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From commercial pilot to general contractor: (14) Keeping a clean worksite

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My house project is now 21 weeks old. During this time, I have had over a dozen different trades on the site, some for a few days, some for a few weeks, others for over a month. Almost without exception, they have put in five full days of work each week, some even six days, have kept honest hours when on the clock and met deadlines when on contract. The atmosphere on the site in terms of compatibility with other trades working simultaneously has been, at least in my view, very positive.

However, one thing that has not been consistent at all has been the attitude towards cleanup. Obviously some jobs are messier than others and create greater or lesser amounts of trash and remnants. But when I was growing up, I was always told to clean up my own mess when I was done. As my mother said to me, as maybe your mother said to you too: “What am I, your servant?”

So I have a question for the contractors reading this instalment: “Whose mess is this anyway?”

Should each trade clean up after itself? Or should the contractor be responsible?

Should each trade clean up after itself? Or should the contractor be responsible?

First, a little more background. As my own general contractor in the full sense of the term, including liability, I realise that the safety of my worksite is ultimately my responsibility. And a clean worksite is a safe worksite: I totally get that. I also understand that on some worksites, notably union sites, there is a clear division of work in terms of who does what without infringing on another. However, my site is not a union site. Almost every trade who works on this project is a sole entrepreneur or works for a small non-union operation. So when someone suggests that cleaning up is ‘not part of the job description’, I have a hard time buying the argument.

All the trades have created a mess. Some tidy up when they are finished, some don’t. When I say ‘finished’, I mean when their work is either fully completed or a specific stage of their work is completed. Some have taken an extra 20-30 minutes to pick up remnant scrap and doing a quick sweep of their area before the weekend, for example. Others do a little less, but make at least some kind of effort. A couple of notables make a significant mess and appear completely unapologetic about, leaving not only their scrap but empty coffee cups, milkshake containers and food wrappers on the floor or perched on stud blocking. One tradesman in particular makes a mess and when leaving at the end of the day gives me a wry smile and says: ‘Well, look at that that! Another John-Job!” Interestingly, there is no correlation in behavior between those on contract and those on the clock.

And so I spend an inordinate amount of time sweeping up, either on my own at the end of each day or with my wife on the weekend. I’m not a confrontational kind of supervisor and in fact am somewhat bonded to my chosen trades at this point since there is a severe shortage of the good ones at this time of year in my area. So I make no noise about it, but I do make note.

So here are my 2 questions for you professional contractors out there:
1. Should each trade or individual be expected to do their part in cleaning up their own mess?
2. And, if the answer is ‘Yes’, should I confront those who don’t and risk future animosity?

Any thoughts?




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10 Comments » for From commercial pilot to general contractor: (14) Keeping a clean worksite
  1. Jon Tucker says:

    General Contractors exist for many reasons. One of them is maintaining a clean site. Is it frustrating that subcontractors do not clean up after themselves? Yes. Does it seem childish that they do not bother to sweep or pickup? Yes. But that is one of the services you pay for when purchasing a general contractor’s services. ‘Subs’ need attention. They perform one function, that is their given trade. I would much rather pay the labourer I have on-site anyway $13/hr to clean up than pay an electrician or plumber $70/hr.

    It is dollars and sense. As a GC I know that I have to clean up after my ‘subs’ but they know that too and they know that I expect their price to reflect the time savings and that if there is a problem with anything; they fix it no questions asked at no extra cost because we look after one another. Quality construction depends on qualified trades and solid relationships. To the guy who says “Well, look at that that! Another John-Job!” I would tell him that you don’t mind cleaning up after him but you will not tolerate disrespect. If he doesn’t change his tune, boot him off the site. Everyone is replaceable in this world, no one should forget it.

    Look after your trades and they will look after you. But disrespect is unacceptable because it tells you the integrity of the individual you are dealing with.

  2. Linda says:

    We train our crews to thoroughly clean up any mess created by their scope of work. We also conduct follow up calls to ensure this is being done. Not only is this professional behaviour, but it promotes good will and therefore repeat business.

  3. Rob says:

    Yes, all trades should clean up , however often a project managers or generals job is to pick up after sloppy subs. 🙁

  4. Cavan says:

    Of course its cheaper to pay a laborer to clean up and its probably cleaner when its done by an employee of the General Contractor.

    Expecting trades to clean up after them is a thing of the past.

    Its the same as owning a $55k diesel pick up truck and being at the lumber yard every morning picking up 100 – 2×4, whilst doing this you are playing “delivery boy” and not staying on top of your projects. Your time is better spent shopping for trades, making sure the content of the sub trades contracts are comprehensive enough. Checking the quality of the work being done, checking the schedule, liasing with the customer etc.

  5. Marten Burghgraef says:

    Although I do most of my work myself when I do have subs with me it is very straight forward, you make the mess you clean up. I will provided a trailer for the garbage to go into. When I sub out to other generals they expect the same of me. I would normally do it at the end of the day or if I am running late will do it the next morning but I normally hear about it then.
    Remember the golden rule of life. He who has the gold makes the rules. No clean up, no money honey.

  6. Rob says:

    Electrical contractor for over twenty years.
    No one should leave food or old coffee cups laying around.
    let the people do what they are good at, labourers are good at cleaning and cheap let them clean.
    when the customer is a women they commonly say ” don’t worry about the mess I will take care of it, it’s cheaper for me to clean than to pay you”.

    Always define the rules of the game before it is started, including before the quoting of the job!
    Yes you have the choice to pay $70/ hr to have an electrician run a shop vac, or put boxes into the dumpster, or you can hire a labourer for your site for $13.00/hr.

    How about this, would you Pay an Electrician to clean up after a Plumber? Does this sounds ridiculous? Think about it, your willing to pay an Electrician to clean up his mess, but not willing to pay an Electrician to clean a Plumbers mess it’s for a good reason, MONEY!

    Nothing is for free!

  7. Dan w says:

    Is their truck or trailer a mess. Good indication. Do they leave their clothes on the floor at home? Is their garage a mess? What is their own life like? Does it shadow or mirror their personality or habits on Site?

    Is their truck/trailer organized? Do they bring their own broom/ shovel or dustpan.
    Ask a sub trade when you interview them? Watch for telltale signs.

    I always have1 or more, empty 5 gallon pails or empty boxes where the sub trades are working. They never ask, I always tell them that the garbage goes here! There is always a cheap broom and a bright colored plastic kids snow shovel (not heavy /bulky, but big and strong enough without bending over to pick up the garbage)

    Do not give them an excuse!

    Most, if not all homeowners have A beef with a mess left behind at the end of the day!
    Do not let it happen!

    If they clean as they go, they will work safer, faster, smarter.
    What happens when someone twists their ankle on the foam left on the floor as seen in the picture above. How much down time? Now? Later?

    Union or not THINK about what you are doing…

  8. Danny Andrews says:

    I have found most contractors ( myself included ) will leave a job site in much the same way we’ve found it.
    If I’m at a site that is very clean I will spend a lot more time cleaning up after myself.
    If it’s dirty and cluttered when I arrive, I unfortunately will usually just add to the mess and leave.
    But that said, even at a dirty site I would never leave a mess like the one pictured, I would have picked up all the big pieces but left the sweeping to the GC.

  9. Greg Spritz says:

    You must keep a clean worksite. If you don’t do that, then you won’t be able to work correctly, and you need to work properly on a lot of occasions. If someone has a problem with that statement, let me know.

  10. Being clean in your workplace is a must. I mean, if you are clumsy and very unhygienic, then your coworkers might just think badly of you. It is important that you become a person that can clean his workplace. It is not that hard, believe me, you just need to pay attention to the things that you are doing. If you remain a slob forever, then you will lose the trust of the people who are working around you, believe me on that.

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