J. Masterson and Project Safety

By Joanne Ray | September 28, 2010

Maintaining a safe job site is the No. 1 concern for Jeff Masterson, owner of this 27-year-old company based in Danvers, Mass.

"We are huge on safety," Masterson said. "The biggest challenge we face on the work site is trench safety, so we put in a program to help solve the problem."

Masterson said out in the field it was becoming a huge challenge to keep even the educated people in trench safety out of the trenches.

"Someone would leave a tool there or something and go back down and get it. It was a huge problem," Masterson said. "So we made up a rule where if they got caught in a trench that required shoring we would take money out of their next paycheck and give it to the charity of their choice. We started this 10 years ago. The first month there were two or three guys who had to pay the fine. I thought they would quit, but they sucked it up and stayed. So, we are a little on the strict side, but I think it has helped make our workplace safe. Safety plays a big role in whether or not you get work. We have a good safety record, and at the end of the day, with the way these jobs are fast paced, without a good safety record, down the road, it can wipe a company out."

To give employees a good safety training base, the company holds a weekly safety meeting on a different subject for all employees. Drug and alcohol testing is also done in accordance with the Department of Transportation and OSHA regulations. J. Masterson also takes it a step further and randomly tests all employees, and any employee who tests positive while on the job may be immediately terminated.

"We regularly have OSHA 10-hour training courses. A number of employees are also '40-hour trained' and regularly take the necessary refresher courses," Masterson said. "We regularly enlist an independent consultant to perform audits of the job site and employee safety procedures as well as our safety policies. Due to our team effort we continually have an Experience Modification Rating (EMR) that is consistently below .9 and well below the industry standard of 1.0."

J. Masterson Construction Corp. was founded in 1981 by Jeff's father, Jack Masterson, who had been working for a local site contractor for 15 years. After working his way up to general manager, he decided it was time to go out on his own with one pickup, one backhoe and a reputation for being hard working and fair. And, the rest is history as this company has grown to more than 50 employees and over 100 pieces of machinery.

"Over the ensuing years, we have grown continuously, year in and year out, for two very good reasons: customer satisfaction and the retention of quality employees," Jeff Masterson said. "Anyone who owns a business knows these two keys to success, but anyone who owns a business also knows that these two keys are the two most difficult to obtain. Fulfilling customer satisfaction requires getting the job done on time and on budget and being able to handle all the changing circumstances that define every construction project ever completed."

Masterson pointed out that retaining employees requires that the company is fair, generous in its compensation and benefits, and has a structure that encourages people to consider their time at work a career and not just a job.

"We have clients that have been with us from the first day we opened our doors," Masterson said. "And, our employees average well over six years with us. Plus, we have six employees who have been on the job for more than 15 years. That gives us a base of experience and stability that has generated our success."

Presently, J. Masterson Construction is working on a project in Lexington, Mass. Lexington Hills is a 19-lot residential subdivision on an 18-acre site with 2,000 linear feet of roadway, 25,000 cubic yards of cut and fill, 2,400 linear feet of sewer, 3,000 linear feet of water, and 2,700 linear feet of drain.

The project began in September 2007 and will be completed by May 2008. The company is responsible for installing the utilities, water, sewer, drains, and blasting for roadway and utilities. They did all the land clearing and earthwork to include 26,000 cubic yards of earth removal. The site also has 40 drywells and 200 HDPE infiltration units.

Working in the winter months has never been easy for contractors, and this job is no different.

"Working in the winter is very costly," said Project Manager William Peach.

Peach cited some tips to help cut costs during winter work.

"We leave certain areas of sub-grade a bit higher because we know that all winter long we will be scraping the frost off," Peach said. "We install drainage systems first so water has a place to melt in the spring, and we leave snow on the ground as long as we can to insulate the ground to keep the frost out."

During 2007 and into this year, the industry has also been hit hard by fuel costs. "The fuel surcharge in our industry is a killer and can vary from month to month," Jeff Masterson said. "Once it goes up it never goes down. And when fuel increases you continue to see an increase in the price of materials. Six years ago our fuel bills were probably around $15,000 a month. Now they can be as high as $60,000, and the volume hasn't increased. Fuel costs have tripled in the last 10 years, and we just have to absorb it. So, we look for more efficient ways to do our work, like we plan ahead to make piles in certain places so that we don't move them twice. That could make or break a job. We also do more work ourselves instead of contracting it out."