Train Paving Laborers to be the Best Superintendent Ever
BY John Ball
When training the workers on your crew, watch the way they learn. The laborer who soaks up knowledge and is eager to master his craft will turn into the screed operator who understands all the nuances of what’s going on with the asphalt mat. He’ll move to operate the roller or the paver. Maybe he’ll progress straight to dumping the trucks. One day, that operator will be a foreman and then a supervisor.
When adding a new person to the crew, think of where you want that person to be in 30 days, in 90 days and in a year. Think of the tools and equipment you want him or her to not just learn, but to master. Think of the skills that person already has and how those skills will develop; then think of the new skills you will help that person take on. Usually, the foreman is the one training the new member of the crew.
One day, that person could be a highly trained and highly capable superintendent who keeps each project running smoothly for top quality and best success. As a superintendent, he or she will have a long list of responsibilities to manage before and during each job, there’s no doubt. But if your training is excellent and if you bring that person along with the respect and care he earns and deserves along the way, you will have a superb employee who can keep each job safe and efficient.
We can divide the superintendent’s main responsibilities into three aspects of the job: procurement; safety; and timing. In each of those three categories, there is a host of moving parts for the super to track. By looking at each of the categories, we can set your employee up for success.
PART I. PROCURE THE PLANT, MATERIALS, STAFF AND EQUIPMENT
Procure the asphalt plant
The contract will dictate which mix design(s) will be used on the job, but the superintendent will need to know what’s in the binder course and what’s in the intermediate course, etc. He will get that information from the job requirement so he knows how to lay it down. If the project requires a mix blended with crumb rubber or a special polymer, the superintendent will be able to anticipate what his crew needs as far as timing of the laydown and compaction.
When making plans for mix delivery, the superintendent will plan when the plant starts and stops. There’s a special way to order mix at the start of the shift. Never tell the plant operator, “Send me 600 tons.” Instead, tell the plant operator, “I need 300 tons by noon. Then call me.”
The superintendent will plan out the day’s production for the number of trucks and type of trucks delivering the mix. It’s a nightmare to figure out yield and tonnage if you have different types of trucks delivering mix during the shift. It can be done, but it makes the job more difficult. It’s best if the superintendent can arrange for one type of truck to deliver all of one course for one whole day of paving. It’s even better if he can get that same type of truck ordered for the whole project, with no surprises.
For example, on a recent parking lot paving project that had 10 tri-axles delivering 400+ tons of mix, the crew suddenly saw two quints pulling up to the site. That’s 25 tons per load versus 16 tons per load, which changes the speed of paving. In addition to the change, the truck drivers couldn’t get the Superdumps onto the parking lot. The trucks physically would not fit. The crew had to get the skid steer and shovels in gear to move 50 tons of mix to the hopper. A job that should have been completed at 6:30 p.m. ended at 8:30 p.m. That meant extra time and labor for the crew members, extra fuel coming to the site for the equipment, and a run back to the shop to get lights.
Procure the equipment
Which paver will be best for the job? The superintendent will make sure its automation is up to snuff and matches what the crew needs for the job. He’ll also consider which equipment operators know how to use the automation and make sure they’re available for the duration of the project.
For example, if the crew has to match an existing concrete curb and gutter, he will want a joint matcher on the joint side of the paver. He won’t necessarily need a ski on the other side; perhaps the other side has a safety edge with the appropriate attachment to the screed for the unsupported edge.
He’ll select the appropriate rollers for the job. If it’s a smaller job in a tight space, he’ll want a smaller, more forgiving roller that is less likely to cut the mat. He’ll make sure the crew has the necessary brooms and auxiliary equipment such as light towers, generators, skid steers and the all-important low-bed trailer with a driver on call. You don’t want to be on the job needing to move a paver and three rollers two miles down the lane, and find yourself without a low-bed driver.
He will also consider where the mechanic and where the back-up equipment will be during the project. Does the project have a high enough price tag and tight enough time frame that you need the mechanic on site? Normally, he’s just on call, but if this is a large highway job with a penalty for opening lanes late in the morning, the mechanic and his truck may need to be staged nearby. The back-up equipment at the yard needs to be prepped and ready, with a low-bed driver who knows how to load and deliver it to the site at a moment’s notice. Check out this month’s product gallery for some new and improved low-bed trailers that the industry has on offer.
PART II. SET UP SAFETY PLANS AND TRAFFIC CONTROL
Be prepared for an accident
While no one wants to think about an accident, the crew must be prepared. The superintendent needs to know where the closest hospital is in the event someone succumbs to heat exhaustion or has a minor incident. Make sure all members of the crew know the company’s policy for handling emergencies. All employees should be familiar with the company’s safety manual and the morning toolbox talk should reinforce the superintendent’s commitment to safety as well.
Set up for safety
The Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) spells out explicitly how different work zone scenarios must be set up for federally funded jobs, and it offers guidance for any project’s best practice. Internal traffic control is just as important to ensure workers make it home to their families after the shift’s end. While your superintendent cannot be held accountable for each person’s attitude and actions, he or she can influence attitudes and actions. Each member of management has a role to play in creating a safe work zone, and that includes the superintendent who uses the tools that top-level managers provide for setting up a safe environment for both the motoring public and the workers on the job. You have to practice safety, not just “talk” it; and you have to protect the company with proactive safety actions on site. Check out the Work Zone Safety Clearinghouse online for great tips and updates on regulations.
Part III. Time all movement and operations
Check the weather
Before the first day of the project, the superintendent will check the forecast. If there’s an early cold front moving through at the end of the paving season, maybe you can delay until that weather system moves through, or maybe the team needs to implement some cold-weather-paving best practices to get the project completed quickly. The superintendent makes that call. He’s the one who can call an audible on the job.
At any point during the project, if severe weather is moving in or a problem occurs with equipment, the superintendent needs to have the authority to call an audible to deal with the situation. Make sure the confidence you have in your well-trained employee is clear to him or her so this person knows his or her job isn’t “on the line” for calling the crew back or stopping production to ensure quality and safety. If a piece of equipment isn’t up to par or if a change in the weather will cause a safety or quality problem, the superintendent can make the right call to keep the crew and the project safe.
Know where the trucks are
Think of mix delivery like a teeter totter. You need to know three important numbers to keep the teeter totter balanced on its fulcrum, and you have to ask three important questions of the plant operator to know where your trucks are.
- How many tons per hour can/will the plant produce?
- How many tons per hour can I receive?
- How many feet per minute can I pave smoothly?
- How many trucks are in the plant yard right now?
- How many tons do you have out to me?
- When was the last time you loaded a truck?
As an example, let’s say the plant is running 210 tons per hour. That’s the rate you should expect to receive mix. If each truck can deliver a load of 20 tons, and you have 10 trucks on the job, when you ask questions 4, 5 and 6 of the plant operator, you’ll be able to determine where your trucks are with some quick math.
First, look at your immediate area. Let’s say you have 420 tons already moving through the paver and placed, and there are two trucks (of 20 tons each) in front of the paver. You call the plant and learn that there are three trucks in the yard. The plant operator tells you he has already sent 460 tons out to you this morning and the last truck was loaded half an hour ago. You can surmise that there are five trucks on their way to the plant right now and you are about to use up 40 tons of mix and then be waiting for eight trucks to show up.
Time the fuel, water use
Two of the most important items for operation during the shift are fuel and non-potable water. The superintendent will be responsible for letting the water truck driver know where he will get his water so no one on the crew has to sit, waiting for a fill-up. You just cannot have a breakdown roller sitting on any portion of the mat, creating an indentation, with its drums cooling, while the water truck drives all over town looking for water to refill the tanks.
Be aware of the fuel levels on equipment as well. The superintendent will arrange for the fuel truck to refill and top off all equipment at the beginning of the shift to minimize the possibility of fuel theft from your site overnight. Even when topping off fuel tanks prior to beginning work, you may need the fuel truck to “revisit” various machines before the end of the shift if you’re paving longer than an eight-hour day. Consider a paver with a 50-gallon fuel tank running continuously for seven hours, or a roller with a 35-gallon fuel tank alternately idling and compacting for seven hours. The superintendent will schedule this, but each equipment operator must pay attention to the fuel gauges and be responsible for his own machine.
Schedule the auxiliaries
The superintendent will make sure the milling crew and sweeping crew complete their tasks in time for the tack wagon to hit the lane ahead of the paver, etc., in a timely manner. He or she will also schedule the profilograph van and striping crew so that all tasks are completed in a timely fashion.
Consider the night paving project that has a penalty for late finishes each morning. If the lanes must be returned to traffic by 6 a.m., you don’t want to receive a $1,000 fine for a 100-foot temporary line because the striping guy was late or the crew didn’t give the striping subcontractor time to do his portion of the job. The superintendent will schedule the striping fellow to arrive several hours prior to deadline so equipment can be double-checked, etc. It’s not unrealistic to have the striping crew arrive by 3 a.m. for a 6 a.m. lane opening.
Keep in mind, if the profilograph can’t drive the job on the day of paving, the superintendent will want to coordinate the lane closure and sweeping on the day/night that he can come through. You want the testing done when you’ve had the opportunity to sweep up the lane and get sand, dirt and detritus from the traveling public off your fine pavement. You don’t want deducts from motorist crumbs because the testing team was busy when your crew completed their top quality work.
Give Your Superintendent Extra Guidance
The super will look at the job ahead of time and see where the crew can excel. He or she has the overall management of the team and the moving parts that can influence the outcome of the job. By manipulating the moving parts—and the placement of the most skilled members of the team during the project—the superintendent sets you up for best success. Because he or she will schedule each piece of the project, the superintendent can bring the right crew members to the scene at the right time, thus controlling labor costs.
The superintendent looks at the way the job was bid and creates the plan of action to make sure the crew paves accordingly. For example, on a job I supervised in the Northeast many years ago, the project included five northbound and southbound lanes tapering down to two lanes northbound and southbound.
I first considered how many days we had to accomplish the entire project. When figuring how we would build joints and how to schedule the QC team, I considered what kind of smoothness bonus was available. Because the job was bid by the square yard, the yield each day was vital. We had to lay an exact amount of mix—no going over or we’d end up eating all the owner’s profit with material costs.
Figure the Yield
Width in feet X length in feet = A/9 = B
B X depth in feet = your tonnage
12 X 132 / 9 = 176 X .1133 = 19.94 tons
As the superintendent, I had the responsibility of factoring in those moving parts when planning the project. For each day, I prepared a work order based on my overall plan, but—as the superintendent—I had the authority to stop the project if I saw a QC problem or a problem with a piece of equipment that would result in a QC problem. Give your superintendent that same authority so you can rest assured quality will be top of mind for him or her; not speed or tons tons tons. Remember, the more poor-quality tons your crew puts down, the more poor-quality tons they’ll have to take up and replace. It’s better to stop, review what’s going on, repair a broken machine, correct a poor practice or guide a new employee, and then continue in the correct manner to get the best end result.
Also let your superintendent and foreman have the time they need to drive the job at the end of each and every shift. When driving the job, the superintendent and foreman are checking for mistakes such as segregation, crooked lines or low joints in the mat. They’re discussing safety incidents and quality practices that can be addressed in the morning toolbox talk. They’re looking for any areas that need to be ripped up and replaced before the end of the job. They’re making sure the day’s yield was met; if it wasn’t, they’ll determine what went wrong and how to correct it.
This step is vital to ensuring quality, and to ensuring a clean reputation and signature. The last thing the owner wants is phone calls from angry homeowners or store managers near a project who have found tack on curbs or cars. Paper cups, soda cans, chicken bones or lunch bags littering the roadway near your project are unsightly. You don’t want to lose countless pairs of work gloves or safety goggles, measuring tape, putty knives, and the like because the crew drops and ignores such things while working.
Make sure crew members pick up after themselves and keep the company’s good name looking good. This is one of the reasons your superintendent will allow time for cleaning equipment. Beyond the good routine maintenance practice, you need an area where equipment can be scraped down, greased and readied for the next day. By keeping clean equipment in a pre-determined staging area, you deter theft and give the motoring public a positive image of your company. When you line everything up, the public can see that you’re organized and competent. The next morning, the fuel truck has one staging area to visit to refuel equipment rather than driving all over your project in a disorganized manner.
Don’t leave the site looking like a city dump. Take pride in the job and in the expensive equipment that’s in your care. Take pride in the job and in the quality end result that the entire crew works toward under the leadership and direction of the well-trained superintendent.
John Ball is the proprietor of Top Quality Paving and Training, Manchester, N.H. He provides personal, on-site paving consulting services around the United States and into Canada. For more information, contact him at (603) 493-1458 or email@example.com.
What to Look For in an Upwardly Mobile Worker
A positive attitude
Safe, respectable clothing
Who’s Coming to the Job?
Be aware that you could have surprise guests on your job.
- Insurance agent
- OSHA rep
- The customer (or his rep in the field)
- Prospective clients
- The boss
The following is a list of extra personnel and/or equipment operators to contact ahead of the project start date so you have them, their services and their equipment on site at the right time. Delays cost money. That puts a dent in the profit margin. We’ll assume you’ve already contracted with the haul truck drivers if you don’t have your own in-house and start with other subcontractors you’ll need to consider.
- Quality control (independent)
- State inspector/QC officer
- Traffic control
- The subs:
- Guard rail/utilities subcontractor
- Police officers (work zone management)
- Mechanic (on site or in the shop)
- Low-boy driver (on site or at the yard)
- Fuel truck
- Water truck