your basic thumbnail advertisement (free exposure) and expressed interest by linking to your facebook page I spent 60 cents on this one day and I have my budget set at $2.00/day… with the market being slow, in January I was billed $14.67 and I did get one new client… this advertisment definitely paid for itself!

You can set your pay-per-click rate to whatever you’d like, minimum 19 cents. The reason you have a choice is because the higher you are willing to pay, the more facebook will expose your advertisement on facebook.

I even use my business page to keep in contract with my crew, when I add a new event, they are sent invitations and if I change anything on that event the crew is sent updates via facebook (email notification)

Devon Z:

Having a Facebook page adds one more place for potential customers to find you or your website. You can post photos of work you have completed, press releases, and articles. Also have current customers become fans and write testimonials about how great your work is on your wall. If you have a link from your website to your Facebook page, then people who are checking out your website have one more place to find out more about you. Plus it is free – just takes the time to set up the page and update with information. Having a Facebook page just strengthens your web presence and gives you another way to communicate.

Techie:

While I think having a Facebook page doesn’t hurt, I don’t see it paying off too much right NOW to be putting in a lot of everyday effort into it. Rather I would set up your facebook page to pull in any blog posts you make or twitter posts. I’d rather spend time on a blog if you have something to say and twitter if you’d like to network with others. I think a personal Facebook profile account as the owner of your business would be more effective if you insist on using facebook. Take an active role in being the spokesperson for your business, even if you’re a 1 man show. There’s definitely a lot of people on facebook but using your personal (make sure you keep it professional) profile would be a better tool on there than a page. Join in on relevant groups and join in on discussions. Search keywords that are relevant to your business and network with those people, and converse with them. I think that’s the way to go about it at the moment.

KCRemodeler:

Seems to be lots of different opinions about Facebook, so I will throw in my two cents for thought.

I would never used the paid advertising part of Facebook for the services we offer!

However, if you don’t have a “page” for your business on Facebook, you are missing out big time.

First of all, it give Google one more page about your company to index. I have some clients that if you search for their business name, their FB page shows up in the results.

Here is how to maximize your use of Facebook….

1. Ask every client to become a fan of your page on Facebook.
2. Post before and after pictures of every project.
3. If the client is a fan of your page, be sure and “tag” them in the picture. When you do this, the pictures show up on their “wall” which then gives you access to all of their network. Their friends will see your page when they look at the pictures. Nothing bettern than an inferred referral!

No more time than it takes to maintain a FB page, I think you are crazy if you don’t have one.

I have a friend that is a photography – kids, families, etc. He generates so much business from FB it is crazy! No reason the same can’t happen in our business.

These are cut/pasted testimonials from other contractors that are having success testing out new marketing ideas and leveraging free web based resources to get more eyes/potential customers on their construction firm.  Setting up one of these pages takes about 10 minutes for someone that knows their way around facebook.  Feel free to post the links to your pages in the comments to show other contractors some tips and ideas that they could use to better their fanpages, as well as to grow your own fanbases.

Being Safe When Nobody is Watching

At one point or another, no matter what line of work you are in, you will be examined/monitored/tested by some sort of ruling body, government entity, or oversight committee.  Prior to joining the insurance and risk management industry, I held a variety of jobs that all had various types of checks and balances in place to make sure the job was done safely and/or hygienically.  When I was the foreman for a team of chairlift operators for two winters in Colorado, someone from the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board would come to the mountain once or twice a season and inspect each lift for its structural and mechanical integrity as well as quiz the lift operator on duty about various emergency and operational procedures.  It was a given that the least capable member of the team that was on duty that day would conveniently go on lunch break about 10 minutes prior to when the Inspector was scheduled to arrive at the lift.  The inspectors travel the mountain on skis, so other lift ops are able to inform their coworkers of what type of questions are going to be asked as well as having real time knowledge of when the inspector will show up at a given lift station.  The lousy employee that was sent on break has the same amount of responsiblity on a day to day basis as his or her coworkers, but because of their ineptitude they were swept under the run when the inspector arrived.  The goal was to get a spotless inspection, so the senior members of the staff that had a better knowledge of procedures and the machinery would handle the face to face interactions with the inspectors.  Needless to say, the on/off ramps would be at a perfect angle with no icy areas, the lift shacks would be swept and the garbage emptied, and everyone would be dressed correctly in their uniforms.  Does this sound familiar?  Is this what happens before your job site or factory is inspected?  At least in the realm of ski mountain operations, we work safely most of the time.  However, there were times when we would climb on top of a spinning lift to clear snow instead of having it drip on to the guests, we would allow cold guests into our shacks to warm up if they were really cold, and we would smoke cigarettes behind the shack when no one was around.  All of these things were against the rules in the rulebook, but it was done when no one was looking.  What happens on your job site when no one is looking?  Are your guys working unsafely because it’s faster and they can go home earlier?  Do they show up hungover or still drunk because they know supervision will be light or non-existent that day?  The job of a construction company owner as well as the owner of a ski hill need to make safety part of the culture.  The mountain I worked at didn’t have that culture because clearing snow and getting people in their early 20s to show up for work at 5am on Saturday mornings to stand out in the cold for 8 hours were the priorities, and there wasn’t much time left for safety.  Some of my coworkers were extremely competent and just working for the free ski pass, others were incompetent, lazy, and had extreme substance abuse problems and were working there because they couldn’t find a job elsewhere.  Make safety part of your culture, don’t have a few people being the face of your company just for when OSHA comes by.

Below is the only safety video I saw for the two years I was the foreman on a ski lift crew. (I was in my early 20′s and didn’t know about the importance of safety.  Does this sound like any of your laborers?)  This is what happens if a safety brake fails, and the lift operator doesn’t engage the E-Brake in time.  This test was done at Winter Park Resort in Colorado when they decided to run some tests prior to retiring the lift.  If you’re ever on a chair lift that starts to spin backwards, jump off.  Seriously.

Wash Your Hands, Finish the Job on Time

By now you probably know a handful or more people who have been afflicted with H1N1/swine flu.  Vaccinations have been in short supply nationwide, and healthy men who are physically active (construction workers) are not anywhere near the top of the list.  So then what happens when a big portion of your laborers gets sick?  You are spending all your time bidding work, just so you can get your laborers out in the field, doing what they do best.  And now that you have bid the job, you have no one to complete it, because all of your “guys” are out with a contagious illness.

construction risk advisors

Sure, you could go to the union halls, but you’re a non-union contractor. Or you could drive by Home Depot in the morning, and see if anyone there understands how to safely perform a job in your trade.  There are also plenty of out of work contractors on Craigslist who are looking for any kind of day labor they can get.  So you’re thinking to yourself, “we’re gonna be ok, we have the manpower to do the job”.  Then people start getting hurt, people who were being paid under the table so you could get the job done in the time that your bond stated you would.  And now these workers, who supposedly were trained in your trade, are making errors and delaying the project more so than if your regular workforce was performing the job after it being on hold for a few days while everyone fought the cold.  These workers are getting injured, and are not on your payroll, so the whole worker’s comp thing gets very complicated and can jack up your insurance costs over the next 3 years.  We all know how important it is to keep those experience mods under 1 right now, so you can keep your ability to bid any job that you have the ability to effectively complete, and preventable accidents are not going to keep you, or get you back “into the black”  So if you run into an issue where a lot of your key folks are getting sick, give them a few days to get better because the whole project will end up in better shape because of it.  If you or your employees have any further questions on symptoms and treatments, send them to http://www.flu.gov/know.html.  And construction company owners, if you need any help with this type of risk management or any other construction specific inquiries, head on over to www.constructionriskadvisors.com

OSHA is knocking on your door…

08/20/2009 1 comment

Here’s a top 10 list of the things you need to do to insure that their visit has the least impact on your bottom line as possible…

Ten Commandments for Managing an OSHA visit

1. I need to know my legal rights and be ready.

2. I’ll appoint and train one person or a team to handle government investigations.

3. Before I permit access, I’ll check inspector’s credentials.

4. Before inspection begins, I’ll be clear why the inspector is visiting. If not clear, I’ll dig deeper until I’m satisfied why the inspector is visiting.

5. I’ll be totally professional, no hostile behavior.

6. I’ll never, ever permit an inspector to go through my facility unaccompanied. I’ll have at least two company employees to accompany the inspector, one to take notes and the other to listen.

7. I’ll video the inspection. If I can’t video, I’ll audiotape and take the same measurements and photographs inspector takes. I’ll keep thorough and complete notes.

8. Like an IRS audit, I’ll not volunteer anything. I’ll only answer what is asked and give only requested documents.

9. I won’t give inspector documents the law says I don’t have to unless I’m convinced the reasons are valid.

10. At the closing conference, I’ll obtain information, but offer no additional information.

For more information, head on over to www.OSHA.gov


Safety Programs

What kind does your company have?

Is it formalized with buy-in from the owner all the way down to the newest employee?  Or is it in place because it is the only way you can bid all the jobs you want,  and OSHA says you have to?  Most contractors fall in the middle.  Safety is important, but not to the point where we let it delay a project from being completed on time.  Or, we pay a lot of attention to safety immediately following an accident, then we slowly get lazy about it until someone gets hurt again…

Listen folks, the insurance market has been soft(less expensive and more readily available) for contractors for the last few years.  According to industry experts, the next hard market is right around the corner and having an effective safety program, is a good way to show insurance underwriters that you care about limiting the amount of claims they have to pay and care more about whether all your employees get home every night instead of getting the job done as fast as you can.  Having a safety handbook is helpful, having safety meetings is helpful, wearing hardhats and other PPE is helpful.  Putting them all together is VERY helpful and believe it or not, will have a bearing on your insurance pricing.

Is this what your safety program looks like? Bike SafetyIf so, now is the time to get it a real helmet.

What we can learn from Microsoft and Yahoo.

07/29/2009 1 comment

There was an historical merger of the two software giants today.  Despite being well respected in their own industries, they knew that to survive and stay relevant, as well as profitable that they would have to join forces to be able to stand a fighting chance against their rival, Google.  It remains to be seen how this merger will effect the world of search engines, but it goes to show what is possible when two competitors align themselves against their biggest competitor.

In today’s contractor landscape, who is “your Google”?  Who is the contractor that is taking 87% of your jobs?  Who could you join forces with to try to topple them?  Sure, you’d have to reorganize your company, probably lay some folks off, but in the long run would you rather keep playing it safe and be out of business before the economy rights itself, or would you like to be the company that emerges in the new contractor landscape as the hybrid of two competitors who put their differences aside and their strengths together to beat a common enemy?

Real-Life Transformers

Came across an article this morning in the Seattle Tribune that describes the “deep dig” that Seattle is about to dig into to decongest their cities transportation system.  Shouldn’t have waited this long to start blogging again.  That decongest line would have killed during allergy season!

At $4.24 Billion Dollars, this project is a massive one, and construction itself isn’t expected to be underway before 2011.  Which gives the contractor that wins the bid, quite a bit of time to build this behemoth

Notice the forklift in the bottom right, which gives a decent idea of the scale of this thing.  This comment was made in the Times article about the size of this pile of bolts “

The tunnel boring machine will weigh 5,000 tons, about the same as a jumbo ferry, Paananen said. Its power plant will be 400 to 500 feet long, about the same length as a jumbo ferry. The diameter of the “drill bit” will be almost 55 feet.

Industry experts say it will take 18 months to two years to build that machine, at a cost well over $50 million.

It would be one of the biggest machines ever made,” said Craig Bournes, product manager for Lovat Inc., a Toronto-based firm that manufactures tunnel boring machines. Lovat built two of the machines for King County’s Brightwater, a project that eventually will carry sewage in underground pipes from an inland treatment plant to a discharge point in north Puget Sound. Those machines are much smaller – less than 19 feet in diameter.”

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of spending 2.5 hours of my life watching the new Transformers movie, and all I could think about when I saw the picture in the Times is that that machine looks a heck of a lot like this one…(the Decepticon that was responsible for destroying the pyramid in order to uncover the machine used to blow up the sun, ANYWAYS… This “transformer” is made up of a combination of construction vehicles, see the movie if you have absolutely nothing better to do and really like terrible plots and explosions.

Categories: construction, dan phelan

Electric Car Charging Stations

Last week, or maybe the week before, I posed the question to you about what you were doing or what you could be doing to diversify the type of work you are bidding/performing.  I assume that there are plenty of comments waiting to be moderated, so let me cut to the chase and suggest a type of retrofit that you may have never seen or heard of before.  In case you read the title of this post, you probably know what I’m referring to: Electric Car Charging Stations.  Now I’m not sure what the full scope of the work necessary to complete an electric car charging station is, but I imagine it would require a:

surveyor/architect

site contractor

electrician

plumber

and depending on whether these stations turn into multi-use facilities, they would also require drywall, HVAC, and cabinetry.  So for everyone thinking “we don’t know how to build a charging station”, leave that problem to the specialty electricians and get in touch ASAP with Northeast Utilities, to see what requirements you need to meet to get on their bid list.  I doubt there is a bid list yet, but judging from the article linked to above that this WILL happen, and WILL probably be a DOT type job.  So there isn’t a better time to make sure your experience MOD is below a 1.0 and your workers are current with their OSHA cards.  If you need help complying with either of these challenges, shoot me an email and I will be happy to point you in the right direction. dphelan@litchfieldins.com

What’s more important?

Working safe or working fast?  For one Connecticut contractor, the answer turned out to be an expensive one. Last week, OSHA issued a proposed fine of 180K for several willful safety violations to a CT contractor who had severe inadequacies in securing their job site.  A job site that was 43 feet above a river!  Several of the safety measures that were missing include: hard hats, life jackets, a rescue boat, guards on machinery, ladders of insufficient height, and an unsatisfactory fall protection system in place.  Luckily, nothing went wrong, and OSHA was on the scene before anything did.  But what the contractor was cited most for was working without fall protection over a work site with severe potential for a drowning.  Again, nothing went wrong, and luckily no one was hurt, but in the insurance game, prevention is key, and this company did very little to prevent their employees from being severely injured in myriad ways.  Aside from the steep OSHA penalties, this company will have a heck of a time when their insurance comes up for renewal.  And I doubt, the CT Department of Transportation will consider them for any more state funded bridge work since this incident didn’t make them look very good either.

So, how would an OSHA fine accept someones insurance?  The final decision will come from which ever insurance company’s underwriter is tasked with the assignment, but their decision will be biased by:

  • Lack of a safety culture.  Even though nothing happened this time, the outcome is grave if a laborer falls 4 stories into a river, in the month of March.  That won’t be a “band aid and back to work”.  That will be a “call the next of kin”.
  • Disregard for the safety of their employees.  If on one job site, on one day, OSHA found this many willful violations, it would be hard to convince an underwriter that this was a freak occurrence.
  • Lack of personal protective equipment.  Just the fact that no one even had hard hats on makes one think that the corporate structure of this contractor has no regard for safety or OSHA regulations, and maybe this is why they were able to bid this job for the price they did.

The one part for me that is a little hazy still, is how this company was able to bid on the work in the first place.  Many states require contractors who want to bid jobs for them to have an experience MOD factor lower than 1.00.  It would surprise me to find out what this contractor’s MOD is, because with this many willful violations at one time, it would be pure luck for them to have a good safety record.  The lack of machine guards alone should account for at least a few workers with 9 fingers.  The company that committed the offenses hasn’t issued any public statements yet, and it is not my place to be pointing fingers at what they could/should have done to prevent the fines that OSHA is imposing, but for any contractors who think they can cut corners with safety and federal OSHA requirements to bid jobs at lower prices, this should be your wake up call.

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