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Prioritizing Construction Safety to Promote Culture, Retain Talent, and Save Money

Every Monday morning, Wenger Construction crews huddle up at jobsites for their weekly “toolbox talk” where site leaders review construction safety protocols, talk through real scenarios involving co-workers and discuss ideas for improvement. This weekly ritual represents just one part of the Wisconsin-based company’s comprehensive safety program.

“A lot of the guys in our office, including myself, started in the field; we know how dangerous it can be out there,” said Jake Wenger, owner of Wenger Construction, which installs siding, roofing and sheet metal. “When we were in the field, safety wasn’t a high priority. However, growing industries like construction evolve and safety has taken its position front and center in our industry where it belongs. I can recall numerous times where we got lucky and maybe should not even be here today because we prioritized production and profit over safety in the old days.” 

Wenger’s proactive focus on safety has positively affected his business in two ways: economically and culturally. Prioritizing safety helps keep his company competitive by reducing accidents, which reduces workers’ compensation insurance costs. In addition, it drives home a positive company culture, helping to retain his employees.

“I’m a very strong proponent of culture and we’ve tried to create a family culture here. I look at every one of our guys like they’re one of the family,” notes Wenger. “To me, it’s not just about the people who are working now, it’s also about how we’re going to attract new talent. We need to take it more seriously than ever.”  

Wenger’s unique culture is built on their standout safety program, which also includes an annual companywide safety seminar, off-site training for foremen and future company leaders, random safety inspections from the company’s insurer, and staying up to date on compliance with training and safety resources from partners like James Hardie, the leading manufacturer of fiber cement siding and trim products. He also offers his employees access to leadership programs and skills training.

Wenger Construction operates with an eye toward the future – focused on initiatives to remain competitive and attract younger workers.

“It is critical to the future of our industry that we pay attention to what will attract and retain good workers,” Wenger said. “If we want the construction industry to be able to attract talent from the same pool of future workers as other industries we need to lead the way with safety, skills and leadership training. We can’t just say we will do these things to check a box, they must be real investments into our workforce creating a culture of professionalism in the construction industry. Safety, skills and leadership training are essential pieces to creating a long-term career opportunity for our future workforce, not just a job.”

Wenger’s leadership has led to company growth and industry recognition, with the company most recently receiving the Safety Award for Excellence (SAFE) in the Siding Contractor Safety Program of the Year category. The award is presented by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and Builders Mutual, and recognizes those who go above and beyond with their safety programs.

While the program Wenger put in place is one to strive for, the focus on proactive safety is one all siding contractors can benefit from. As leaders in safety who have worked with Wenger, James Hardie has been taking notes.

James Hardie is launching a construction safety program designed specifically with the siding installer in mind as a part of NAHB’s Safety 365 campaign. The Siding Contractor Safety Program offers free, customizable, and comprehensive safety plans that focus on areas often amongst OSHA’s top cited ones, including: fall protection, scaffolding, ladders, and personal protective equipment.  

“James Hardie is committed to safety, both internally and with our installation partners,” noted Matt Piper, Technical Manager for James Hardie. In fact, James Hardie employs over 60 technical specialists who work directly with builders and contractors with a goal of building stronger, safer companies. 

Safety 365 doesn’t just help keep worksites safe, it’s also good for business. Working to keep employees safe can save a business money and prevent handling injuries or illnesses after the fact, as demonstrated by Wenger Construction.

“While results, pay and profits are what we go to work to produce, in our 22nd year of business we have found that these will take care of themselves if a strong culture is in place,” Wenger said. “Getting guys home safe each night and creating a safe, positive, solution-driven work environment are cornerstones of building a culture that leads to positive results, pay and profits and a mission that people want to be a part of.”

With Safety 365, James Hardie is helping to make it easier for contractors to operate safely and efficiently so they can benefit just like Wenger Construction.
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