What Confined Spaces Taught Me About the Importance of Tracking Certifications

A manhole cover with the word, “electricity,” in the middle.

As contractors, sometimes we have to perform jobs that are a bit...out-of-the-ordinary. Take a confined spaces project, for instance. I’ve worked a few in my four decades in the construction industry. And what I learned from confined spaces projects is that they require precise planning and offer literally very little margin for error.

Confined spaces can sometimes cause the biggest problems for contractors because the safety requirements and certifications might not be part of your regular routine. The project isn’t just about the electrician working underneath the ground. You have to equip them with gas sniffers, strap them into a harness and have an above ground crew with a tripod to spot for your workers within the confined space. 

It’s these infrequent, out-of-the-ordinary jobs that often prove costly, especially if you don’t have a system in place to track certifications. 

In order to plan for the specific requirements of infrequent jobs, you need a system in place that lets you effectively track certifications for labor and equipment. Building a labor plan and digitally tracking certifications is how you can systematically reduce risk and maximize potential opportunities. 

Build a Labor Plan 

In the planning phase, you need to identify three key things:

  1. Who has the proper training to complete the job(s)
  2. Whether their certifications are current
  3. The equipment they need

(When you determine these three things, you will also have the opportunity to find people with the proper skillset; but who may need certification or updated training in order to work in confined spaces.)

Here is the moment where you identify your labor pool within your labor pool—the team of people capable of handling the specific requirements of a project like working in a manhole. At a global level, you can get a better understanding of the financial cost of taking on projects that may be outside your typical scope of work. You can also assess the opportunity cost of committing a portion of your available labor force and which jobs you might have to pass up because certain key people are needed for their confined space skills. 

Digitally Track Certifications 

When the actual work starts, you need a way to monitor your safety protocols and the available equipment you require for the project. It’s the little things that go unnoticed that can cause safety problems when it’s time to begin the job. 

You need to know that all of the equipment is certified and up-to-date; but also who is able to handle gas sniffers or has been trained in the unfortunate situation that the person working in the confined space needs to be retrieved. By identifying the labor that is available and has the necessary certifications before a project starts, you can avoid scrambling to fill a void while trying to keep a project on track. You can also build into the schedule any training needed to keep certifications current. 

Don’t let projects with singular requirements like confined spaces create big problems. Use a digital platform to create a system that lets you easily track and update certifications so you have the flexibility to meet the needs of every project. 

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Sr. Workforce Advisor
Gary Fuchs is a Senior Workforce Advisor at LaborChart. Prior to LaborChart, Gary was VP of Construction at Westphal Electric. He and his wife Cheryl are proud parents of three daughters and 10 grandchildren. Gary enjoys woodworking, golf, hunting, fishing, and working with LaborChart. In his past, Gary was a volunteer firefighter and basketball official.

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