Each day our doors are open, and even some days our doors are shut, our businesses are exposed to risk. The risks we take can manifest themselves in many ways and at any time, with consequences that are tough to plan for. We constantly get bitten with little problems that cost us time and money. In my business we have fortunately avoided taking any big hits through preemptive action and sheer luck. Each day, however, is a roll of the dice to avoid a major catastrophe.
I felt safer and more in control when our business was smaller and we worked only with solid surface materials. We were familiar with the weights and properties of the materials and the dangers associated with each. DuPont and other large manufacturers reduced our risk with their help in safety training and product handling expertise.
Now that we have grown and fabricate and install granite and engineered stone in addition to solid surface, we have exposed ourselves to a whole new level of risk. The weight of these hard surfaces alone should be enough to scare the crap out of any shop owner. One wrong move in unloading a truck, or the slip of a hand on an installation could easily -- and, in some cases, has -- cost lives. We have instituted new rules for handling these materials, such as no one works alone moving slabs, and a manager must be present to unload any truck deliveries. In our hard surfaces shop we also require all work to be done wet to avoid inhalation of silica dust.
If the increased risk in handling these heavier materials alone was not enough, consider the consequences of a lawsuit resulting from an employee slipping on a wet floor, or a homeowner being hurt by a raised bartop falling from it's supporting wall. Risk is not completely unavoidable in these types of circumstances. With our litigious society every aspect of our businesses is at risk. Disgruntled employees or opportunistic customers could easily wreak havoc, given the right set of circumstances or intentions. Our company has a contract that excludes us from many common liability scenarios, and refuses to perform any plumbing or electrical work, no matter how easy it appears.
Although a good umbrella insurance policy might be a wise investment, we view relying on insurance coverage alone as inadequate protection against the major economic impact of a risk gone bad. We review our insurance coverage, and shop providers each year for a new workers' compensation carrier to keep our rates low.
We start with a focus on safety and controls. We take advantage of OSHA's voluntary inspection programs. With this compliance program a company is exempt from a surprise inspection during the time it takes from your request until one year following the inspection. It can take up to eight months just to get the inspector out to your facility. We also have used a control assessment flow chart in our office process to understand where we are at risk, and where we need to make changes to protect our company's finances.
Also of consideration: Treat your employees and customers like family and they become less of a liability. Look everywhere and imagine the worst to find potential risk scenarios. Do everything right every day and your risk is lowered. Charge and pay yourselves enough to justify having it all on the line every day.
About the author: Jon Lancto is president of Solid Surface Products in Cornelius, N.C., and has extensive experience in solid surface fabrication. He is a founding member of ISSFA, and served for four years as the fabricator association's first president.