June 1, 2014

Housekeeping for contractors


“A stitch in time, saves nine.” As old as that saying is, the truth still prevails. As your season slips into high-gear, don’t neglect the little “stitches” that keep small problems from growing into big ones.

Below I’ve listed items that cause small problems, lots of little stiches here and there. But you’ll lose count of wasted, unbillable hours working around these problems if you skip past the housekeeping phase and try to work through them. Some of these problems lead to quick, so-called harmless trips to the store. Other, more serious neglected items will lead to audits, fines, and even preventable accidents.

So, bring your staff in on a Saturday and work through the items that apply to your company. The day’s wages will sting (a bit), but like a needle applied to fabric, a few hours spent preventing problems will save you hundreds of hours dealing with them.

Shop housekeeping
  • Label all your shelves and storage locations. If there’s one thing you can do to make your cleanups last longer, it’s labelling.
  • Having clearly-marked areas for everything prevents people from just tossing materials and tools wherever they feel like. Labels will not only make your shop look neater and cleaner, it will shorten your seasonal cleanup from months or years to weeks.
  • Clean up employee meeting and lunch areas. These areas often suffer from neglect. Dirty, unkempt employee areas reinforce the message to all employees (especially new ones) that it’s OK to leave a mess.
  • Clean out the equipment repair area in your shop. Throw out any old tools and equipment that are beyond repair, or where it’s cheaper to replace.
  • Throw out broken tools or materials that you’ll likely never use. They just add clutter. If it’s been sitting around for a year or more and you haven’t used it, toss it out.
  • Check your material inventories. Restock materials, tools, small equipment, job consumables. Stock up on items you use just about every day to reduce wasted time stopping at vendors.
  • Check your fuel cans. Are they colour-coded by fuel type? Do you have all the lids and nozzles (Hint: you probably need 3-4 spare lids for every can!)
  • Do all your new employees have an area for their personal belongings, or a mail slot? Nothing says, “You’re not important and we don’t expect you to be here long,” like not providing a space for new employees, while keeping spots for employees who no longer work for you.
  • Paperwork printed and ready. We’re trying to get rid of paperwork everywhere we possibly can, but you probably can’t escape it all. Make paperwork available on clearly-marked shelves.
  • Inventory your safety equipment. Check quantities of commonly-used safety supplies like hearing protection, eye protection, eye wash, and safety vests. Order more of what you need.
  • Look around the shop for hazard areas, especially for fuel or hazardous chemical storage areas. Post warning signs and no-smoking signs wherever necessary.
  • Update your MSDS binder. Ensure you have MSDS sheets for all hazardous materials and make sure your MSDS sheets are up-to-date (they do expire).
  • Check the first aid supplies at the shop. Make sure you’re stocked according to your local health and safety laws.
  • Inspect your shop fire extinguishers. Make sure the inspection is recent and they’re charged and ready.
  • Check and replenish inventory of cleaning supplies – brooms, dust absorber, spill absorber, truck washing supplies, etc.
Office housekeeping
  • Walk into your greeting and receiving area. Pretend you are a customer, a new employee, a banker or a vendor. What’s the entrance to your office like? Is the first impression neat, tidy and attractive? If it’s not, why not?
  • Make sure all new employees have an employee file. Build a basic checklist for what should be in each file and staple the checklist to the inside cover of the folder. 
  • Make sure you are updating all staff, but especially new employees, with basic training. MSDS, PPE and relevant tool and equipment training are key. Get written signoffs for all training and keep signoffs somewhere to access.
  • Put a plan in place for ongoing training. How often do you expect toolbox meetings? Where should staff get the content for these toolbox meetings? How do they submit the signoffs? What other training or inspections are expected?
  • Update your Health and Safety policies, board postings, contact numbers and emergency response plan. Save old policies, and use a new version number on new ones, so you can demonstrate that you review and update these regularly.
  • Build an electronic calendar with key dates to remind you and your staff. Calendars are easy, fast and free ways to set up reminders for training deadlines, fleet and vehicle management, health and safety inspections and more.
  • Ask all staff to report important allergies or health conditions. If you have staff with serious allergies, make sure you have an EpiPen at the shop or office. Don’t forget to make sure people have been trained to use it.
  • Check your office supply inventory. Restock where required. Label all office supply shelves and areas so that these areas stay neat and organized.
  • Check your uniform inventory.
  • Update your answering machine message. If your message is old and tired, consider a new one.
  • Update your website and any social media you use. Nothing is worse than a neglected website. If you haven’t posted any new content in a year or more, do it. Post spring updates, pictures of last year’s jobs, pictures of this year’s staff or equipment. Post inspiration from other sites! Anything to get you started.
Vehicle, trailer and equipment housekeeping
  • Organize your keys. Build a rack in the shop with clearly-marked locations for each vehicle and equipment key. Have at least two backups for every key. Keep the backups organized with labelled key chains.
  • Check dates of all plate renewals, insurance slip expiration, annual inspections, etc. Create electronic calendar entries to remind people of important expiration dates.
  • Check all the paperwork in your vehicles. Each vehicle should have updated insurance slips, ownerships, copies of inspections, and any other relevant documents.
  • Ensure all vehicles and trailers are registered for the correct weight.
  • Include an emergency plan, emergency contact information and an accident checklist in each vehicle.
  • Check inventory of daily vehicle inspection books/forms. Store in an easy-to-find place.
  • Create binders for all vehicles and equipment in the office to store copies of ownerships, registrations, inspections and all maintenance records. This will make an MTO audit much easier.
  • Check your insurance policy against your current fleet, and ensure new drivers are named on your policy.
  • Check the contents of all first aid kits in vehicles.
  • Check the tool inventory in all your trucks and trailers. Replace any worn or broken items.
  • Label all shelving and storage areas in your tool trailers (especially enclosed trailers).
  • Ensure all equipment has an operator’s manual available.
  • Make sure employees have sufficient training to inspect, operate, and work around and with the equipment they use.

Mark Bradley is president of TBG Landscape and the Landscape  Management Network (LMN), both based in the Toronto area.