Boak & Sons Equates Safety with Success
AUSTINTOWN, Ohio — On a wall of the warehouse of Boak & Sons in Austintown hangs a sign. You have to walk by it to get to the front office. You have to walk by it to get to the break room. You have to walk by it to grab tools. You have to walk by to get just about anywhere.
The sign announces Boak & Sons’ two rules for every employee: “Safety Is Always First” and “Never Ever Ever Cut a Corner.”
It hangs next to one of the roofing company’s first signs, from when Austintown had a 234 area code. That sign is older, but the company’s rules aren’t far behind and something owner Sam Boak is more proud of.
“With those two rules, we feel we’ve covered our employees being safe and our customers wanting to come back to us,” he says. “I can’t put a date on it, but [the rules] just became the priority and safety was the first part. My name is on every one of those trucks. So when we pull up to a job site, everybody knows who’s there. … I want a positive impression.”
And so, safety permeates nearly every aspect of the business, founded in 1974. New hires watch a series of training videos before they ever set foot on a job site and, once they’re working, are assigned light-duty jobs to provide them the opportunity to get to know the crew and learn how the veterans handle work.
“That’s not only for safety but for providing the customer the right services, products and how install everything correctly,” the owner says.
A couple of times a year, the company shuts down its operations to go through OSHA 10 and OSHA 30 safety courses, which cover topics such as identifying hazards, personal protective equipment, health hazards, materials handling and power tool hazards. There are also frequent safety meetings, both at Boak & Sons’ headquarters in Austintown and at construction sites.
“We have two people whose job priority is safety and going to job sites,” says the roofing division manager, Christopher White. “So we’re sending them to training and then we have a committee made up of guys from the field – not just foremen – that meet once a month to talk realistically about what we need to improve and what we need to provide.”
Safety meetings are held at every job site, says roofing division manager Chris White.
And, at each job site, the team has a weekly safety meeting dubbed “Toolbox Talks,” White continues.
“If you and I are on a crew doing insulation at The Enclave near downtown, we’re going to have a Toolbox Talk about, maybe, something we saw by another trade that we don’t want done,” he explains. “Maybe it’s power cords or fall protection or hardhats. Those talks are specific to the job site and they’re so targeted that people can have the talk and immediately put it into practice.”
Boak’s crews are a healthy mix of veterans and those relatively new to the industry, White says, which provides an opportunity to train new workers on what should be done and how to do it. It’s one thing to watch a training video and listen to a foreman. It’s something else for someone to walk you through how to do something safely.
“How great is it that a guy who’s been here 25 years is working alongside his replacement in a part-time capacity? That’s something you can’t put a dollar figure to,” White says. “People are working safer. We aren’t having accidents on our job sites.”
The concern for safety flows into Boak & Sons’ second rule – “Never ever ever cut a corner” – although its application runs the gamut. It can mean moving a ladder rather than stretching further than you should to reach something on a roof. Or, it can mean coming back to a job the next day rather than rushing to get something done at quitting time.
“We have a great team that goes out and does the job and represents the construction industry the way it should,” Boak says. “People so often comment that they’re happy with the job and our guys cleaned up and did everything right. Isn’t that what they expected to do from the beginning?”
Following those rules has brought much success to the company. Boak & Sons expanded into roofing in 1979 after five years as an insulation company. Today, it has between 25 and 30 projects going on at once.
This March, that list included work at the Mahoning County Courthouse and annex, The Enclave student housing complex at Youngstown State University and Southeast Local Schools in Ravenna.
Last summer, Boak also did work on the roof of the post office in downtown Youngstown. All of that is in conjunction with residential work going on throughout the region, although White estimates that about 60% of the company’s work is commercial.
“The last four or five years have been good to us. We’re very diversified, both in the types of products and types of jobs,” says Pat Finn, chief financial officer. “We deal with commercial roofing, residential roofing, insulation for both, gutters and siding. When one area might not be going well, the others are there to pick us up.”
Like many segments of the construction industry, weather often determines when work gets done. Because Boak & Sons handles different types of work, Boak says, if inclement weather prevents workers from completing a roof, they could instead work on an insulation project indoors.
“For some jobs, if there’s adverse weather, we’ll take that time to stock a commercial roof. It’s not the day to dig in and start doing it, but we keep our guys engaged and busy,” Boak says.
When all three aspects of Boak & Sons’ methods – safety, doing jobs right and keeping busy – are combined, it pays off for employees, Boak says. The company offers profit sharing, with a portion of wages pooled.
“It creates a future for them. We want them to have that $25,000 or $50,000 or $100,000 in profit sharing. It keeps them grounded, engaged and makes them think about that sign up there,” he says, “because it could cost all of us.”
That’s a mark of one of Boak’s personal mottos: Treat people as people.
“It’s letting them leave early so they can go see their kid play soccer or basketball. They’ll make it up and figure it out,” he says. “We have people who have been here 40 years. We have three people that did a 30-year stint or more, retired, got everything fixed around the house and [came back]. It’s about treating people humanly.”
Pictured at top: Boak & Sons has two rules, says Sam Boak, and they’re posted where everyone sees them.
Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.