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Ensuring code compliance in your organization

by Mark Lamendola

Whether your organization is a single project or an entire company, code compliance is a major issue. A single code violation can result in catastrophic liability. More often though, code violations simply result in higher total costs.

To ensure code compliance, most managers simply put out the word that code compliance is required. Meanwhile, they wink at non-conformities that save them money while doing nothing to make compliance a reality. This sends a message to everyone in your organization. To send a different message, follow the following tips:

  • Ensure you have the latest code books on site. You should have a copy in a central library. Additionally, each person charged with a key project role (designer, specifier, site superintendent, journeyman) should have a personal copy of the relevant codes. Whether you purchase those outright or assist with the purchase, think of the money as an investment in your business viability.
  • Teach the codes at all levels. There is no reason an electricianís helper canít get a short code tutorial along with that paycheck or pay stub. Incorporate code teaching in various forms of communication. Send folks to short code classes and code seminars. Give them paid time off to take their code exams. Buy a gift certificate from a bookstore or supply center, and give out one per week in a code-related contest.
  • Review specifications for code compliance, and ensure each manager is doing the same. The higher up in management, the less detailed this review should beódonít micromanage. Make individuals responsible for code enforcement. Reward those who live up to that responsibility with public praise.
  • Make it a policy that any employee can stop work to address a code violation. Make this risk-free. Some managers worry that doing so invites abuse. Donít forget that not doing so also invites abuse. If you do get frivolous use of this tool, let the employees know they are also accountable for ontime completion. No, itís not a simple choice. But, a job not done right isnít done. Once they understand this, they will tend to make proper judgments.
  • Teach disclosure and escalation. A truly serious code violation must not be buried, because it will rise from the dead with a vengeance. Itís always best to resolve it as soon as possible. Minor violations can often be allowed or exception-lettered. The goal here is never to sweep a code violation under the rug. Part of disclosure and escalation involves discretionófollowing protocol. Let employees know they must discuss code violations with their supervisors, not with inspectors (unless asked) or with clients. This allows your management to address the issues cost-effectively and without political pressure. It also allows your management to track code violations by root cause and prevent recurrences.
  • Have a zero tolerance policy for code-cheating. In one case, an electrical inspector tugged on a green wire poking out of a conduit. The wire was only 6 inches long, and came out in his hand. The electricians had tried to cover up the fact they had not pulled the required ground wire. This kind of deception is criminal behavior, and should result in fairly harsh punishmentóusually, that means pulling the guilty parties off the project and not "working them" until another project comes up. Sometimes, that means firing them outright. If someone had been electrocuted for lack of a ground wire, the company would have wished it had fired the guilty parties outright.
  • Train your customers. Amazingly, a large percentage of code violations are customer-driven. Customers often donít want to pay for code complianceófor the same reason they donít want to pay for documentation. They simply want to do the project as cheaply as possible. You will need to continually train them on the value-added aspect of code compliance. You have many options for doing this. For example, you can publish a weekly internal inspection report where your own crew leaders note code violations they fixed or prevented. You can provide a "dollars saved" figure for each. It also helps to take your customer on a walk through the job and point out what you are doing and why itís important to do it that way. This one-on-one is amazingly effective.