This is my fifth monthly blog post of the year. How did it get to be May already? If you are anything like me, you might still be stuck in March of 2020 when this crazy pandemic turned everything upside down. As much as we thought that the dawn of a new year, 2021, would somehow magically put things back to “normal,” we are dealing with a “new normal” and one that does affect your job as an estimator or business owner.

The topic this month in the editorial calendar of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR Magazine is safety. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, my focus would have been different than what I am going to focus on this month. My current focus is how the pandemic has affected the workplace and things that you should be doing as an estimator or business owner to ensure that all your costs are covered.

OSHA + YOU

Let’s start with OSHA. Most people know OSHA as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, an organization under the umbrella of the United States Department of Labor. In short,

“The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to comply with safety and health standards and regulations promulgated by OSHA or a state with an OSHA-approved state plan. In addition, the Act’s General Duty Clause, Section 5 (a)(1), requires employers to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”

Of course, as an employer, you should have been complying with OSHA standards all along, but the pandemic added extra responsibilities to you, the employer. It’s something that hasn’t been seen before. Things like Exposure Risk Level Assessments, Job Hazard Analysis, and updated Standard Operating Procedures all came about regarding handling the spread of the COVID-19 virus and protecting the American worker.

While employee training is a normal course of action, employers must now ensure that their employees are trained, not only in doing their jobs safely, but also in mitigating the spread of the virus all while adhering to OSHA requirements. Things that we never thought about are being addressed now. It is a different workplace.

THE 2021 WORKPLACE

The workplace of over a year ago has been replaced with one that is quite different, and that difference has come at a cost. Have you thought about that? The time and the actual costs? The exposure may surprise you.

One of the best ways to ensure that all employees understand the procedures put in place to keep them safe is to continue with Toolbox Talks and Safety Meetings. The costs to conduct these meetings are not free. What do I mean by that? Every time, one or several of your employees is not working on a job-related task, you are paying for non-productive time. Depending on the number of workers and the time spent, this unproductive time can add up, causing a loss in revenue. A word of caution: be sure that the required information is disseminated in a timely and understandable fashion so that employees comprehend it and can return to work as quickly as possible.

You may have found that it is the best course of action to appoint a Health and Safety Officer. Granted this could be a current employee of your company, or a new employee hired to handle these important tasks. Again, COVID safety comes at a cost.

Another cost is flexible sick leave and supportive policies and practices. Unfortunately, some of those stricken by the COVID-19 virus get so sick that they are out of work for an extended period with some even needing hospitalization. This is the time when some employer flexibility can go a long way in building employee goodwill. No one wants to or should be penalized for getting sick. Now, I am not saying that you must extend paid sick leave to an uncomfortable point, yet this is the time when you would rather pay someone to stay home than to come to work and infect the rest of the team. A policy promoting staying home would be money well spent in the long run. If you have time, reach out to an HR professional, or read helpful blogs from Gusto Payroll to find out what others are doing.

MAKING A PROFIT WHILE BEING COMPLIANT

Every good estimator or business owner knows that to make a profit on any project, all your costs must be covered. I would suspect that there are some out there that haven’t considered that new policies and regulations affect their estimate and associated job costs.

Some of these items could (and should) be applied as a line item to your estimate, including face masks (or cloth coverings) and regular replacements; gloves when required (not work gloves); hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes; cleaning of tools and equipment; and cleaning and disinfecting of company trucks and vans. These are a few of the many PPE and safety protocol items to consider.

Watch for project requirements during the bidding and contract process because many jobsites are requiring special safety screenings and staggered deliveries. How will this affect the flow of your work? Remember, time delays result in wasted money, so account for this in your estimate.

AVOIDING RISK IN YOUR PROPOSAL

With new jobsite safety requirements, contractors of all trades should consider the language they’re using in their proposals.

Many job specs in this pandemic require staggered work schedules, alternating workdays, or extra shifts to reduce the number of workers on site at the same time. The truth is all these come at a cost whether direct or indirect. If you require an employee to work an “off” shift, you typically must pay a shift differential, which is a direct cost to your company. Also, with staggered shifts, there may be a labor inefficiency for the disconnect between workers, or for the simple fact that it’s an atypical shift time which is proven to affect worker productivity. Extra shifts will cost you overtime, and these costs must be covered in your estimate.

Better yet, to fully protect your company, develop some terms and conditions that exclude staggered work schedules, alternating workdays, or extra shifts until you know the exact work schedule. If awarded the contract, watch out for ambiguous shift language, and be sure to take exception to that in the contract because it will be cause for a change order later. How can you anticipate costs if you do not know exactly what the GC will require? Again, your job is to cover all the costs!

As for GC’s, there are items that should be within the scope of work of the GC, not yours, as the electrical contractor. These costs include cleaning and disinfecting of jobsite lavatories or break areas used by all trades, as well as provisions for no touch trash receptacles.

As the trades move forward and the pandemic does what it will do (because who really knows?), it will be a good idea to stay ahead of the costs. If a new requirement is presented, make sure to cover in your estimate as either a direct job cost or part of your overhead, depending on what it is. As always, the estimator’s role is to determine the true cost of the project, and the many new ones that have come about because of the world we live and work in today.

For more information on COVID-19 jobsite safety, refer to the links provided within this article.

Stay alert! Stay safe! Stay informed and, as always, Happy Estimating!

Demystifying Electrical Control Systems in your Estimate Graphic

This is my third monthly blog post of 2021. As I was preparing the post, I realized that I haven’t explained where I am getting my inspiration for these posts, so I thought I would share with you now. As some of you may know, Candels has advertised in Electrical Contractor Magazine since 2005. It’s hard to believe it has been 16 years! Each year, the magazine publishes an editorial calendar with a different focus for each month’s issue. This month’s focus is Cabling and Controls. This topic inspired me to discuss the fact that more and more estimating control systems are not well documented, sometimes barely shown, on project drawings. Our team of estimators sees and mentions this issue far too frequently!

So, the real question is, what do you do when you encounter this on your next project? First, I would recommend ensuring that the estimator has the experience and knowledge to be able to handle the task at hand because it will be a difficult task for a less experienced estimator. Seasoned estimators know how to apply material and labor costs for these systems, even when the individual items of a control system are not shown on the drawings, or very little information has been provided. This experience factor plays a huge part.

The next item on the agenda is to determine whether there is a riser diagram for the control system. A control system could be for lighting, building automation, refrigeration, or pretty much any system that has components required to work together to make the system work.

For this piece, let’s use an example of a lighting control system. I must admit that I, myself, found taking these systems off scary in my early estimating days! Nevertheless, when it all comes down to it, a control system is simply the components, pipe, and control wire of some sort. That’s it! When you break it down in a systematic way, as we do here at Candels, all you need to do is breathe, check out the riser, and get started.

Now, how would you tackle the take-off of a lighting control system? First, it is important to realize that only some of the components are shown on the drawings, but not all of them. So, what do you do? Don’t panic! It really isn’t complicated when you break it down.

I am a firm believer that it is always best practice to start with the specifications. They should give you valuable insight into the system components and how they work together. Again, when a system is not fully shown, you, the estimator, must dig for information to ensure that your estimate covers all your costs. If there are no specifications, which is highly unlikely but possible, you can always refer to the manufacturer’s website for additional information.

A lighting control system will typically have some sort of control panel that controls other devices such as room controllers, scene controllers, keypad controls, modules and more. As I stated before, many times these devices are ONLY shown on the riser and not on the floor plans. What’s the next step?

Really, it is quite simple. First, run the power feed to the lighting control panel. Be sure to include labor to install and mount the panel, and terminate the wires, just like you would do with a regular panel. Next, if the devices are not shown on the plans, count each of the different types of devices on the riser. In many estimating software programs, you can either take-off a “similar” item or you can make a “special” item and carry the labor required to install. You can also carry a small amount of material for the mounting but remember lighting control systems are quoted by your lighting vendor. In terms of the necessary amount of cable. That said, make sure you review the floor plan and see what might work for an average footage per device. I typically use between 100’ and 200’ per device for the control cable. If the specified cable is not included in your estimating software, you can do a quick Google search to determine the typical per foot cost of the cable. Alternatively, you could take off a similar cable, to ensure the labor is correct, and then add in the material cost per foot of the specified cable.

The bottom line here is that you are trying to cover the cost of the installation of the items. The bill of material does not have to be exact because it is an estimate. Take a deep breathe, break it down in logical steps as we did here, and you will be in good shape.

Should you need assistance on a project, the Candels Estimators are here to help. Just click here to submit your project and you’ll typically hear back from us on the same business day.

Happy Estimating!