In honor of National Safety Month, we’ve dived into what it means to be the Safety Officer at Price Electric. Since Dan’s promotion to Safety Officer in 2011, Price Electric has been named one of America’s Safest Companies by EHS Today. We have also been recognized at a variety of levels of ABC of Iowa’s STEP program, ranging from Silver to Diamond. ABC National has also recognized Price Electric with the National Safety Excellence Award. Additionally, in February 2020, Dan was named Safety Professional of the Year by Master Builders of Iowa.
What do you do as Safety Officer at Price Electric?
As the Safety Officer, I educate employees on the everyday and exceptional dangers of working in construction. I hold employees accountable for how they conduct themselves on the job site. A big part of my job as the Safety Officer is showing employees the big picture and how their safety affects them and everyone in their personal lives, as well as everyone in the construction industry. If we don’t hold ourselves and our co-workers accountable for their decisions, then we’re not practicing safety, we’re just preparing for the next accident.
What did your path look like after high school?
In 2002, when I was a senior in high school, there was still a “college for all” mentality. We were always told that if you don’t go to college, you’ll end up struggling in a blue-collar job your whole life. My dad had a different mentality. He told my brother and me to start with a trade, then do whatever we wanted. That way, we’ll always have a trade to fall back on.
Instead of starting work in construction right out of high school, I started the Industrial Electrician program at NICC in Calmar, IA. When I graduated from NICC, I worked for a small contractor in the Iowa City area doing mostly residential wiring. After the first summer, I decided to go back to school for Civil Engineering. I knew I wanted to stay in construction, but I wanted to do more design work than installation. I attended pre-engineering classes at Kirkwood Community College, then transferred to the University of Iowa. I graduated with a B.S. in Civil Engineering in December 2009.
I worked part-time for Price Electric while I was in engineering school. When I graduated, the job market was flooded with unemployed engineers. Fortunately, I had worked enough in engineering, and by then, I knew I wanted to pursue what I enjoyed, construction. I started as a full-time apprentice at Price Electric in February 2010, became Safety Officer in April 2011, and acquired my journeyman electrician license in May 2012.
How did you become passionate about Safety?
I saw a lot as a young apprentice working for a small company. Resources were limited. The training was what your journeyman could offer you on-site, and “safety was for the weak” was the attitude. In March 2011, I was on a job site and ended up arguing with a General Contractor (GC) foreman about safety for “his guys” on site. He said, “You worry about your people, and I’ll worry about mine.” Safety on construction sites is something where every worker needs to be on board.
Our Safety Officer at the time came to the site for a meeting with the GC. After this meeting, I was recommended to take over the Safety Officer position. At the time, Price Electric’s Safety Officer position had only existed for three months. Given the education and experience I had up to that point, I saw it as an opportunity to improve things, not only for Price Electric but for the local construction industry. I never imagined our Safety program would grow into what it is today. Though I was not hampered in my efforts, and I have always felt valued for the work I do by management and our employees in the field.
Ultimately, I want apprentices to come into construction, knowing that the safe way is the smart way. I want experienced electricians to know that the “old ways” are not necessarily the best. I work to educate people that it’s ok to take the time to do our work safely. No job is worth your life or a limb.
What are some of the challenges you face in your role as a Safety Officer?
When it comes to safety, the biggest challenge I face is effective communication. I need to be able to take an idea, convince senior managers it’s worth an investment of time and money, then take that idea to employees in the field and make it work effectively. When I started, the view on safety was that “it’s just common sense,” and “it’ll only slow down my jobs.” Construction safety is a learned skill, like any other part of the trade. A safety officer can’t just tell everyone to be safe and expect their job to be done. I need to train employees to recognize the hazards they’ll face in the field and how to eliminate them.
Another challenge is convincing a tradesperson to step away from a situation when the conditions are unsafe. Through training, both in the classroom and in the field, I make sure employees are taught how to keep themselves out the Line of Fire, and how to think through any situation to its best possible outcome. Creating a culture of ‘Commitment to Safety’ is my ultimate goal. Employees are safe because they want to be safe, not just because someone told them to do it, they WANT TO DO IT.
What is the best advice you’ve received from a peer or someone you respect in the industry?
The best advice I’ve heard is to “Believe in Safety,” from arc flash survivor, Brandon Schroeder. When a construction worker truly believes in safety, they’re not just in it for themselves; they’re in it for the entire industry. They’ll step up and have an uncomfortable conversation. They’ll stop the stranger in the middle of an unsafe act. They realize that going home to our loved ones is the most important thing, not just getting a job done.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering an electrical apprenticeship?
The advice I give anyone considering going into construction is this – construction will teach you how the world is built, and it’s always needed. Construction is not in danger of automation. It’s a rare skill set. There are less than 800,000 electricians in the U.S., and that number is continuously declining. The world needs electricians!