• This post was first published on Ladder Safety Hub.
  • Awhile back, we had the opportunity to chat with Tom Menzies, a recently retired safety professional. Tom worked as a safety professional for 20 years and spent 17 of those years building the safety program at RK Mechanical in Denver.
  • 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 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.

    Can you tell me what inspired you to get involved in safety?

    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.

  • How did you help your team remember ladder safety?The safety training started at orientation, which lasted about five hours. There was a ladder in the orientation center room so we were able to show them exactly what to do – how to inspect and use the ladder the right way. We also stressed the importance of having quality ladders without damages. Employees were trained to inspect their ladders daily, even multiple times a day. If a ladder was damaged, we replaced it, and we made sure they knew we would replace it. As part of ongoing training, we did Toolbox Talks. I would always choose education over enforcement, but enforcement is important as well. No nonsense is important with everything, but especially with safety. Training people is the main thing. If you don’t train them how do they know what you want? Put pressure on the wives.

    Another thing we did as part of the enforcement was if someone was caught on a defective ladder or using the ladder unsafely, we had them write a letter to their family where they told them why they made the poor choice. When you drive it home with the family, it helps to. You get the family involved, and the wife is going to come unglued (most of the time) and question the choice, reinforcing the importance of safety. The person had to read that letter to his crew too. It makes him think about how his choices impact others.

    Tell me about some specific situations dealing with ladders. Do you have any specific stories, close-calls of incidents dealing with ladders?

    Anytime someone is doing something wrong on a ladder, I call that a near miss. You just can’t take chances with ladders. Every trade uses them. You have to start with a new ladder. The biggest thing is to inspect it each time you use it. You have to take a look at that thing and make sure it’s in good working condition. You also want to make sure you invest in good quality ladders. There is no need to do anything on a bad ladder.

    Tell me some highlights of your career – what things are you most proud of? What things do you wish you could change?

    The highlights were getting awards from organizations for the best safety program. My last year before retiring, we got the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) Mobile Workforce Award. It’s the highest award you can get. We also got awards from the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). I was also named the safety professional of the year.