To celebrate National Safety Month, SMACNA interviewed safety professionals from SMACNA member contractors. For the final week, we are posting an interview each day.
Ryan Kelly, Safety Manager – Iowa, The Waldinger Corporation
Describe a day in your life. In my safety capacity, a typical day means collaborating with project management, field supervisors and reaching out to upper management. You may get a surprise call from a foreman informing you of an incident where a worker needs care, or that we have a challenging task to complete and they need your help. You do what you can to assist, wherever necessary, and support the team. The goal is to produce a quality product and make sure the workforce goes home the same way they came in. And to ensure the crews have the tools, resources and plans in place to perform their job successfully.
Do you feel your company has a working safety culture? We definitely have a solid “safe production” culture. Our system is a marriage between production and safety. When they are one, our culture is so effective, it is seamless. In my capacity, I am the resource to field leadership and management and act as the glue that holds it all together.
What is most important in sustaining a successful safety culture? Be your brother’s keeper. We are all going through struggles. Take a step back and look at the big picture. Put your ego aside and “go to bat” for your team. “If it’s going to be, it starts with me.”
How has your safety culture changed with the current pandemic? Our safe production culture has not changed. We have only gotten stronger. The only process that has changed is that we are using online platforms and technology to communicate. More Facetime and Zoom, rather than face-to-face interaction.
Do you have any advice for others? If you want to be a part of an industry that is rewarding, challenging and makes you a better, stronger person, then the sheet metal business is for you. If you have a big heart, drive and determination to assist and cater to the sheet metal group, they need you and it’s time to step up and take the charge.
Jamie Roark, Safety Director, Dee Cramer
Describe a day in your life. My day usually includes employee safety training, compliance site visits, job site meetings, and preconstruction meetings. There are always the unforeseen issues that pop up, including employee injuries, near misses, and safety issues at the site or in the shop.
Do you feel your company has a working safety culture? I do. We have seen how it works across the company the past several years. We work on it every day with every employee.
What is most important in building a successful safety culture? Involvement from the top. Leaders need to lead by example to show that the culture is for everyone. It's not just workers in the field or shops. This needs to be communicated so that everyone is on the same page and on a level playing field.
How has your safety culture changed with the current pandemic? We have all had to deal with the many changes due to the current situation. Some of these changes will likely become part of our new normal and some will slowly fade away. The message needs to remain consistent that it’s in the best interest of each and every one of us. For instance, when changes are made to personal protective equipment, some people don’t like them at first but then it becomes the new normal and we move on. We need to protect our workforce as best we can.
Do you have any advice for others? Be patient and be a good listener. The reality is that we, as safety professionals, can learn a lot about the trades and construction safety and hazards by listening to our workers. Know why they perform certain tasks in a certain way and ask them if they have ideas on safer ways to do these tasks. It all comes down to mutual respect. It’s also important to be flexible. Situations change rapidly in our industry for many reasons – and we have no control over them. Never turn a blind eye on a hazard to avoid conflict – it could cost someone their life. Learn how to work with all kinds of personalities and don’t get frustrated and give up.
Stacey Smyly, Executive Director, SMACNA Kansas City
As the only chapter executive on the safety committee, how has your safety background offered you a unique perspective? I’m sure that my counterparts around the country know the importance of safety, but I’ve been in the trenches. I know how difficult it can be to manage safety at a company and how long it can take to infuse a strong safety culture into the workforce. I understand the struggles and can share best practices from experience. I can also be a convincing advocate for the contractor when talking about safety issues with union leadership. I come with facts that are difficult to refute. I understand and have successfully managed the worker’s compensation piece as well. And finally, I have worked with our local OSHA officials. I was part of the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) community and trained as a Special Government Employee in order to travel for OSHA. I helped other facilities that were working to be VPP certified. In short, I’ve walked in their shoes and that definitely gives me a unique perspective.
What is most important in building and sustaining a successful safety culture? It MUST come from the top. Leaders must lead by example. You have to be on the shop floor and out in the field talking to your employees. You need to ask what your employees’ concerns and challenges are and ask for their participation in solving safety issues. Safety cannot be managed from the corner office.
How has the implementation of safety culture changed with the current pandemic? We’ve all struggled through sourcing PPE that has become necessary almost overnight. There are the challenges of managing a workforce that needs to be efficient and effective and work within the guidelines of social distancing. There is the fear that comes with a positive COVID-19 case within your ranks. And how to quickly and safely keep your business running while dealing with quarantining exposed employees and reassuring others. I believe this pandemic has made our safety culture stronger. We are part of the essential workforce. We are allowed to continue working and our workers are proud of that. They have come together and made the best of a very scary, challenging situation.
Do you have any advice for others interested in the safety profession? Be a “people” person. You need to communicate well and observe without judgement. Safety is not a one-person job. It is a community of people with a common goal—going home in the same shape they came to work. You need to be strong enough to challenge management and cooperative enough to effect change and compromise without giving up the goal. If you are passionate about safety, that’s the first step. You need fire and passion for the job. Start getting involved in your employer’s safety program, volunteer, share ideas, advocate to your co-workers, and it will not go unnoticed.
Jason Galoozis, Corporate Safety Director, The Moran Group
Do you feel your company has a working safety culture? Yes, we do. We believe safety is priority one and everyone believes we should always consider safety first before all else.
What is most important in building and sustaining a successful safety culture? Patience and buy-in. It takes a long time for employees to trust what you are doing will build a safety culture. Patience is critical in the world of safety. “What we do today in safety will take three years to come to fruition.”
How has your definition of safety culture changed with the current pandemic? It has reinforced and strengthened what we have talked about for the last decade. Even though we are addressing health versus safety, it is the same motto. As a group we have become stronger so we can protect each other from the pandemic and ensure our way of life is protected.
Do you have any advice for others interested in the safety field? It’s a fulfilling and exciting career and you are never bored. No day is ever the same for a safety professional. You should make sure to be balanced for both the field and the office. And practice what you preach. Spend time in the shoes of those you will manage. You’ll gain credit and the respect of those who need to comply with the safety and health standards you are promoting.
You should also understand what the company does – it’s one thing to understand safety but it’s critically important to know what your company does and understand each discipline.
Stephen Ratliff, SMACNA Kansas City Safety Director
What is most important in building and sustaining a successful safety culture? I feel the most important part is employee involvement. Employees must feel like owners in their job, particularly with working procedures, quality control and especially safety. When an employee makes the decision for themselves regarding what kind of PPE they should be using, as well as engineering controls and the safest layout of the workplace, they work quicker, better and safer. This kind of culture can be achieved by creating a cross functional employee safety committee; using accident investigation teams; transparency of all workplace decisions based upon employee input; and an open door policy for any safety-related issue.
How has the implementation of safety culture changed with the current pandemic? Employees are more aware of their surroundings and the need for PPE. They hear about safety from their employers but also from the Internet and TV. There are also signs and changes at every business they frequent. Senses are heightened and concerns about preventing exposure to COVID-19 has spilled over to all aspects of safety.
Do you have any advice for others interested in the safety profession? The secret to success in safety is to be educated and confident in what you are telling people. Employees do not respond well to orders. However, they do like to answer your questions and tell you about their job. Ask questions, especially when you already know the answer. Make them tell you when they are working unsafe. They will always have a reason for the way they are doing things. It’s up to you to help them determine that their reasoning is faulty. Be friendly and supportive. Remember, there is a job to be done. If you take something away that helps them do their job easier, you need to give something back. Safety is really nothing more than sales. You’re selling yourself. If they buy, they will do whatever you ask.
Jay Hansen, Owner, CJ Hansen
As an owner, how do you manage safety at your company? My company is third generation complete mechanical, employing approximately forty employees. We are on the cusp of having to transition to more clearly defined silos of responsibility. We are not there yet so I wear every hat. The safety hat never comes off. We apply a safety lens to everything we do--in the office, the shop or the field.
I manage safety by staying engaged with industry associations and SMACNA is the perfect example. SMACNA’s safety committee and its phenomenal group of safety professionals and my local SMACNA Oregon safety committee function as my support group. The safety community is refreshing as there is an attitude of sharing and support that does not exist anywhere else in the industry. I bring all this experience and knowledge back to our staff. I meet with each employee regularly and challenge them to engage in and adopt good safety practices at all times.
How has your safety culture changed with the current pandemic? Any definition of our current safety culture must now include the words: fear, uncertainty and much more personal. This time of COVID-19 has affected each human in a different way and each way must be respected and addressed. The safety culture is now more centered and much more intimate. It is also more humanistic than before when it was based solely on a rules. Conversely, our safety culture “voice” has become an all too frequent email to coworkers and partners to communicate when policy is adjusted. Information is vetted and then shared to manage fear and establish expectations. We now only meet virtually. This is efficient but also too sterile for my liking, but of course this is the intent.
Do you feel your company has a working safety culture? Yes, and we have had positive feedback from our team. Fifteen years ago, we did not have a working safety culture. We suffered from the “just get it done” mentality. Now, we work as a team and engage formally at least once a week and informally on a daily basis to discuss safety issues. All team members know the focus on safety that is expected. And they know they each have the power to engage on safety at any level at any time within the company. This ownership attitude really does trickle down to all levels and functions of the organization.
What advice would you give other owners who want to improve their safety culture? This is simple. Ask for help. You can start by calling or emailing me (Jay Hansen, 503-932-5362 firstname.lastname@example.org), your chapter executive, your fiercest competitor, or the person sitting next to you at convention. You can call SMACNA’s Mike McCullion at 703-995-4027 or email him at email@example.com. No one should have to reinvent this wheel. Know that there is nothing proprietary about safety and do not worry about not knowing the answer. Just ask for help. Share your knowledge too. You’ll be surprised at who you meet and how your life will change for the better.
What is most important in sustaining a successful safety culture? For me, I would say it is empowerment and effectively communicating that empowerment over and over again. From the newest delivery person to the most experienced, from the journeyperson to the owner, everyone should be on the same level and know their responsibility and power to effect safety.
Tim Carson, Director of Health & Safety Operations, Modern Niagara Group Inc.
Describe a day in your life. I spend a lot of time on the phone as my team is spread across Canada. Before COVID-19, I also traveled to the different offices to meet with my staff and other managers and directors to review our safety and operational requirements.
Do you feel your company has a working safety culture? Modern Niagara received gold in 2019 Canada’s Safest Employers Award and in SMACNA’s 2019 Safety Excellence Award Program. We also received silver in the 2019 Canada’s Best Health + Safety Culture Award.
What is most important in sustaining a successful safety culture? The best advice I can give is to build relationships and share best practices with your co-workers, your internal and external customers, and your fellow safety partners. After all, we want everyone to go home injury free and healthy.
How has your safety culture changed with the current pandemic? With COVID-19, the change has been interesting to say the least. There is more working remotely and this has taught us that we are able to still achieve and maintain our culture. We have to communicate differently. This is the key. From a construction site perspective, I have never seen sites as clean as they are now. I have always said if you walk on to a clean construction site, you will generally have a very low injury rate
Do you have any advice for others? Be a relationship builder. The job can be very rewarding but it has its challenges. This is a great career if you want something fast-paced and always changing.