Injury in the Workplace

Unfortunately, some injured employees may not adhere to the prescribed follow-up procedures and/or appointments thus causing inadequate or insufficient attention to proper ongoing care.  The Injury Manager should stay on top of the situation by communicating with the injured employee regularly.  In some cases it is advisable for the Injury Manager to accompany the employee to the aftercare doctors visits to ensure that the employee is adhering to the proper care program.  Keep in mind that (essentially) you are footing the bill for the employees care through your insurance premiums, thus necessitating your participation in getting the employee ‘healed’ and able to return to work.  At these aftercare visits the Injury Manager has the right to talk with the physician to ascertain what is needed in order to assist with the recuperating process.  Often, the Case Manager from the insurance carrier will also attend these appointments to keep accurate records of the entire process.  Good communication is a key element in getting the employee back to work as soon as possible.

Part of the injury management process is to have a ‘light duty’ work program in place so that the injured employee can go back to work, earn a paycheck and feel productive.  Additionally, the Injury Manager can oversee the remainder of the recuperation process too.  Sometimes this light duty work schedule must be tailored to the individual employees’ immediate injury needs, however prior extensive studies show that getting them back to work is much more advisable than allowing the injured employee to sit around doing nothing productive.  Interestingly enough, it is a proven fact that performing light duty work often accelerates the desire to return to regular work status and positively affects the recuperation process.

Virtues of Size

 

When talking with potential customers, extol the virtues of dealing with your company.  If you are a large contractor with a large fleet of equipment, you might point out that there is no excuse for not showing up on time (if enough snow falls soon enough to allow you to complete the plowing in the allotted time frame).  You probably have mechanic on staff (or readily available) to get breakdowns fixed quickly so that the equipment is back up and running in short order.  You may have a full time dispatch team to insure that ‘special requests’ can be addressed in a timely fashion.

 

For small contractors, sell the fact that you don’t have a large number of customers – so that every customer gets “personalized service”.  You don’t have to keep track of a large contingent of trucks, so you always know where everybody is working.  Personalized service means that you care about that customer’s needs, almost exclusively.

Are you a Professional? You’re right

If you want to “think you can” then it is imperative to bring a businesslike attitude to the snow side of your business if you’re going to have any chance at being successful.  One of the biggest problems with those of us in the snow business is that we don’t have enough respect for ourselves and the service we provide.  So, that is job one.  Self respect.

Anyone who provides a necessary service to a paying customer by putting in incredibly long hours, in equipment you have to spend $40,000 or more to have, working in horrendous conditions is known as a “professional”.  Customers who don’t treat snowplowers as the professionals we are, should not have the privilege of being our customer.  Think of yourself as a professional.  You are.

If you think you are, or you think you are not – you’re right.

Why it is Important to Utilize Subcontractors

independent service providerUtilizing independent service providers (formerly known as – subcontractors) can be a source of irritation at times, and one needs to be cognizant of the pitfalls associated with utilizing subcontractors.  One needs to be prepared that a percentage of the available subcontractors will not “come out” when called.  The reasons for these “no shows” can include: sickness, hangover, truck broke down, no babysitter, and the phone being turned off (inadvertently, of course).  However, subcontractors normally take much better care of their equipment than your employees take care of your company equipment.  Subs don’t normally ram curbs with plow trucks and then say “oops”.  And when a sub breaks down they normally work very hard to “get back up” right away instead of calling on the radio (or phone) and saying, “My truck’s broke”.  Subs will often carry spare parts and tools to effect repairs immediately so they can get back to work, earning money.

When subs are done for the night (or daytime, as the case may be), they should ‘turn in’ (or report) hours the same day.  In this manner, if there are any discrepancies in recorded hours, they can be immediately addressed.  If not, you can end up arguing later when no one actually remembers what went on during that particular snow event.  Sometimes this means calling them at home and waking them up even as they are trying to get some sleep.  It is better to address this particular issue right away, rather than waiting.

Provide Your Workers With The Proper Tools

Snow ShovelMost snow related production workers who are attracted to our industry like to work outdoors, or are doing snow removal as part of a year round activity that includes landscape or property management.  Normally they do not object to physically demanding work.  However, we must provide them with the proper tools to do their job as snow related tasks are (by nature) much more physically demanding than landscape maintenance related duties.  They may need a pay differential for winter type work which often means working in conditions that are intolerable to others in the workforce.

What specific traits should we look for when hiring a production person to work under an experienced crew leader??  After the basic requirements have been met, look for the person that needs to be active at all times and who appears to be bursting with energy.  The production worker we look for usually has little regard for detail and is difficult to train in the classroom.  They learn by doing and are good candidates for on-the-job training, provided the objective is getting them to take action, not improving their knowledge.  The sad reality is most true production people, on sidewalk snow removal crews, leave our industry because we do not see ourselves as managing a production operation.  This is true even in landscape management operations as well as snow removal operations.

Safe Driving Practices

Safe Driving PracticesWhen we think of “safety” with regards to snow removal, there are some significant considerations that have to be taken into account.  The timing of the work that is required comes into play.  The vast majority of work done in winter snow removal operations is done at night.  This presents some challenges that don’t normally incur during landscape operations.  Additionally, a good portion of the work is done “behind the wheel”, and this too is different than most landscape/tree care/irrigation/excavation work.

In landscape work, we involve vehicles to transport us from project to project.  In winter, vehicle operation is one of the primary tasks and not just a method of transportation.  Additionally, with the work being done mostly at night – attention to safe driving practices becomes even more important.  True, we work in driveways and parking lots which are (for the most part) vacant.  But fatigue can take its toll and become a larger factor during nighttime snow removal operations than it is during daytime landscaping operations.  This can be especially prevalent when the snow event goes on for days requiring “round the clock” working conditions.  Plow drivers need breaks too – sometimes only to get a bite to eat and a shower.  They can be revived for many hours with just a short, well timed break from the action.

It Feels Good To Be An American

The 4th of July.  Independence Day.  In the revolution against England – 25,000 men and women gave their lives so that we might all live in a country whereby religious freedoms are important, the ability to start and run fledgling business’s is encouraged, and where we can (essentially) live free of tyranny and oppression.  Of course, some will say we are oppressed by the US Government today, but overall it is better than the alternatives.

We should all be thankful for the sacrifices made by those who came before us so that we might have the ability to pursue our dreams to the best of our ability.  I have been one of the fortunate ones, to be able to chase my dreams and become comfortable with my efforts.

We are indeed fortunate to live in the United States of America.  Do we have problems and issues?  You bet we do.

It feels good to be here and to be an American. We are all privileged and blessed to live here in this great country.

Happy Birthday to the USA !!!!

Safety TipsWhat can we do to ensure that employees are safe during plowing operations ?  Here’s a couple tips that will help.  If you know it is going to snow, encourage your people to take a nap, or to go to bed early.  That way they are well rested for the all night plowing that can come with wintertime snowfalls.  If they have been plowing 8 or 10 hours, allow them to take a break to eat.  Sometimes just taking the break can be more beneficial than sleep.  Encourage them to take snacks, food and pop/soda with them in the truck.  Never allow alcohol to be consumed during a snow event, even during a well deserved break from plowing.

Plow drivers tend to work in a shirtsleeve environment because of the need to have the heater going full blast in order to keep the engine from overheating.  However, they should have warm clothing with them in case they get stuck and have to dig themselves out of a snow bank.  They should be able to dress warmly even if just hooking up a tow strap so as to be pulled out of that snow bank.  If any type of repairs need done on the plow – warm clothing will be welcome when having to work outside the cab of the truck.

These people are the lifeblood of our business.  They need to be assured we care about them.  Even if they don’t like it – insist that proper safety measures are practiced.  It’s one of the most important things you can do to show you care.

Myths About Large Crews

Facts-Myths

Increase in man-hour efficiency is only one of the many myths about large crews.  Another popular legendary myth is that large crews insure quality work.  This was born in the belief that it takes more time to do quality work, and non-quality work is faster and saves time.  Neither are true.  Quality is the result of a process that includes trained people operating the correct equipment according to a set procedure.  In large crews where accountability is minimal, quality is often sacrificed.

Owners/managers like large crews on site.  When you are behind schedule, the first solution is to add people.  Desperate owners may even dictate specific crew sizes and threaten to withhold payment if these demands are not met.  In most cases this “knock it out” behavior is an attempt to correct performance problems and force the contractor back on schedule.  In this situation don’t increase the crew size; bring in a separate crew, divide the property into appropriate zones, and then “knock it out”.  Once back on schedule the owner/manager will become accustomed to, and accept fewer people on the site during a snow event.

The myth that large crews provide better usability of supervision is a throwback to factory or assembly line thinking that really does not apply to on-site sidewalk snow removal crews.  The notion that one strong supervisor can supervise five people as easily as two and still keep production responsibility does not apply during a snow event.  Some supervisors try to keep the men together.  Supposedly they are easier to supervise, but in reality the “herd mentality” further reduces productivity.  The ‘large crew supervisor’ must make a choice to reduce (or eliminate) his own productivity in order to keep five men up to speed, or allow their productivity to drop to maintain individual productivity.

The ‘large crew supervisor’ must make a choice to reduce (or eliminate) his own productivity in order to keep five men up to speed, or allow their productivity to drop to maintain individual productivity.

Most large crew supervisors do a little bit of both and lose both productivity and quality.  This is unfortunate as everybody loses when this happens.  The combination that seems to work best is a full time working foreman with one or perhaps two crew members trained to require very little direct supervision.  Divide large crews into smaller two and three man crews and teach them to function as separate work units.   Productivity will increase – sometimes dramatically.  When large properties require more man-hours than a three man crew can generate, divide the property into two zones and send two crews to produce the work.  It will be much cheaper for the customer in the long run – and the contractor will look much better at budget review time, or when it comes time to determine if a viable profit has been made on that particular account.

Each two or three person crew should have production and quality goals for the specific snow event they are working.  Even though they may be in competition on the same property, they should be evaluated on that particular snow event’s performance.  And, they MUST be evaluated often enough to changes may be had as/if necessary.  Also, set the goals aggressive enough that the crew must stretch to get there.  Easy goals are easily achieved – harder goals are also achieved to the betterment of the margin for that account.  Remember – it is all about the margin……

Cheaper Is Not Always Better

When a potential customer calls to get a price for plowing services, some contractors want to know why that customer is considering changing vendors.  It is a fair question.  If the customer is unsatisfied with the service provided by the previous contractor, this is a customer worth spending time with in order to ascertain the reasons for being unsatisfied.  You might find that the previous contractor was undercharging for his services thus necessitating the need to ‘shortcut’ the job in order to make a viable profit.  In these cases you may need to be frank with the customer and tell them that they were not paying enough for the service and that you are going to be more expensive – but the quality of work will be better.  A potential customer that wants you to provide better service at the same price is not looking for quality and dependability.  They are looking for the ‘cheap price’.

If they are just looking to ‘check pricing’, then you may want to avoid getting involved with such tactics, unless you do need the practice quoting work without getting anything in return.  Price shoppers will change vendors next year or, worse yet, mid season just to get a ‘cheaper price’.  In this industry, the cheap price usually ends up being un-justified by the second significant snowfall when the “service” just isn’t there.