Our Company Culture: Safety Is Priceless All Year Long

Safety is Tualatin, Ore.-based Columbia Roofing & Sheet Metal’s No. 1 core value and a year-round commitment that streams through our entire operation. Just one very small diversion from the rules can cost someone his or her home, business or life. I sleep easy knowing everyone is home safely at the end of the workday.

Employees in the field perform a “Stretch and Flex” activity every morning, led by the foreman, to help prevent injuries.

Employees in the field perform a “Stretch and Flex” activity every morning, led by the foreman, to help prevent injuries. PHOTO: Columbia Roofing & Sheet Metal

There are key processes we follow at Columbia Roofing & Sheet Metal to ensure job safety:

Every two weeks our employees train with a paid outside safety training consultant, Integrity Safety of Vancouver, Wash. OSHA comes to our facility and our job sites if we have any questions. We keep up on the safety regulations and strive for perfection through staff member Pete Perrin and our safety consultant. In addition to all the safety rules that state and federal OSHA requires, we go beyond in many areas that just make sense, such as tagging all safety equipment, including ladders,
fall-protection equipment, first-aid kits and fire extinguishers, each quarter. Our employees, in the field and in the office, are held to a very high level of responsibility.

Each quarter we have a mandatory “stand down”, much like a military operation. This is when everyone stops all activities and inspects all job-site gear. We examine electrical tools, cords and equipment for proper function and wear and tear. Gear is tagged according to the color of the season as required by OSHA. Additionally, all ladders are inspected and tagged for acceptance. We exchange all our personal fall-protection equipment with each other and have it inspected in accordance with OSHA requirements. It is then tagged with the proper-color tape and worn; damaged equipment is replaced.

In addition, Columbia Roofing & Sheet Metal holds a mandatory “Save A Back” training every two years. Everyone, including me, attends a half-day of training on a Saturday. Save A Back is a program that began in New Zealand more than 30 years ago. It explains how to properly lift and focuses on workplace movement design, not just lifting with your legs. This makes it very different from many techniques taught in the U.S. Our employees in the field also conduct a “Stretch and Flex” activity every morning, led by the foreman, to help prevent injuries. Our foremen have been trained via Save A Back, and all the activities we engage in with our employees are moves taught by Save A Back.

All these efforts not only have helped us at work, but also benefit us in our daily lives.

In fact, our employees are encouraged to take safe practices home with them. We encourage personal-protective equipment and processes even when off the clock doing household chores. It is easy to skip following work-safety practices when off the clock, but we explain that everything we teach is for our employees and their friends to take home; it is the Columbia way!

I believe these rigorous safety standards have helped our company achieve a great insurance program and better customers who require low insurance modification rates (mod rates) on workers’ compensation. It also shows our customers we are serious about their safety, as well as ours. We have had two OSHA fines in 18 years in the roofing business. I believe this shows we are “walking the talk”!

We have found being safety conscious is also profitable. You are never “money ahead” making sacrifices related to safety. We spend less time processing claims, talking with lawyers and families, doing light-duty work, dealing with OSHA and losing customers over safety issues. The value of sending home employees and customers to their families in a healthy way—every day—is priceless.

Work Smart, Not Hard

My friend Bart was raised with the motto, “work smart, not hard.” When he was a teenager, Bart’s dad asked him to clean out a large cattle barn while his parents went away for a long weekend. Bart realized he would not be able to clean the barn himself with only a pitchfork in three days time. So he hired his family’s neighbor who had a skid loader to do the chore for him. When his father returned, Bart said his dad was proud (and surprised) he had accomplished the task. While bragging around town about what a good worker his son was, Bart’s dad learned from the neighbor that Bart had not cleaned out the barn himself. His dad returned home angry with him, but Bart reminded him that he had taught him to “work smart, not hard”. Bart explained he cleaned the barn using his brain instead of his back. His father couldn’t argue, and Bart carries this life lesson with him. He says he finds ways to work smarter every day.

As a roofing worker, the motto “work smart, not hard” seems easier said than done. Every day is physically demanding and consists of climbing, heavy-lifting and lots of bending. But there are ways roofers can work smarter, and Mark Carpenter, president of Tualatin, Ore.-based Columbia Roofing & Sheet Metal, shares a few of his company’s techniques in our “Safety” column.

Carpenter notes safety is his roofing contracting company’s No. 1 priority and, as such, he strives to keep his workers healthy and safe. Among his tactics is a program called “Save A Back” in which his employees are taught how to prevent back injuries through specific lifting methods and education. In addition, Carpenter’s foremen lead crews every morning in “Stretch and Flex” activities, which further help prevent on-the-job injuries.

I think Carpenter’s proactive approach to protecting his workers’ health helps them to work smart, not hard. After all, back injuries are difficult to cure and are expensive. Consider the following:

    ▪▪ More than 1 million workers suffer back injuries each year. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington, D.C.)

    ▪▪ Back injuries account for one of every five workplace injuries or illnesses. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

    ▪▪ One-fourth of all compensation indemnity claims involve back injuries. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

    ▪▪ Thirteen percent of back injuries last two years or longer. (Source: National Council on Compensation Insurance, Boca Raton, Fla.)

    ▪▪ The average total cost of a back injury exceeds $24,000. (Source: The Journal of the American Medical Association)

As Carpenter states in his article, “You are never ‘money ahead’ making sacrifices related to safety. … The value of sending home employees and customers to their families in a healthy way—every day—is priceless.”