Safety as Second Nature

by Kacey Larsen

Safety on jobsites might not be glamorous, but it is important and affects more than one person. “What we do is risky and if you’re aware there’s danger around, you can look out for it,” says Joe Levitch, CR, president, Levco Remodeling, Boise, Idaho. “If you care about yourself, workers and clients, then you will have an eye toward this rather than ignoring or looking right past it.”

Levitch recognizes he may have a different take on jobsite safety after his years working as a paramedic, which exposed him to situations where people fell from roofs or cut themselves with a saw. He also serves as the chairman on safety for his local NARI chapter, so education on the topic is a major goal for him.

“The safety thing has always come second nature to me. I asked to be on the safety committee, and I’m a regular contributor to our (chapter’s) newsletter with safety articles,” he says. “We tend to talk about accidents after they happen. You really learn something by being exposed to it, but if you hear about it anecdotally from someone, you can put it in your memory bank of safety related things and think, ‘maybe that’s not the smartest thing to do.’ You don’t have to actually experience it to learn from it.”

This method of learning from someone’s experiences extends to how Levitch runs his company’s safety meetings. “My company has a regularly scheduled safety meeting here at the office. What may be unusual is that I always ask my employees to share examples of things they’ve caught,” he says. “One of my employees caught a ladder being used that appeared unsafe and ended up throwing it in the garbage.

“We talk about examples of situations where our employees did get injured, like setting up scaffolding incorrectly and realizing the liability was ours even though there weren’t good instructions on the scaffolding railing installation,” he continues. “I let everybody talk about things coming up on a particular project that might involve safety. Then, I ask project managers whenever they’re about to embark on something hazardous to have a team huddle (at the jobsite) and document it. We use Builder Trend, so there’s an opportunity in the daily log to put a safety meeting, who was there and what was discussed so it’s on the record.”

Safety culture is an expectation Levitch sets for his employees, and he has a “Levco Safety Culture” document he asks employees to sign. It details ways the company can “live and nurture a culture of safety.” It iterates a safety culture extends to subcontractors as well. Leading by example is a key part of it. “I was on a jobsite, so I was wearing my hard hat and they were giving me a hard time. I said, ‘This is something we have to do when people are working above us, and this is what I have to wear on a jobsite.’ I have to lead by example,” he says.

Education is important for homeowners too, which is why Levitch created a document called “Welcome to the Wonderful World of Remodeling” for clients. On it, he mentions many details of remodeling — communication, work hours, securing belongings, etc. — and highlights three safety points:

  • “Your home may soon have temporary holes in floors or walls, open electrical boxes, nails, loose boards and other hazards. We will keep things as neat and safe as possible, but suggest you educate children and visitors about the dangers and risks of playing and walking through construction areas.”
  • “We don’t want Fluffy to get her tail in the saw or Rover to slip out an open door, so please make arrangements to contain pets for their safety and ours.”
  • “Our policy is not to use your tools. Since many look alike, we might grab the wrong one, break it or even haul it to another jobsite, so it is best if you put yours away or mark them boldly. Because of our concern for your safety, we cannot allow you to use our tools either.”

Beyond education his employees and clients, Levitch wants to help other remodelers. “I became involved with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2010 when they were just beginning the RRP Program, and I was concerned how it was going to affect remodelers,” he explains. “I’m a risk assessor for the EPA when it comes to lead-based paint, and I started a secondary company called Lead Locators to help remodelers with a reasonably priced lead test and make sure my NARI guys were doing it right.” He also shared he sends “buckets of fall protection” to jobsites for his employees and/or subcontractors to use.|

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