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|February 04, 2016 ||
Vol. 46 No. 21
Before the city of Eureka, CA put a new wastewater-pipeline project out to bid, it retained SHN Consulting Engineers & Geologists to prepare a geotechnical-baseline report (GBR) in which the firm reported that "the majority of the subterranean region targeted by the project was composed of stable soils suitable for HDD." Soon after Apex Directional Drilling, LLC began work, however, it encountered mud and flowing sands that comprised conditions far different from those described in the GBR. The constructor reported the situation to the city and SHN, but – according to the United States District Court for the Northern District of California (Apex Directional Drilling, LLC v. SHN Consulting Engineers & Geologists, Inc., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 105537 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 11, 2015) — SHN "continued to maintain that the project was proceeding in the competent soils described in the GBR, and, on that premise, repeatedly gave Apex illogical instructions." Apex wound up suing the city for breach of contract and SHN for breach of professional duty and negligent misrepresentation. SHN argued that the suit should have been dismissed, because the firm was protected by the economic-loss doctrine (ELD) and so did not owe a duty of care to the constructor. But the court disagreed, at least to the extent that it refused to dismiss, holding that the final decision would have to be made by a jury. It doesn't look good.
Does your geoprofessional firm have a formal referral program? If not, it should: Companies instituting a formal referral program more than doubled their referral volume and enjoy more sales and lower client-acquisition costs. In fact, more than 70% of surveyed companies with formal referral programs are on pace to meet or exceed their 2015 revenue goals; 69% have experienced faster close time; and 59% reported higher lifetime value. Despite all this, however, only 30% of B2B organizations like yours have a structured referral program. Guidance on this issue takes the form of answers to six questions:
- What team will own the referral program?
- Whom will you target?
- How and when will you reach out?
- How will you get client representatives thinking about submitting high-quality referrals?
- What will the process, tools, and referral-submission page look like?
- How will you reward advocates?
United States Conference of Mayors
If your geoprofessional firm has not yet included urban infrastructure in its marketing plans, you may want to have a second look. And if you have, findings of the most recent Menino Survey of Mayors may be instructive: Despite their city's size or location, or their party affiliation, mayors cited as their most pressing concerns the need to fix crumbling roads, grow mass transit, and repair water infrastructure. Were their cities to be the sudden beneficiaries of a large, unrestricted capital grant for a specific project, the mayors would invest in mass transit (22%), roads (20%), and water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure (18%). Their modestly priced priority projects would involve bike and pedestrian infrastructure (20%), parks (19%), roads (15%), and municipal buildings (14%).
Your Guide to OSHA's Construction Safety Regulations is a handy new e-book available free from Canvas, a company that develops forms into mobile apps, including (of course) forms for OSHA reporting. As the guide points out, "[C]onstruction workers…are aware of the risks and appreciate an employer who puts worker safety at the top of the priority list. It's good for morale and productivity, and it's the only way to shore up your profit line. 'Businesses spend $170 billion a year on costs associated with occupational injuries and illnesses — expenditures that come straight out of company profits,' OSHA says." The e-book includes links to resources you should find of value. Bear in mind that, as OSHA fines increase in size — and they're doing just that soon! — the value of safety increases, too.
"The company has changed its policies to ensure that transgender employees may use a restroom commensurate with their gender identity, that the company will promptly correct that employee's sex designation and name in our internal records and systems, and that we will take hostile comments based on sex-stereotyping seriously, investigate them, and take prompt corrective and remedial action." That's part of the personal apology that Deluxe Financial Services, Inc., as part of a $115,000 consent decree, agreed to write to Britney Austin, a former Deluxe employee who told the company in 2011 that she was transitioning from male to female. Austin alleged that the company refused to change her name on company records, denied her health-insurance coverage for transition-related care, and denied her severance pay and COBRA benefits when it shuttered the facility where she worked. Is your firm prepared to handle such situations? Expect more such situations in the future.
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Throw out your old, out-of-date, off-putting employee handbook and start over. That's the advice of Human Workplace CEO Liz Ryan in a Forbes.com column. Typical employee manuals do more to encourage employment-practices liability claims than discourage them, she writes, typically because they are written so poorly ("grotesque, impenetrable legalese") and treat employees as prospective felons, providing long lists of things to do to get fired. "You have to shift the frame in your handbook from 'Don't you dare misbehave!' to 'Here's what we think you will find helpful as a new employee here.' One person can talk about the dress code — not spelled out in fussy stitch-level detail that insults the talented and capable-of-self-dressing people you employ, but in general terms. Another person can talk about the company's commitment to equal employment opportunity."
National Safety Council
A first-of-its-kind National Safety Council survey has found that 80% of Indiana employers have been affected by workplace prescription-drug abuse. Almost two of every three believe prescription drugs (e.g., Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet) are bigger problems than illegal drugs. Other noteworthy survey findings:
- 76% of employers say prescription-drug abuse is a justifiable cause for termination;
- 87% of employers test for drugs, but only 52% test for synthetic opioids;
- although 80% of employers say they have experienced an issue, almost half (47%) lack a written policy about prescription-drug use at work;
- more than 60% of employers are not confident their staff can recognize the symptoms of prescription-drug abuse; and
- fewer than 30% of employers offer training about workplace use of prescription drugs.
Ambiguity is the bane of effective communications and, all too often, the basis of spurious, but-nonetheless-effective lawsuits. Consider the word "contractor" In the construction world, it means an organization that is involved in constructing things or, in the case of "general contractor," an organization that usually is in charge of the entire building process, including coordination of subcontractors and all safety programs. In the wider world of which the construction world is a part, however, "contractor" means an entity with a contract. As such, in some agreements, a geoprofessional firm is referred to as "the contractor." So, when you see "contractor," what do you think of? A party with a contract or a party with a contract to build (or dig, demolish, etc.)? Given that either is correct, we have ambiguity. For that reason, many people are now starting to refer to contractors that build as "constructors," because they construct things or perform activities that usually are part of the construction process. And what do they call the "general constructor"? The far more effective "constructor in charge." If you don't want to change, so be it, BUT you'd be well-advised to develop a glossary of terms or a definitions sheet that you include in proposals, contracts, and reports, where "contractor" and "general contractor" are explained in terms clear enough to eliminate ambiguity.
Employees who exhibit leadership qualities are those most likely to be promoted, and with good reason. But do employees know what leadership qualities are or, more specifically, what your geoprofessional firm considers leadership qualities to be? Has your firm even identified these qualities? If not, it certainly should and, once it has, it should communicate them to employees, to encourage precisely the kind of behavior that can transform a firm from good to great. Just a few of the dozen leadership "dos" listed and explained in this article include:
This is more than a good read: It's good advice.
- be goal oriented,
- practice humility,
- always see the bigger picture,
- have excellent communication skills,
- be dependable, and
- embrace your slip-ups.
| || 2015-2016 GBA BOARD OF DIRECTORS|
Gordon M. Matheson, Ph.D., P.E., P.G., D.GE
(Schnabel Engineering, Inc. / Glen Allen, VA)
Laura R. Reinbold, P.E.
(Terracon / Nashville, TN)
Charles L. Head, P.E., P.G.
(Sanborn, Head & Associates, Inc. / Concord, NH)
Kenneth R. Johnston
(GZA GeoEnvironmental, Inc. / Norwood, MA)
Kimberly F. Morrison, P.E., R.G.
(Morrison Geotechnical Solutions, Inc. / Denver, CO)
Alex Sy, Ph.D., P. Eng.
(Klohn Crippen Berger Ltd. / Vancouver, BC)
Woodward L. Vogt, P.E., D.GE, F.ACI, F.ASCE, F.ASTM
(Paradigm Consultants, Inc. / Houston, TX)
7701 Las Colinas Ridge, Ste. 800, Irving, TX 75063