How industry leader swapped music for OHS

Construction insider shares his unique path to safety

How industry leader swapped music for OHS

One of the great things about the safety profession is that it brings together people from all walks of life. There is truly no one way to get into occupational health and safety.

However, some safety professionals have more unique paths – “I come from a bit of a different background,” says Jeff Laing.

Laing actually started his career in a completely different direction, he was a professional musician and even went to university for opera singing.

Now, Laing is Occupational Health & Safety Lead, Etro Construction and has been in safety for around nine years.

Laing started in construction helping his father with odd jobs here and there mainly on deficiencies and quality control, at that time, Jeff's father was a superintendent, “and as I was navigating through life's journey, my father asked if I wanted to help out, so I took him up on the offer.”

He started right from the basics of labour and moved his way up the corporate ladder going through different avenues such as quality control and management. “Working my way up from general labour position was a great way for me to really learn the ins and outs of the business.” Eventually the company needed a safety officer and Laing was drafted in.

“This snowballed to jumping into the safety world, [I] found an interest in that and ran with it.”

He found that he loved the people aspect of the role, “there’s a technical side of things and some people excel at that and are booksmart, [but] with that you can only go so far. There are people skills that you need to possess to be able to convey safety and connect with an audience.”

Laing applies safety to every aspect of his life, something noted by his loved ones. “The majority of my friends and family calls me ‘safety Jeff’ – it comes with the territory of being in the role that I’m in!”

Despite his passion for safety, there can be challenges such as “managing my personal expectations versus reality, and understanding that as a whole there’s always and will always be room for improvement. And there’s always slightly changing goalposts when it comes to those expectations which make the position challenging yet interesting.”

There is also a need to balance the people aspect and personal standards with the financial side of operations, says Laing, “there are multiple aspects to juggle and work through.”

“However, the most important way to juggle all these items is having great communication skills and having the insight for pre-planning and scheduling. Without these skills, one becomes reactionary, which causes a lot of headache. Being able to communicate and look ahead helps avoid issues before they happen and ultimately assist the business operations, but to keep everyone safe as well.”

Echoing a sentiment shared by many safety professionals, Laing says that safety is almost akin to a sales job in that there are special skills needed to be able to properly convey the message of safety.

“I find that what has worked for me in my career is being able to know your audience and the ability to communicate with all levels within this industry, from labourers, to management, to directors, to other OHS professionals,” says Laing. “Being able to really listen is a huge skillset to have in a position like mine.”

Promoting safety goes beyond paperwork and ensuring compliance, it’s an underlying goal across the board at all times, says Laing. “My goal is to improve that culture of safety and general buy-in. Being out on site and being shoulder to shoulder with workers, having those real conversations with individuals on a personal and professional level, analyzing it, and adapting our program to their needs.”

“Safety culture is not wearing PPE and following a list of rules simply because you have to. It's about knowing why they are needed and in place for a reason, to protect yourself and others while working,” says Laing. Being a safety professional is about coaching people and educating them to do their tasks in the safest manner possible.