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How Do You Deal with An Unsafe GC?

Stand up when it's time to draw the line on unsafe work practices.

Let’s say you work as an onsite electrical superintendent for company that typically works under a general contractor (GC). Your company wins the bid for the electrical work on a project run by a GC your company hasn’t worked for previously.

When the contract was landed, your company’s sales manager held a meeting to stress to everyone the importance of doing good work for this GC because their sales projections are good and this means more opportunity for everyone.

On the first day, you arrive early to find out when and where the first safety meeting will be held. That information wasn’t in your job packet. By the time your crew shows up, you learn from the GC’s site manager, “We don’t do those kinds of meetings.”

And then the fun begins. Many of the tradespeople who work directly for the GC are walking around without hardhat and safety glasses. One of them is wearing tennis shoes. These workers include pipefitters, mechanics, carpenters, and general laborers. It’s pretty much everybody but your firm’s electricians.

When you, in your supervisor’s white hat, do the usual supervisor thing and try to talk with these workers about their unsafe acts, they tell you to mind your own business. So you go to their foremen and get the same response!

You report this to your project manager, who asks you why you think joking with him about safety is funny. When you send him snapshots via your smartphone, he says he’ll be on his way to the jobsite soon.

Meanwhile, the lack of concern for safety impinges on your own crew. One of your electrical crews was setting up for a raceway installation. They are using mostly pre-made bends, but they also set up the conduit bender for the EMT bends they’d need to make onsite.

One of the GC’s people used your bender on a piece of water pipe, cracking the EMT shoe. And the GC’s people were strewing parts, tools, materials, and portable cords everywhere. One of the stairways your people must use has taped-up portable cords running across the steps.

The project manager will arrive shortly to try to sort this out, but what can you do in the meantime?

What you can’t do is allow your crews to work under unsafe conditions.

You may be able to red tape off an area so that your crew can work in it without interference from the GC’s employees. If that can’t be done, call a work stoppage. Then call the home office to bring them up to date on what’s going on. Assign the job foremen to discreetly snap pictures of the safety violations (or have crew members do it).

Ultimately, your company’s management may choose to walk away from this project and this GC. Any opportunity from the relationship isn’t worth the risk to your people. It’s likely they have all those future projects in the pipeline because they can underbid due to taking shortcuts even with safety. Your company doesn’t need the liability or the brand damage.

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