This week, I had the opportunity to chat with a recently retired safety professional, Tom Menzies. The notes from the interview will be split into two separate posts. The first will be this one and the second post will be added Thursday. Tom worked as a safety professional for 20 years. He spent 17 of those years building the safety program at RK Mechanical in Denver. In the interview, he talks about how he became involved in the safety industry and the things he did to build the program. Both this post and the post for Thursday will be formatted in a Q&A style. Enjoy!

What steps did you take to build the award-winning safety program you are known for?

The successful program didn’t happen overnight. I started at RK Mechanical in 1995. I was over 147 pipe fitters and sheet metal workers. Now there are 1300. When I started, they didn’t have a safety handbook or anything so I started there. I developed the manual. I wasn’t thinking of awards, I was thinking of safety. The key is you have to get everyone to buy into the program. The safety program has to come from the top, not just the safety specialist. You have to get the owner to buy into it. It takes leadership.

From what Craig said, an injury inspired you to get involved in the safety industry. Can you tell me more about that decision?

I was working for a larger construction company in 1989. We didn’t have a safe ladder, but I had to climb into the skylight in this hospital we were building. All we had was an extension ladder without the legs. I had someone hold the ladder, but the guy who was holding the ladder just walked away. The ladder fell and I fell to the concrete floor. I was unconscious. They got me to the hospital and called my wife – they didn’t think I would make it. I had broken ribs, a broken sternum, a collapsed lung and nerve damage. It was bad.  The recovery took two years and 8 months. I couldn’t do my job as a carpenter anymore. The accident changed everything. At 40 years old, I had to go back to school. Having a career-ending injury changes your life and your family’s life. It was very stressful. It was hard to live on worker’s comp and I didn’t want anyone else to go through that.  I decided to get my degree in operational safety so I could help prevent others from going through what I had experiences. I started at Trinidad State College in Colorado in occupational safety and health and finished at the University of Michigan as a worker’s comp certified specialist.

Check back on Thursday for the rest of the interview!