An Eighty-Eight Percent Day in the Life

Vince Bailey / December 2017

I’m emphatic: Jobsite walks should be mandatory for every estimator. In fact, each bidmeister should be required to perform one at least once a month, if not more often. A regular hike through the work-in-progress provides multiple benefits and unexpected rewards. It affords insight into how a quantifier’s abstract work translates in the concrete world in terms of means and methods, innovations (new tools, materials, equipment), scheduling, production and, especially, manpower allocation. And so it was an early site visit of my own that recently gave me an eye-opening encounter concerning a manpower factor that most estimators probably don’t contemplate.
I like to walk the ongoing projects that I’ve estimated quite frequently, but it’s apparently been some years since I actually hit the job site at start-time. Let me tell you, as an old “back-in-the-day” drywaller, start-time ain’t what it used to be. Between “stretch and flex” routines, toolbox talks, sign-in, potty stops and rollout, it’s close to an hour or more after start-time before one actually hears the pop of a fastening tool or the whine of a screwgun.
Now, before I launch on a rant about unproductive time, time that includes some safety aspects, don’t jump to the conclusion that I am somehow opposed to proactive safety measures, or that I favor production over safety. In fact, a few years back, I devoted an entire installment of this column to citing the pecuniary benefits of construction safety programs. But I digress. The thrust of the following is twofold: to expose the extent of the recurring morning delay before actual work occurs and to alert commercial construction estimators to a manpower factor they likely are not considering. If I happen to question the effectiveness of this or that practice in the process, it’s purely incidental.
If my morning visit to the site was indicative, the stretch-and-flex routine is the opening ritual of the day. A typical stretch-and-flex program apparently consists of a mandatory set of warm-up exercises involving the upper, mid and lower sections of the body, usually lasting some 15 minutes. I suppose if this daily activity prevents musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) it’s well worth the 15 minutes. Trouble is, the jury’s still out on whether all that arm-waving, head-rolling and knee-bending helps at all. A 2013 article appearing in “EHS Today” stated, “A review of three well-known studies related to efficacy of stretching at work to prevent injuries determined that stretching did not result in any meaningful or statistical reduction in MSDs.” Skeptical studies are numerous, but even the scoffers who dispute the actual physical benefit agree that the early-morning stretching ritual provides a feel-good atmosphere and enhances jobsite camaraderie. Great. I can factor the camaraderie cost into my next bid.
Daily toolbox talks can contribute to a good safety program, and as such may justify the 15-minute delay of actual work commencement. But again, their worth directly depends on their effectiveness. A toolbox talk should consist of a short speech addressing potential safety issues and latent hazards on the job. To be effective they should be brief, site-specific, proactive and engaging. If toolbox talks adhere to the above principles, I have no doubt that they can be valuable preventative measures and well worth the down time. Unfortunately, many of these talks consist of a foreman reading from a professionally prepared sheet that may or may not be relevant to the particular site. Furthermore, even those canned lectures that correspond with site conditions can’t be trade-specific. For instance, ladder safety pertains well to electricians, but not to drywallers who utilize other means (benches, scaffolds or lifts) to reach high work. Another problem: most talks are given in English, whereas many sites are comprised of a significant number of Spanish-speakers. The solution: Give the talk in both English and Spanish? Great, now we’re talking 30 minutes (violates the “brief” principle above), half of which is spent on folks who don’t have the vaguest notion of what’s being said (violates “engaging”).
After all that exercise and pontificating, most coffee-saturated workers will need to hit the head. OSHA mandates that six port-a-potties be made available for 150 workers and an additional one for every 40 above that. That may work over the course of the day, but when 190 men feel a simultaneous urgency with only seven facilities, a logjam is inevitable (no pun intended). And though unarguably necessary, another 10 or 15 minutes gets tinkled away.
The bottom line is just this: Most estimators do their productions based on an eight-hour day. Truth is, actual on-site production usually spans more like seven. That’s alarming. So yes, an early morning site visit can be a real eye-opener. Just the other day, I swear I heard a foreman prodding his crew after the safety huddle: “Let’s go out there today, people, and really give it a full 88 percent!”
As I said, it ain’t what it used to be.

Vince Bailey is an estimator/project manager working in the Phoenix area.