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Building Safety Success Through Technology and Mentorship – an Interview with Jeremy Denton

Building Safety Success Through Technology and Mentorship – an Interview with Jeremy Denton

In this episode of The Safety Meeting, Jeremy Denton, Senior Construction Safety Engineer with Alpha & Omega Safety, discusses a multifaceted approach to success in workplace safety. His toolbox for success includes embracing the many capabilities of digital tools, building trust and genuine connections, and investing in the future of safety professionals.

Today, we’re speaking with Jeremy Denton, Senior Construction Safety engineer with Alpha and Omega Safety Services. He spent 18 years as a safety professional working with blue-collar craftsmen after spending 10 years in their shoes so that he could understand the need for safety in the field, how to improve their outcomes, and how to make them successful in their safety roles.

Thanks for being with us today, Jeremy.

Oh yes. Thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity. 

[00:00:41]

Absolutely. Let’s jump into the questions. So, as a seasoned safety professional, what are the key performance indicators or metrics that you find most effective in assessing the success of safety initiatives within an organization?

Well, I like that: measuring success. And that’s really subjective because everyone thinks they know and everyone thinks everyone’s on the same page, with measuring success. But to me, there’s a perspective on success which is, in this case, everyone wants to have their statistics, like key performance indicators.

It’s just something tangible, right? But with me, it’s something that’s not tangible because of my passion for safety. It’s really more of a philosophy that has to be sort of adjusted to the environment. You kind of have to be able to understand and assess the needs of the people and help them where they’re at, to help elevate them at a higher level, which is their success. That’s their individual success. And when you have individuals being successful and know how to collaborate as a team, that makes whatever they’re there for – which is since I specialize in construction – that means that construction project was successful by reducing the number of incidents. There may be a few minor ones, but really, all in all, everyone is satisfied that they didn’t have to go through unnecessary problems because they were very focused on the purpose of the project together as a one-team mentality.

[00:02:09]

Gotcha. So it sounds like understanding the success of the individual can help to assess the success overall of a safety program.

Yeah, basically you just help educate and enlighten so that they can make safety decisions that prevent taking the risks that cause the incidents or injury. So that is the success.

You have to have hands-on experience to anticipate what they’re going to go through. You have to have a proactive approach. 

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[00:02:34]

Yeah, that definitely makes sense. And I know that when it comes to areas that are important for understanding success or making sure that you’re effective as a safety professional, a lot of times, these professionals can encounter barriers that they may have to navigate in order to see success on their team.

So, can you tell me about some common obstacles or challenges that you see with the safety professionals that you work with and that they’re encountering in their roles, and maybe give some recommendations on how they might be able to overcome them so that they can drive some more impactful change. 

Oh, yes.

I actually love this particular subject because one of my biggest passions is developing the skills of other safety professionals that are more junior. So there’s lots of barriers and you do have to navigate.

First of all, you already have that barrier that no one wants to talk to me because I’m the safety person. You already feel a little bit socially awkward, so there’s a barrier right there. Then there’s other dynamics, like demographics. Maybe there’s a different age group. If you’re the younger safety person and most of the people on the crew you’re working with are kind of older, more seasoned, they don’t really want to listen to the younger folks, whatever.

Those little barriers, maybe they’re a union and you’re not union because you’re on the management staff. And they don’t want to talk to anyone that’s not union. Maybe they’re not from that part of the region, like they’re the southern folks and they can tell, because you don’t have an accent. They don’t want to connect with you.

They think you’re the textbook guy. So, what could you possibly know about the work that we have to go through? The white collar versus the blue collar space, right? So there are a lot of barriers that are not so obvious, the ones that no one really necessarily thinks of as an actual barrier.

But you can break through every single one of them. And what you do is you have to invest in the people. You’re not going to be successful right away. You have to build a trusted relationship, and I emphasize a trusted relationship because they have to trust that your intentions are purely genuine. As a humble servant leader, you’re in a leadership role, but you’re not ruling over top of them. You’re helping them. You’re there for them, for their purpose. Your purpose is their purpose, and you have to learn what that is.

You have to talk to them and you do things like mingle with them, spend time with them, but don’t even talk about safety. They already know about safety. You’re not necessarily training them, you’re just monitoring them and seeing if you can’t help them enlighten their perspective on safety so they can make a wiser, safer decision.

So once they realize that you do things like emphasize things that are positive about what they’re doing or saying. You want to recognize the fact that they made the wise choice on their own. And just find ways to make it be organically legitimate.

The barriers start breaking down little by little by little, and all of a sudden, they realize that you are actually a human being. They’re human beings, and you’re treating them as such, and they understand. Just treat each other like human beings, and we’re going to get along. And they can tell, they actually invite you onto their team. Do you know what I mean? They can feel it.

So that’s how you get through all the barriers no matter what your background is or your demographics, whatever you want to call it, that might be originally the barrier. And you spend a lot of time with them, and at some point you don’t have any barriers. You’re connected like a family member. 

[00:06:03]

Yeah, that’s really interesting. It’s almost as if it’s like another couple of lines in the job description that are not explicitly written there, but that you need to take the time to build that trust. And it almost seems as simple as schoolyard etiquette, make friends, and then it is, it can help to influence each other. 

It is. It’s really great things, and that’s what gives me joy at work. My joy is the result of a very relaxed, friendly relationship with people. And that means that I was successful.

I intentionally make sure that they don’t feel like I’m out to get them because they already have you stereotyped as somebody who’s trying to get their job or cause a problem or write down some kind of a nasty observation report on them or whatever. They already think that. You’re already a stereotype before you do anything. It takes time to break through the previous bad experiences they’ve had with other safety professionals. 

[00:06:57]

Right. And I’m sure with the pace of regulation in the space, there are a lot of veterans who are not used to the way things are done now, and I can see how that would create some tension.

So I think that is a great tip for breaking down a lot of these barriers. And I know that those barriers are more around the people that are involved, but I know another barrier that a lot of people can face coming into a new safety role is that there’s a lot of paper that we see still in safety.

So with the increasing digitization of safety practices, how do you see technology revolutionizing the landscape of EHS? And can you share some examples from your clients of how these innovative solutions and this tech can make a tangible difference in their roles? 

Oh, absolutely. I am an advocate for technology. I want to say it doesn’t matter if it’s a mobile app or some kind of a website or, or whatever the case may be, because technology is where it’s at. You have to stay on the cutting edge of technology. But guess what? That’s where the challenge is. 

So I consider myself kind of a hybrid from old school versus new school, right? There’s usually the two different sides. Well, I believe I’ve blended the two together because you have to have technology – that’s how we do business nowadays. But there’s the old school people that were successful with the methods that they used in the past, like the hard copy paperwork. So what do you do?

You know how much time it takes to break those old habits and to getting into using the electronic version of everything, of, uh, electronic documentation or databases and now using the analytics or whatever, like. That’s just so overwhelming to people.

How do you get them to understand the value behind the technology? They have to believe that it’s actually worth the investing of their time, and it really is because it’s so efficient. And that’s what I tell them, whenever I talk to clients.

Because it depends, of course, I talk to people at different levels: I talk to owners of companies, I talk to executive managers, level field managers, frontline supervisors, and actual employees, and other safety professionals. Everybody has their role, but technology can help everyone.

Look at what you can do. You can take this form, you can have an electronic device. It’s simple. Whether it’s a tablet or your mobile phone, and you can go through the app. You can quickly sign in. You don’t have to carry around this piece of paper. I provide the pros and the cons for each step. So I say you always have it with you so you can save everything and archive it, and you can share it instantly.

You can also make sure you have the current versions of the documents. You can quickly scan and save. You just save so much time. You have accurate information, you have the correct version, and you can share with people and you won’t lose it either. It is extremely convenient, efficient, and so effective.

It streamlined your day and you don’t even have to do it yourself. You just have to have access to it and you can have someone else control the device and the information, and then you just are part of the team that’s involved with the information.

There’s always a compliance element to the job sites. But you don’t have to make it difficult. 

[00:10:14]

And it sounds like you have talked to a lot of clients about making this move from paper to digital. Do you have any examples of any clients that you’ve maybe moved from a completely paper system or maybe disparate system where they’re using a bunch of different things to track into one system. And do you have an example of what that changed for them, or what they saw once they made that move?

Absolutely. I have one company that I spoke with that I had good relationships with the different levels of their management team, project management to safety management. And they were very successful, very busy, but they are always bogged down with the paperwork and they were always sending different versions of documents – they didn’t realize they were – because they were not on the same page.

So I enlightened them with the fact of using the KPA Flex, so that they can always have the same information. They could always share it. They could always see who has updated it recently, they can be totally involved in it. And they jumped light years ahead of time with their company and they were so ecstatic.

They were like, this is incredible. Like, how come we didn’t talk to you a long time ago? 

[00:11:21]

Yeah, It sounds like you saved them a lot of time in administration and, and paperwork. 

And that’s what the whole thing is, because it saved on man hours. You want to talk about saving money, that saved on the man hours and it has saved on the learning curve because it’s so intuitive to learn how to do all of this.

It just blew their mind on the advance that they were able to make. It was bogging them down in the office and they couldn’t put their hands on their work and they couldn’t be taking care of their people doing the work, like they wanted to. That was their mental struggle. Like, I feel like I’m neglecting my people because I have to spend so much time on all this stupid paperwork.

You know what I mean? That was their frustration.

But they actually were able to bang it out. They could do it in the field, they could do it in five minutes in their truck or whatever. That’s their mobile office. Right. And they didn’t have to do all this and that, and they never have to work because it’s all electronic.

And just took away all of those little mishaps that throw off their day, silly little frustrations that were preventable. And they love it. 

[00:12:19]

That sounds super powerful. 

It was.

 

[00:12:23]

And I know in this scenario, it sounds like it was a really easy sell, but we’ve heard from different people that sometimes there are challenges when it comes to making this change or adopting safety software or digital tools, like resistance from the team or maybe the people who are managing don’t see the ROI.

Do you have any tips for how you mentor these safety professionals to get a seat at the table so that they can ensure that the widespread adoption of these safety technologies goes well? 

 

Yes, so basically you have to understand who has that skill set, the natural understanding of technology, and you have to pick a leader. Because if you don’t have someone assigned to it, it just doesn’t get done.

So you dedicate a leader of the group and then have a specific frequency of meetings. Then you get your training on how to use it. You’re not just thrown to the wolves, if you will. You get to get taught how to do it the right way, and be good at it.

And then you can internally have your own team that is good at it help little by little showing people. Because this is not an overnight thing, but it’s also not difficult. You just have to get over that fear of, “oh great, I have to learn some more technology.” So alleviating that mental barrier will allow them to understand that this is actually going to be worth my time.

It might be a struggle for a moment at different levels for each individual, but you have to empower them, help build their confidence that they can do it. Because like I say, that’s that fear in their mind that creates that mental barrier. 

To complete something, 80% of it is mental, because they already have their habits, they have their little routines. You know, humans are creatures of habit, right? They just go through and they don’t want to deviate from what they’re used to doing.

So you help them exchange the habit. You take this habit and replace it with a better habit. And so I help them to dissect that, what that looks like, because my whole approach is I want to get you so self-sufficient, that you don’t need me. I’m not trying to be needed forever. I want them to become self-motivated on learning and self-sufficient, as much as possible. 

[00:14:31]

So in your experience, what have you found has been the most effective ways to get people from that meeting-you, early-stage to being self-sufficient. What do you see works well?

 

Oh, works well is you have to truly find out what their needs are. I mean, I say that because everybody’s a person that has their own individual needs, even though kind of holistically a company has a need. But you have to break it down to the individual and who’s in charge, even who’s the leader.

It’s funny the leader may not be the actual leader by title. It could be the leader is one of the most inexperienced people, but they have a fresh, clean slate and you help them. You find somebody that naturally gravitates towards technology. And then you find other people and all of a sudden you have that peer pressure. But it’s a positive peer pressure. 

Makes them feel like this is the way; we really can do this. Once it becomes talked about more often, it’s thought about more often, it’s used more often, it becomes normal: “this is how we do business.” Because this is how the world does business. So it’s breaking them out of that vacuum and getting them into the way things are done nowadays in the world.

[00:15:41]

It makes sense with the type of work that safety professionals are overseeing. I can see how it’s tough for people whose job is really hands-on to see where technology has a place in their job scope. And when it comes to understanding that and reinforcing these things, I know a lot of places will do things like toolbox talks and safety meetings to keep safety top of mind, even when the technology part is separate.

So can you talk about, in your experience, what tactics you’ve seen in the field prove most effective when delivering engaging talks that really stick with people, and keep safety top of mind? 

Well, first of all, I absolutely love doing toolbox talks. And so what you do is you have to read the room, you have to understand the energy of the people.

You want to capture their interest, right?

You don’t want to just go through the motions and read this piece of paperwork word for word and check the box. “Got it done. Okay, let’s go to work.”

That’s absolutely boring. And they are like rolling their eyes and falling asleep, right? And you can’t have that in your audience.

So what you do is choose relevant topics. You want to choose ones that have the most risk, the most dangerous operations. But you also want to talk about ones that kind of pull on the heartstrings. Because you want to tie those two together. You don’t want to talk about generic cliches only, you want to talk about how does it actually apply to this jobsite, to this crew, to whoever, to whatever your audience is. How does it mean something to those people?

Because you’re trying to deliver a message to make a difference in their mindset, to understand safety just a little bit better. And what I like to do is always have a group conversation. I might be facilitating, but I’m not the only one going to be talking because I’m going to say, “hey, I saw you do such and such.” Like I will just call someone in, in a casual conversation and say “I thought that was great, look at the safe decision you made.” And then I’ll say, “let’s give it up” to whoever the person is that I’m calling out, in the group, in a good way. I’m recognizing. I’m doing a kind of soft recognition.

And I get them and everyone gets excited and, and then they feel happy. And then I’ll talk about the supervisor and say: “So what did you think? Did you see anyone that did something great? And then just kind of open it up and break the ice and get people to start talking about that safety topic. I’ll keep it relevant and on topic, but I’ll make sure that it’s for them, that the conversation is for them.

It’s not to just tell the corporate office, we did a safety meeting and it’s not about compliance.

Because I have a very people driven project mentality, not a compliance driven mentality. Compliance is just the byproduct of a well operating project. That is the success from it.

So that’s what I like to do, and I always have to have a positive tone to the safety meeting. Because who wants to go to the negative one where I’m going to beat you on top of the head or talk to you like a child? Like you’ve never heard of this before. They’re probably more experienced than you are! So that’s what you have to understand, that they’re the subject matter experts. They’re the ones doing the work. 

[00:18:41]

That’s a great way to look at it – understanding your audience and where they’re coming from to make sure that you are delivering an effective message. Definitely makes sense.

And I think this really ties into one of the reasons we had you on the show, because mentorship for you is really important and we know that it really plays a crucial role in developing the next generation of safety professionals.

So can you share any memorable mentorship experiences from your career and how they’ve shaped your approach to guiding these aspiring safety leaders? 

Yes. I have such a strong overwhelming passion for other safety people. I have a really big group of friends and basically I consider it a brotherhood that I’m part of. I help them figure out what their career goals are and I give them options.

Because sometimes they don’t realize all of the options that are there. You want to be the one that goes and gets the college degree. Do you want to be the one that gets the certification? Do you want to be the one that has all the experience through the exposure to different types of construction projects and different industries? Like what direction do you want to go? What are your goals?

And then I can help custom-fit your recipe for success, your goals. Because otherwise you’re just going to be kind of stuck in a rut because you don’t know where to go; you’re just existing in your career. So I help them broaden their mind on what they can actually choose from, that will help them to prevent burnout in the industry. So that’s what I want them to do, not come in hot and just do all these amazing things and then in five years they’re already burned out.

I try to give them something to work with, like short-term and long-term goals. Like you would do for your life, but you have to do it for your career as well. 

And so that’s what I like to do, is have individual connections with each person, so that I can talk to them and help them. Like I’ll help them build their resumes. Or I’ll tell them the different certifications: the ones that are worth your money, the ones that aren’t, the ones that are best bang for your buck, and the ones that are more broadly recognized in multiple different industries. I just help customize what they can do for themselves, and get them there.

And I keep checking in on them and it’s really more of an accountability. I hold them accountable to that too. I say “did you study for that CHST yet? Did you get the application turned in?” Do you know what I mean? Like I check in on them, but I’m kinda like the tough love – I’m going to keep on top of you until you’re successful.

I love people so much that I’m going to keep on putting my whole heart into them. Because that’s what I look for is people that have the heart for safety. You have to find others that are like-minded. The more safety professionals out there that are really good, that have the heart for safety: Get them out there and making a difference.

You have to make a difference every day when you’re out there. You’re not just there clocking in, clocking out. How can I make a difference with the people out in the field every day? 

So that’s the thing, is I just invest into the brotherhood of all the other safety professionals. And you just help them where they’re at and help them get to that next level.

[00:21:31]

Absolutely. Yeah. And I think especially when it comes to safety, it’s really important because it’s not only the success of these people, but the fact that they can have success in keeping their team safe, and making sure that more people are going home to their families every night.

Well, that’s what it is. For safety professionals: We are saving jobs, saving lives, and we’re actually saving the assets of companies. 

That’s really what our role is. Saving the job because you know, you get too many safety violations, you get fired. Right? But that’s really what actually happens. Too many write-ups. Also zero tolerance. One, like not tying off when you’re working a scissor lift or something. That’s one that you just don’t get a second chance, you’re immediately fired. So I do things that help people protect their jobs by looking out for them.

But also the one that everyone knows is saving lives, because we don’t want to have injuries or fatalities.

But there’s also the company’s assets. Like if they’re not in compliance or they do something where there’s any kind of a fatality or something that draws in some kind of regulatory agency like OSHA or whatever. Then you’re going to either get all these fines or you’re going to lose your contract with your client. Because your incident rates are too high and there’s a high potential of going bankrupt over it.

So that’s what safety professions do. We have a serious responsibility. We have to take our jobs so seriously because we are really affecting people’s lives. 

[00:22:53]

Yeah, absolutely. And I think in mentioning the business assets, you created a perfect segue into our last question because that’s a really important thing when it comes to safety, is understanding what you’re saving.

So saving money, saving time, saving these business assets. And I know that a lot of organizations are really seeking to understand the Return On Investment when it comes to safety software. So how do your clients quantify the ROI of such tools? And what are some unexpected benefits that organizations might overlook when it comes to the ROI of safety software?

Well, there’s lots of return on investment and safety software. You’re saving money on just the labor hours involved. You’re going to take the monotonous, time-consuming part of every single part of paperwork out of it. Instantly. And you will have precision every single time. You’ll have the results the way they are, and you can actually edit them in case there is an error too. You can instantly edit. So you’re not even stuck with whatever you produce as far as your paperwork. 

So you can constantly evolve that way. And you can also train people easily. So there’s not any time that you can consider that’s wasteful on any part of it, especially on the training. So people can be self-sufficient.

So you can take it to the field and you can have it in the corporate office. Every single level is able to manage whatever their responsibilities are.

SDS management – now, how convenient is that? That you could have one person dedicated to uploading the SDSs for the chemicals that, uh, whatever the hazards are to, to those chemicals that that company’s working with, and they can immediately open it up on their phone and get to it and they’re compliant with OSHA because you just have to have readily accessible, right? To have this access to the SDSs. So there’s that.

What if you need spontaneous training? Well, guess what? Look it up and get into the training. And you can just search for the correct kind of training and you can have it be basically a self-guided program where you can play it and you can learn it.

You don’t even have to be the expert at that topic. You can immediately get trained so you don’t have any untrained personnel out there. So it immediately reduces all the risk of having anything catastrophic to your company, and it’s a very minimized number of people that need to manage this process as well.

Return on investment speaks for itself, right there. 

[00:25:18]

Yeah, those are all really great examples when it comes to understanding the ROI, especially from the time-saving aspect, and the compliance aspect that you’re not having to spend so much time working on paperwork or making sure that you’re compliant with OSHA. It’s just something that is already there, ready to go. You don’t have to worry about it anymore. 

Well, the other part is, if you want to talk about the influencing of other clients. The clients are going to see how efficient you’re operating and you’re going to get more contracts signed because they’re going to say, “look, that’s a well operating company. I can trust that they’re going to do a great job for us. They’re going to produce so efficiently, they’re going to save us money.” So if you save the client money, they’re going to hire you to make you money. So it’s a win-win all day long. They’re going to see that you’re at a higher level, you’re on the cutting edge of technology.

They want those kinds of companies, especially the bigger companies. 

[00:26:14]

Yeah. Are you finding that safety and safety practices or optimization are a really big thing that clients are looking for? 

Oh, absolutely they’re looking for that, because they know that they’re not going to be wasting their money. They’re not going to be doing a bunch of redos, they’re not going to have a slow process. They’re not going to be waiting around for their deliverables that they’re requesting constantly. You actually can keep up with those deadlines. 

[00:26:37]

I think that everything you’ve said today around the ROI of safety, how you’re mentoring people, how to keep these toolbox talks engaging along with understanding the challenges around adoption of a safety software, or even just navigating how to measure success or overcome these barriers. I think it’s huge when it comes to making sure that the next group of safety professionals that are coming up are not only going to be successful. But they’re going to be able to accomplish what they want to do in a timely manner and with accuracy. So that’s huge.

Thank you so much for sharing. And before we wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners?

Basically, I want to say that the older generation, we are obligated to help the younger generation. And this is how we can do it: We can do it through technology. Let’s teach the younger generation, the old school work ethic with the new school technology. 

 

[00:27:28]

Well, I think this has been some great insight. I really loved talking with you and hearing how you’re shaping these safety professionals’ lives and how you’re helping them to stay current and stay up with things.

So thank you so much for joining us and sharing your insight. It has been invaluable.

Absolutely. It was my pleasure and totally feel honored to be even asked to do this.

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Toby Graham

Toby manages the marketing communications team here at KPA. She's on a quest to help people tell clear, fun stories that their audience can relate to. She's a HUGE sugar junkie...and usually starts wandering the halls looking for cookies around 3pm daily.

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