Tuesday, June 24, 2014

tailgate wrangling

It's standard to have a tailgate (field team briefing) meeting every morning of fieldwork. Everyone gets to the trailer/office/designated meeting area and we discuss the plans for the day and any health and safety items of note. It usually takes about 10 minutes. Did anything go wrong/did anybody notice anything yesterday that we can do better today? Any special issues with what we're doing? Where will everyone be, and how do we all stay in touch as needed? The tailgate meeting is where I hand out the sign-in sheet, and often I have a form everyone has to initial documenting their attendance at the meeting.

The whole point of the meeting is that everyone shows up at one place so we can go through this stuff before we scatter to the wind. As the field team leader or the site safety person, I can give multiple team briefings as needed if someone's going to show up at a different time, especially on days when crews first arrive at the site. But it's far better to have a single team briefing at one time, so we can include everyone and I'm not chasing after stray people.

So how well does this work out? In my experience, from best (easiest to wrangle) to worst (hardest to wrangle):

1. Coworkers who are full-time field people (for the job in question), for a job that we're staying somewhere for: We're all at the same hotel. I have your cell phone information and have no compunction banging on your door if you don't show up.

2. Coworkers who are full-time for this job who are commuting: You may get stuck in traffic. Once or twice. After that, you'd better be here early enough that you can account for traffic variations. I have various options for exerting pressure on you to be on-site as needed (usually a discussion with management will shake loose some solutions).

3. Skilled labor subcontractors: Drillers, heavy equipment operators, other construction types. These folks are used to clients who demand exact (and early) arrival times. With very rare exceptions, once instructed (and they see that I'm serious about expecting them, so after the first couple of days) they will show up on time to the meeting, will head immediately to the gathering spot, and will help me out by publicly shaming anyone who shows up more than 2 minutes late. They may be caught late in traffic or have heavy equipment that will take a while to arrive, or switch out personnel (who will require a whole site briefing) unexpectedly.

4. Scientific subcontractors: These are more variable, and include folks such as remediation specialists, surveyors, geophysics folks, archaeologists, etc. Most of the scientific contractors I've used have been great, although in many cases they are used to being totally independent and may need to be reminded to check in for the tailgate meeting. However, a few contractors have considered themselves above the rules - not showing up when they say they will, ignoring safety protocols when they're inconvenient, not turning on their radios or checking out so I have to do a manhunt before I lock everything down for the night... It is a rare scientific contractor who is so special, they cannot be replaced with someone else. Maybe not for that project, but those contractors shouldn't expect another bid request from me.

5. High-level technical coworkers: These include corporate health and safety personnel, the project manager, and various technical leads. They should at least be aware of health and safety/site access protocols, but tend to drop in unannounced. I usually just give them a quick site briefing when/if I find out they're on-site.

6. Regulators, client representatives, neighbors, facility staff: They may have no idea how the site runs, and in the case of some client reps and facility staff, have no experience or interest in health and safety/environmental investigations. Regulators are better about checking in. The worst is when "not direct line of command" but interested parties want to know the content of these briefings but may not actually be interested in showing up. Or they say they'll show up, and you keep 10 or 15 or 20 other people waiting for no-shows.

The tailgate meeting is often just an exercise in attendance documentation. But if I'm trying to keep a complicated project moving forward, it's important to make sure everyone, from contractor foremen to laborers to scientific staff, are on the same page, and to have a forum to communicate changes and complications.

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