Straub’s commitment to safety goes beyond the day-to-day job site activities.

We partner with a third-party safety specialist, Summit Safety Group, to train our employees, perform regular job site inspections, and provide insight on improving our safety records, COVID protocols, and more.

In honor of Construction Safety Week, we sat down with Jake Woolfenden, President of Summit Safety Group and expert in all things OSHA compliance and job site safety, to absorb his knowledge in construction safety–why it matters, how COVID has impacted job sites, and how companies can reinforce a culture of safety beyond the day-to-day.

Tell us about Summit and the benefits of hiring a third-party safety consultant?

We’re experts in construction safety, particularly with the laws and standards that OSHA puts out for employers to follow under Federal standards. There are literally thousands of laws within these standards. We partner alongside employers to help fill in the gaps of things they don’t know or understand.

We work with a lot of different customers and have a lot of exposure to OSHA. We can help argue cases when clients receive citations, and assist with accident investigations or fatalities. We bring a level of knowledge to clients that we have the opportunity to work with. So, whereas one person who has been with the same company for a long period of time may have a base level of understanding on what to do in certain situations, but that exposure is very minimal. We come in with a very broad perspective to share our expertise of what is expected from OSHA. Then, we have the resources available to deploy much quicker than employers trying to figure it out on their own.

How does partnering with Summit benefit our clients?

Owners have a level of liability that they’re trying to manage. They want to make sure the work is done safely and effectively. Whether it be lawsuits as a result of an injury or even just negative press in the community. They want to know that contractors and subcontractors on their projects take safety seriously.

Having a third-party company like Summit that can come in and provide expertise to keep contractors and subs on the right track, whether it’s through training, written documentation, or programs and processes – those are all things that raise the standard.

What types of training do you offer?

There are two ways that we train. On-site, where we come out and train individuals on any of the exposures that they may encounter. This includes things like fall protection, equipment training, emergency action planning for your offices– anything and everything that they would be exposed to. We also have an online training platform with a learning management system with lessons and quizzes where you get certificates when you pass.

A culture of training continues to raise the expectations internally and for trade partners that you’re working with. To see and easily identify things that are happening incorrectly or unsafe, you can provide better leadership so that everyone can make the right choices and do the right things to stay safe.

“There are a lot of people that think a safety manual is a safety program. But it’s more than that, it’s what you value and are willing to invest in safety culture.”

How has COVID impacted Summit’s job? How has job site safety changed? 

As a consulting group, we had to get accustomed to what the CDC was implementing very quickly to serve our clients. Things like, how to effectively clean a surface and how to improve workplace hygiene, encouraging everyone to change their mindset of coming into work sick, even if it’s just a cold.

Specifically, with COVID, quarantine restrictions impacted a lot of our clients and their productivity, putting a real strain on their operations. Being an essential business was something that the local governments continued to support, and they didn’t want work to stop. Overall, most of our clients were able to continue to work pretty effectively and really did a good job to keep everybody safe with social distance and mask-wearing.

As a whole, COVID has brought some good awareness to workplace hygiene and the idea that people can work effectively from home.

How can companies promote a culture of safety beyond a handbook?

There are a lot of people that think a safety manual is a safety program. But it’s more than that, it’s what you value and are willing to invest in safety culture. It takes time to really see some of the fruits. You have to ask yourself, “are we taking an intentional approach or more of a passive approach?” “Is it something that’s consistently being discussed with our teams and on our job sites?” “With our subs?” “Are safety meetings forced or do they just flow in conversation?”

If safety is something that you’re consistently preaching and it’s a part of an ongoing conversation, you see the fruits. It results in a much safer environment and happier employees. They feel like they’re appreciated and cared for – making your workplace culture, as a whole, much stronger.

We know that safety is more than physical safety. How can companies promote psychological safety?

The construction industry is seeing consistently increasing suicide numbers – it’s alarming. The number of people committing suicide is vastly higher than anybody dying from an accident on a project. It’s important for employers to acknowledge this is true, and realize that these numbers are telling a story. A lot is tied to the types of mindsets that we grew up with – if someone is injured and can no longer support or provide the way that they used to, that creates a loss of identity. If someone is bouncing around jobs and doesn’t feel like they fit in anywhere, that creates a loss of identity. There are a number of factors that contribute to depression, and you never know what anyone is going through.

Employers need to focus on training specifically in this area and be willing to talk openly about depression and suicide. The most disarming thing that you can do is ask somebody, “have you considered suicide, is that something you’re struggling with?” Then it’s important that you get them the resources they need for help. There are many resources available, oftentimes they just need someone to help point them in the right direction.

“Employers need to be willing to talk openly about depression and suicide.”

What do you enjoy about partnering with Straub?

I really appreciate that it’s an actual partnership. We can work best when there’s an effective level of communication from our client. As Straub has issues or questions that come up, which every company does, being a part of those conversations early is critical for us – often we get pulled into something too late.

Anytime we can keep that high level of communication flowing, it helps everybody be more effective to make the construction industry safer.

Jake Woolfenden
President, Summit Safety Group

Jake has been a speaker at numerous conferences & seminars around the country where he can be found speaking on anything from OSHA law, company culture, or advocating for mental health awareness within the blue-collar trades.

With a graduate degree in clinical counseling and years of social work & counseling under his belt, Jake dove into the field of safety & health back in 2009 when he worked with Harris Rebar, a large rebar installation & fabrication company with over 70 offices in North America. Jake served as a field safety manager for multiple Harris locations throughout the country until purchasing Summit Safety Group in early 2014.

Since owning Summit Safety Group, Jake & his team of consultants have continued to provide their clients with critical support regarding the federally mandated Occupational Safety & Health Administration standards they must adhere to. With offices in Springfield, MO & Kansas City, MO, they have a unique ability to effectively serve businesses throughout Missouri, Kansas and the entire Midwest.