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When David Frazier joined Hardaway Construction as president and operations manager five years ago, his background in commercial and industrial construction hadn’t prepared him for the safety culture of a company that predominantly worked on mixed-use projects. Visiting jobsites, Frazier saw subcontractor workers who weren’t wearing PPE, following fall protection guidelines or observing other basic safety protocols.

“I didn’t have a lot of multifamily, wood-frame experience,” says Frazier, who bought Hardaway in 2018 and today serves as the Nashville-based company’s CEO. “So, I was a little taken aback by going to jobsites and seeing how lax the safety was on wood-frame construction projects.”

Things are different now. In an interview with Construction Executive, Frazier discusses how Hardaway reformed its safety culture—and how any construction company can follow suit.

How has the safety culture at Hardaway changed since you came onboard?

It was a pretty big cultural change for the company and for our subcontractor base to get onboard with safety. It took some time, but we require all of our site superintendents to have a 30-hour OSHA certification. We require all of our project managers and assistant project managers to have a 10-hour OSHA certification. If they don’t have it when they come onboard, it’s part of their onboarding process.

And over the past couple of years, we have really changed the culture of the company and changed the culture of our subcontractor base to be [safer] on jobsites. We do random monthly inspections by a third-party safety consultant. Most of the issues on the reports are fairly minor and are field-corrected. But I will say, from three or four years ago when we started this process, it’s pretty rare [now] that we see more than one minor issue or infraction on a report. I think that’s a testament to our cultural change and to our staff and our superintendents really enforcing our safety guidelines.

Has there been a learning curve with implementing safety?

It was a steep learning curve with our subcontractor base. Multifamily and construction in general, there’s been a shift from businesses having W-2 employees to being a lot of 1099 subcontractor work. So, for example, we’ll hire a wood framer or a drywall company, and they are more active labor brokers these days. It’s really rare for a drywall company to have 100 guys as W-2 employees. They’re subbing out to different people and different crews.

It was a steep learning curve because you never knew what crew you were going to get. Part of our process to help that is to require anybody that comes on our jobsite to go through a safety orientation brief—on all of our projects. Along with our safety consultant, we made a PowerPoint presentation and a video—in English and Spanish—and they’re required to go through that training before they’re allowed to work on the jobsite.

What were some of the biggest safety issues you noticed when you started?

I would say the single biggest issue is fall protection. A lot of our projects have balconies, and whether it be one story up or seven stories up, the balcony rails are one of the last items on a multifamily project that get installed. We had a huge issue with people going out on the balconies and not being tied off, whether to unload trash or to do finishes out there. And that carried over to the framing side also, with the framers not tying off properly when they’re putting a roof truss on or doing high-level work.

How did you address that challenge?

We consulted our safety consultant and worked together. Our solution to the problem was, for all of the doors that went out a balcony, to create signs in English and Spanish that identified [it] as an unsafe zone to be working. If you’re entering this zone, it’s required that you be tied off. So, of 250 units on one particular project, we had to make 175 signs that had to be placed at these entrances to keep people off these balconies.

What advice do you have for other construction companies trying to create a better safety culture?

One of the biggest things is that you have to lead by example. Whether I go on a jobsite, or it’s an architect or an owner that we’re working with, the rules aren’t different; the rules are the same for everyone. It’s an enforcement issue. When you have [workers] on a jobsite and they see someone walking around that doesn’t have the proper gear on, it’s really easy for them to say, “Well, if they don’t have to do it, why do I have to do it?” And so, we make a strong point of enforcement no matter who it is on our jobsite.

I think that our No. 1 asset is our employees, and our employees always come first. It’s really important that they’re safe—whether it’s wearing seatbelts, giving gift cards to people for getting their annual physicals, wellness checks—it all [comes back to] their health and safety. The workforce is an incredibly difficult market right now. We need to make sure that our people are safe and healthy, and people need to put a priority on their employees.

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