Training Doesn’t Stop at Your Task
Training Doesn’t Stop at Your Task
As production volume increases, retraining our industry’s workforce is a real struggle. In many cases, employees are performing tasks they have never done before, from fabrication, pricing and designing, to selling and contracts. In addition, employees are “brought up to speed” quickly in order to get product out the door, relegating training to a need-to-know basis.
In what areas should I train my employees to reduce my exposure to risk?
Our current and past industry leaders, with the support of SBCA, have invested thousands of hours developing standards, warning documentation, training programs and other tools to help train industry employees and protect individual companies and the best interests of the industry. This article will focus on areas that can easily put your company at risk, if your employees don’t understand the content of what they are signing, sending out or agreeing to provide.
To the extent a bid or proposal is signed by a prospective customer, it then becomes a written and enforceable contract. The contract is reflected by what is written in the bid and the accompanying terms and conditions of sale.
Unfortunately, even if you submit a bid that fairly allocates risks between you and your prospective customer, your customer may not sign it. Instead, he or she may request or even insist that you sign his or her written customer contract form. In many markets, this scenario is common. The customer knows its form contract has been carefully and thoroughly prepared and reviewed by knowledgeable lawyers and risk managers. The customer also knows the form contract most likely favors it in as many ways as possible. Not knowing what is important and why leaves the uninformed employee placing his company potentially at significant risk.
When a customer insists on using its customer contract form, the only information the customer will likely use from your bid will be product descriptions, prices, and possibly payment terms. With regard to scope of work, warranty, risk transfer or indemnification, insurance requirements, scheduling, delivery, default and other terms, the customer’s contract form will make these types of provisions strictly in its favor. This is far different than how your terms and conditions of sale would treat such issues.
The builder’s contract form will oftentimes be long and complex. Such forms may go by many names. Possible names include purchase order, purchase confirmation, vendor agreement, material supplier contract, or subcontract or subcontractor agreement. Yes, builders and contractors will ask manufacturers to sign subcontract agreement forms even if they are material suppliers and not truly subcontractors. Many builders and contractors prefer a “one size fits all” approach when it comes to contract forms. Keep in mind, however, that it is the content of the customer contract form that is important—and that is where inexperience can hurt you.
Scope of Responsibilities:
It is all too easy to end up agreeing to provide a service to a customer in need, especially since component manufacturers (CM) typically are the only ones who send them professionally prepared and sealed documents, when required. This turns the CM into a design and installation expert, at least in the eyes of the builder or contractor. As the industry has developed, more and more pressure has been put on CMs to take responsibilities not in their realm of expertise. How many times have you seen Construction Documents where loading information has not been provided, or a note that states, “All snow and drift loading by truss manufacturer,” or had your customer ask you for an engineer’s seal on a letter for something you didn’t supply or did not install?
It is really easy to just take on this request and responsibility, especially when it is one of your loyal customers, or you believe that this service approach can be used to place you in a favorable position down the road to get other good projects. The real question is, what happens if the project goes wrong? Will your customer be there for you when the building doesn’t have the correct loads and you need to provide significant repairs?
ANSI/TPI 1-2007 Chapter 2 provides a guideline for the scope of work responsibilities of the different parties in the construction process, and it helps prevent other parties from neglecting their roles and duties. While each manufacturer supplies different products and levels of service to their customers, it is important to make sure that you’re only taking on responsibilities for areas that you are getting paid for and have the ability to perform.
Taking the time to review ANSI/TPI 1 Chapter 2 in detail may be of great benefit to your business. Since it is part of the law through adoption into the building codes, it can provide insight into market expectations, scopes of work, responsibilities and the value of your work. If you are providing any work or services outside of those described for a truss manufacturer, it’s a good idea to define what you are getting paid for those services. If you are doing them for free, it is likely this will be well known in the market, and you will be getting a good number of the jobs that assume free services.
With a good working knowledge of ANSI/TPI 1, you, your truss design staff and your sales staff should review Chapter 2, in depth, together. This will help give your staff more clearly defined business parameters and policies to operate within when dealing with your customers.
As you are keenly aware, a key area of company risk happens during the installation of trusses. Providing public education about the hazards of any product (i.e., duty to warn and inform) has become a big issue in today’s environment. Whether it is in handing someone a hot cup of coffee or starting a lawn mower, everything has warning stickers and proper handling instructions.
If you have been in this industry for a few years, you have either seen or heard of a truss collapse on a project. In some cases, the collapse also involved injuries or even a fatality. If you have supplied the trusses where there was a collapse, you may very well end up with some sort of legal action against your company. One of the first lines of defense to reduce the issues that come along when an accident happens is to have deployed our industry’s best practices approach. This includes the BCSI documents, the JOBSITE PACKAGE and being part of the industry in-plant QC program, In-Plant WTCA QC. Any legal expert who represents you knows that, if these best practices are in place, the discussion turns away from what the CM did not do, to what actually happened at the site to cause the accident.
Training employees typically involves the tasks directly related to their part of the process. However, time needs to be devoted to training them on other areas that put the company at risk, from contract language to lumber grade stamp and jobsite packages. SBCA, and leading CMs in the industry, have spent a lot of time over the years to help put documents, training modules and code language in place to advance the best interests of your company.
With contracts, tools like SBCA’s ORisk program can help train your staff to be more aware of your exposure to liability that can place your company in a situation that was completely unintended and challenging.
Clearly laying out your areas of expertise using the guidelines in ANSI/TPI 1-2007 Chapter 2 with your sales and design staff is critical to ensure you are not expanding your responsibilities to areas that are within the scope of work of others and you are doing for free.
Jobsite packages are important educational vehicles. Merely sending out a jobsite package is not enough, however. This information should be reviewed and understood by all employees who have interactions with the framers, so that, as a company, everyone has a unified understanding of these documents and, hence, a unified voice. When a customer asks a question, the answer should always be the same. Finally, after you have a good working knowledge of all of the support information and best practice guidelines that your industry has provided, consider reviewing all of it in depth together with your staff. This can take a variety of forms from a lunch-and-learn to a more formal monthly meeting. This will stimulate good discussion and give your staff policies and procedures to think through and integrate into the day-to-day procedures of your business.
Good tools, programs and standards to use for training your employees to help reduce your risk:
• Jobsite packages
• Truss Tags
• SBCA Load Guide
• ANSI/TPI 1-2007 Chapter 2 “Standard Responsibilities in the Design and Application of Metal Plate Connected Wood Trusses”
Visit SBCA website for more information.