In 2012, David M. Wolfford & Son, Inc., Culpeper, Va., was advised by its workers’ compensation insurance carrier that its EMR had risen to 1.31. Four years earlier, it was 0.87. The company was committed to certifying all employees in advanced first-aid and CPR, and President Skip Wolfford was a former EMT cardiac technician and 30-year veteran of the construction industry who thought he knew all there was to know about safety. Obviously something was missing, and amid one of the worst economic periods since the Great Depression, Wolfford knew he couldn’t afford to bear the burden of additional premiums and limited bidding opportunities.

Searching for a “golden nugget” that would transform the company and pave a successful path through the recession, Wolfford found himself attending Associated Builders and Contractors’ (ABC) inaugural STEP Plus Safety Excellence Academy. The program kicked off with a segment from ABC President and CEO Mike Bellaman and featured sessions led by health and safety experts from firms including DuPont and Lend Lease. As the two-day academy continued, Wolfford picked up on the importance of leadership commitment, cultural transformation and safety management processes in achieving a zero-incident jobsite. The academy went beyond the technical side of safety and explored the emotional and behavioral components that make safety the core value on which all business decisions are based.

“The discussions were not a recipe of ‘how to,’ but rather a presentation on creating lasting change in safety that would protect every company’s most valuable asset: their workers,” Wolfford says. “It was about owners and executives standing up and making a commitment to creating traditions and attitudes to help every company succeed in their businesses.”

The program also addressed the personal tragedies some of the presenters (and likely many attendees) had experienced. The message hit home for Wolfford, who lost a 19-year-old worker to electrocution in 1982 and had to tell the family he would never come home again.

“These gut-wrenching experiences reinforced that to do anything less than the best practices being discussed would put workers, management and companies at risk,” Wolfford says.“I left there with knowledge and ideas on how to turn our safety program around. I was motivated, but more importantly I was armed with concepts on how to personalize our safety program to suit our needs and the needs of our owners, clients and staff.”

Nearly two years later, that motivation has translated into improved performance. David M. Wolfford & Son, Inc. recently learned it’s out of the workers’ compensation risk pool with an EMR below 1. Achieving this benchmark is opening doors to business opportunities that previously were closed, including approaching prospective clients with a new sales tool. 

“I find that a potential client’s first question isn’t what our bonding line is or how many workers we employ,” Wolfford says. “The first question is ‘what is your EMR and do you have a safety program?’ By becoming safer, our company is more competitive, more profitable and better able to serve the needs of our clients.”


Joanna Masterson is editor of Construction Executive. For more information, email masterson@abc.org, visit www.constructionexec.com or follow @ConstructionMag.  


The next STEP Plus Safety Excellence Academy will be held April 28-30 in conjunction with ABC’s Workforce Development Conference in Birmingham, Ala. For more information, visit wdc.abc.org.