Avoiding Mistakes & Oversights
Brad Fallon knows all too well that oversights, unexpected discoveries and rookie mistakes can be made on any given day while on the job site. He provides some advice to ensure they occur less frequently, or better yet, not at all.
Over the last 24 years, I’ve dealt with or heard about many plumbing situations that should have been straightforward and easy to deal with, but somehow ended up comical (at best), annoying, or downright disastrous for the plumber involved.
One of the most annoying things to happen to any plumber (and customers) is having to be called back to a job because of a careless mistake or sloppy work that has left a customer dissatisfied, and you financially worse off. Often, it’s the simple things that can cost us the most, in terms of reputation and hip pocket. Therefore, I’ve put together a list of key things that happen as a result of not organising yourself or your staff properly, with some tips on how I try and avoid such pitfalls. They range from failing to clean up properly through to causing accidental property damage, as outlined below:
LEAVING THE MESS BEHIND
Don’t just sweep the rubbish up into the corner and hope no-one will notice. If you want repeat customers, don’t be lazy – use a dropsheet while you work, and at the end of a job, just get a dustpan and get rid of the mess. Otherwise, expect to get a phone call about the messy plumbers who didn’t clean up properly, or worse, never get that next phone call at all.
LEAVING TOOLS ON THE JOB
To be honest, I am an expert on this matter as I have, unfortunately, left many tools on the job over the years. My regular customers are usually kind enough to call me and let me know that I’ve left something behind, but the reality is, every time you leave a tool behind, it costs you money. It costs you time, when returning to the job site to pick the tools up, and it can cost you money if you need to replace the missing tool or tools. I have to admit the things I leave behind the most are jumpers, hats and jackets (thank goodness for logos), multi-grips, phone chargers, tape measures and drill-bits.
I don’t have a foolproof system for remembering, but I am more disciplined at labelling expensive equipment with contact details and using easy-to-carry compartmentalised storage containers, for all my tools. This ensures that I put them straight back into their dedicated spot rather than throw everything in a bucket and hope for the best. I’m definitely more likely to notice when something is missing from my storage containers than when it’s all shoved in buckets. I have also started to leave my phone and car keys on top of my other stuff, like jumpers, hats and phone chargers. That way, it’s almost impossible for me to forget to take them with me. It’s not foolproof but I’m definitely replacing less tools and jumpers. It’s also good to get my apprentices, and staff, into the same practices.
STORING TOOLS AND MATERIALS ON JOB SITES
Sometimes you think you know a building or job site well and you decide to keep tools and materials on site in unsecured locations, especially when you are doing a big job. Trust me, even when you’ve been in a building for 20 years, if it’s worth something to you, it is worth even more to someone else. About six years ago, I was working in a commercial premise that I’d worked in for years, without incident, so wrongly assumed that the deep, dark basement was a safe spot to store my ladders over the weekend. By Monday morning, all three ladders were gone and with it, several hundreds of dollars down the drain – not to mention job delays. Of course I put signs up, asking for their return but as you would expect, that was a waste of time.
There have been other times too, when I’ve wrongly assumed materials would be safe for a few minutes and they weren’t, like the time I left an expensive tree lopper outside a garage in a quiet back laneway while I quickly moved my truck from the front of the house to the back. In less than the three minutes it took me to move, the lopper had vanished without a trace. Being optimistic I put another sign up – just in case someone thought it was hard rubbish day and had ‘accidentally’ salvaged it – again, no such luck. So now, after losing enough expensive items, I no longer have that same level of naïve trust in other people, no matter how well I think I know a building or a suburb.
POWER ON AND POWER OFF
Probably one of the most simple, yet annoying reasons to be called back to a job, is because once the job has been finished, you or another plumber has failed to do the last simple task of turning the power back on at the fuse box (i.e. to the new hot water tank). Again, this is a case of not having set routines for certain types of jobs that include checking and rechecking, that everything is switched on and in working order before you leave a job site. It’s far more annoying to have to go back, trust me.
ACCIDENTAL DAMAGE TO PROPERTY
This is the one thing that I wanted to mention, as it probably annoys customers the most and will likely cost you your time, money and reputation. I did a quick survey of plumbers (who shall remain nameless for the purposes of this article) about breakages and it turns out that bathrooms are the best spot to cause chaos. Apparently (on very good authority) shelves on walls are often glass and slim-line and when works are being done can be easily bumped or vibrated, resulting in the displacement of expensive items into other unfortunate locations, such as porcelain sinks (crack, boom, smash, gone). Cracked sinks, shelves, and French perfumes can be expensive to replace. Also, while I’m on that issue – we all know that the WH&S tutorials tell you not to stand on toilet seats – just take my advice and go get the step ladder.
I just wanted to finish with a true story that summarises how accidental property damage can become a total nightmare. So, it was literally the last job that Mr Bob* (named changed to protect the innocent) was completing – prior to his well-earned retirement – a standard job that required the excavation and removal of old, redundant water and gas pipes in a building garage in order to get to the new pipes to undertake emergency repair works. During the excavation and removal of the redundant pipework, one of the team members – as fate would have it – accidentally cut through the phone lines to the building.
Works had to stop, and the phone company contacted for advice. It took the phone company three months to return to site and restore phone lines and internet services to the building and more than six months of constant calls to the phone company and reams of paperwork to work out what the liability costs were. In the meantime, the winding down of business, and retirement, was delayed because the business was not able to be legally closed while bills were still outstanding. A little more care on that last job, by the team, would have led to a much smoother sail into retirement.
In conclusion, I just hope that I have helped you, whether you are new to the industry or trying to train up young staff – to learn to be organised, take the time to sort out and secure your workspace, your tools and your jobs. In the end it will save you money, time and most importantly, help to avoid having to return to jobs because of carelessness, lazy practices or lack of organisation.
Brad Fallon is the Director of Ivy St Plumbing – specialists in the strata management trade: www.ivystreetplumbing.com.au