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Management • Operations • Technician Tips • 49 minutes

Lack of Industry Safety Training is a Life-and-Death issue, says Willby Evans

November 2, 2021

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Episode Overview

“Experience does not equal skill..”

— Willby Evans

Willby Evans is raising a red flag on industry safety. A journeyman in several trades, he’s now a certified safety and health official for Albuquerque Plumbing, Heating and Cooling. In addition, he co-owns the New Mexico Building and Home Safety Alliance, and is president of the not-for-profit Southwest Training Alliance

On “Toolbox for the Trades,” he warns about lax safety standards, inexperience on the job and an immediate need for training.

Here are Willby Evans’s top tips for building safety in the home-services industry:

A pivotal moment can inspire passion about safety.

During the time Evans was a firefighter, he responded to a number of workplace accidents. One was an incident where the bucket of an excavator machine was buried into the shoulder and chest of a man.

“I’d previously been in the trades and saw how not a lot of attention was paid to safety,” he says. “Responding to these accidents made it very real that people do get badly hurt and they do die. 

“If we don't do our job correctly, we can kill people in the mechanical and electrical trades.”

A well-trained contractor can save lives.

Evans recalls an explosion that occurred in downtown Manhattan in 2015. It was a mixed-use residential/commercial building. 

“In the basement, unlicensed people were trying to tap a gas line,” he says. “The landlord didn’t hire a contractor because he was trying to save some money. 

“The explosion caused two people to die. Everybody was left homeless and the entire building collapsed. All because people were trying to do work that they didn’t know how to do.”

The state of technical training in the trades today is subpar. 

Evans calls the state of training in the trades “atrocious.” 

“There was a time when almost anybody who got into our field had spent some time in the classroom,” he says. “Somewhere along the line, companies started trying to shortcut that.”

Experience does not equal skill. 

A long resumé doesn’t necessarily mean a person knows what they’re doing in the trades, Evans says. 

“If they were never properly trained to begin with, experience doesn’t mean they have the skills they need,” he says. “They may have been doing something incorrectly for a very long time.

“Experience really only equals time. I’ve seen people with 20 years in the trades who are in HVAC and can’t explain fundamental principles like sub-cooling and superheating.”

One way to assess skill level. 

Evans is a member of the National Center for Construction Education and Research, which has a written test that assesses the skill level of people in the trades.

“Guys we know as ‘Billy Butt Crack,’ ‘Johnny Lunchbucket’ and ‘Chuck in a Truck,’ they’re doing all kinds of work everywhere and they claim they can do everything,” Evans says. “Well, they create a lot of dangerous situations without having the correct job knowledge.”

How to train a wide range of trade employees. 

Many of the training programs Evans has examined have been geared to new construction, and held in the evening. 

“With service work, it’s not like construction,” he says. “You can’t just clock out. The job may need to be finished that night.” 

Evans joined NCCER, and went through the state process to form a registered apprenticeship that meets Department of Labor standards. So that trades practitioners can better participate, the classes are held twice a week from 6 to 8 a.m. 

“It’s still a work in progress,” Evans adds. “It’s free schooling and it’s all the information some people may have missed along the way.” 

How to add levels of quality control. 

At Albuquerque Plumbing, each department has a person in charge of quality control, Evans says. 

“A lot of people resist safety because they feel like it costs more,” he says. “It really doesn’t if you do it correctly.”

Evans adds he is currently working with ServiceTitan to add safety measures to a pre-job checklist.

The industry needs to recognize the dangers. 

Much more energy is devoted to construction safety than to trades safety, Evans says. 

“In fact, for electrical industries, the service replacement/repair industry is No. 1 for electrical injuries,” he says. “But OSHA doesn’t follow us around because we’re running little one-man trucks all day long. 

“I’ve never found anybody who’s really working to figure out the unique safety challenges in the service, replacement and repair industry.”

Let’s start becoming safety conscious together. 

There is a unique opportunity, right now, for ServiceTitan members to come up with unique solutions within the family, Evans says. 

“It’s the reason we started the not-for-profit and the training company,” he says. “Can we come up with a way that we can assist each other, even around the country, with these things, through modern technology? This is a great opportunity.”

Recommended research and reading

Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time by Jeffrey Pfeffer

Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton

The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt

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Toolbox for the Trades is a podcast where top service professionals share the tips, tricks, and tactics they use to succeed in their industry. Hosted by Jackie Aubel, this podcast is brought to you by ServiceTitan—the leading home and commercial field service software.

Episodes will feature stories and strategies to help contractors grow and scale their service business.

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