Interview by Maria Silva, NHEO Institute Community Development.
Please tell us about your role and your background.
I am the Director of Safety Services at Mallory Safety & Supply. I started my career in commercial construction as a Union Carpenter in New Jersey. I completed a 4 year apprenticeship at the Joseph J. Aries Technical Training Center and worked on a variety of jobsites at that time, primarily performing heavy concrete and bridge work. After becoming a Journeyman Carpenter and attending a multitude of safety training classes, I decided to pursue a career in construction safety.
I got my start in safety working for a NJ based safety consulting company, acting as a project safety coordinator at the Phillips 66 refinery in Linden NJ. I then became a Project Safety Manager for several large scale projects working at facilities such as PSE&G and Spectra Energy. After several years working at a project level, I became the Safety Director for a Mechanical contractor in NYC, where I gained a significant amount of management experience and mentorship from the company’s Vice President. After several years in this role I decided to get back into the safety consulting business and had the opportunity to work with a multitude of companies in various industries throughout the next several years, eventually getting into the sales and operations end of the safety consulting business. Currently, I am the Director of Safety Services for Mallory Safety & Supply, where I am responsible for managing our safety business operations throughout the country.
Have you heard of NHEO’s “Building a Safer Future” campaign prior to us reaching out and is it something that you think your company would like to be involved with?
Yes, I have heard of NHEO’s “Building a Safer Future” prior to this interview, which is one of the reasons I reached out when seeing the post on LinkedIn calling for Safety Leaders. This is something our company would be proud to be a part of. We are a safety company and helping companies improve their safety culture is our primary goal.
What is your opinion on the campaign from what you know?
I think the NHEO Institute's campaign is critical to the advancement of safety in the industry. I was surprised to read that although workplace fatalities have dropped 20 percent in the last decade, workplace fatalities among Hispanic construction workers have risen almost 35 percent in the same period. I’m not sure this is a statistic many in the industry are aware of, and getting this message out there is imperative. I think this will help bring to light the need for specific training, signage and most importantly addressing the cultural and language barriers that exist.
What are some of the biggest safety concerns that your company faces at the jobsite?
I would say the most common response would be poor leadership, poor culture and lack of training. As a safety company that staffs projects with safety professionals both nationally and internationally, I am fortunate to get feedback from our Safety Professionals on a regular basis about the challenges they face. I think most would agree that one of the biggest challenges is the cultural differences amongst companies, and how they approach safety on their jobsites. Unfortunately, some companies have a very poor safety culture and simply go through the motions, which make it difficult for companies with a strong culture when both are working on the same project. We do work for large companies that are willing and able to invest countless amounts of time, energy and money into their safety programs, and on the flip side we work with much smaller companies who may not have the same resources, and at times there is a major disconnect there that can cause a project to be unsuccessful. Having effective leadership on the jobsite to recognize and bridge this gap is essential in forging a positive safety culture.
Additionally, we see the need for additional safety support on projects due to the amount of paperwork that is required to be completed on a daily basis, which limits the amount of time being spent in the field with workers. Safety being managed from the jobsite trailer rather than the actual jobsite is a cause for concern.
How can those issues be resolved in the future?
I think one of the best ways to resolve these issues is through an internal examination of your company culture to get feedback from the people who work for you. Companies may feel they have a great safety program and culture simply because on paper they had minimal injuries, but in actuality their employees may think otherwise. Having management take a pro-active approach and engage with their employees to gain feedback and implement new ideas will make the safety program personal to employees and they will take ownership. Create open lines of communication that allow for judgment free conversation, and give employees the resources they are asking for.
What is the biggest thing you think companies are doing to improve construction safety?
One of the biggest things companies are doing is focusing more on the behavioral aspect of safety, and looking more at why incidents happen rather than how. We seem to be learning more from our mistakes and educating people when something goes wrong, rather than placing blame. Also, I am seeing more companies request company specific and customized training based on their internal findings.
Additionally, companies appear to be relying more on the expertise of 3rd party safety companies to assist in supporting their safety programs, and identifying any potential gaps. Since I am in the consulting business I can see firsthand how beneficial it is to have an “outsider” come in and audit a company, rather than it being done internally by someone who is a part of everyday operations. Employees seem more willing to open up to a stranger about their concerns because they do not feel they will be judged, which allows for some very productive conversation.
What is something that surprises people about you or your position?
I think what might surprise people most about me is my willingness to “get my hands dirty” on a jobsite. This may be from my years working in the field and camaraderie I still feel with construction crews, but I think my ability to relate and have an understanding of the work that is being performed has been the primary reason for my success in the safety industry. I think the concept of being safe on the jobsite is very simple, and by overcomplicating safety we are distancing our employees. I like to take the time to get to know employees, and take a personal approach when intervening or making suggestions. I believe in empowering field employees to be Safety Leaders, and serve as a reminder that they are responsible for being each other’s keeper. People are often surprised when I say that my job as a Safety Consultant is to work myself out of a job, and I try to do that by creating an entire company of Safety Leaders who are inspired to take ownership of their company safety program, and a management team that encourages collaboration.