Key change: from music to construction safety

Jeffrey Laing explains switch from piano and DJing to ETRO Construction

Key change: from music to construction safety

“Having the ability to perform and be able to communicate and connect with people is a really strong skill set for anyone in safety.”

So said Jeffrey Laing, occupational health and safety lead at ETRO Construction, British Columbia. However, he has been performing for far longer than that – with music.

Read more: Quarter of WSIB claims tied to noise-induced hearing loss

Hitting the right notes

It started when he was just a boy. At age four, Laing started singing. He also did 10 years of classical piano. He attended Douglas College in B.C. on a full saxophone scholarship. He then transferred to the University of British Columbia (UBC) where he was an opera singer. There, he got his degree in vocal performance.

Between 2004 and 2017, Laing was the business manager/consultant and interactive event specialist at Beyond Sound Entertainment, performing over 1,000 shows for audiences of up to 2,500 people as a DJ and MC

“I was a DJ for about 12 years. And on top of that, I became a singer-songwriter. Did a bunch of shows and did a couple of CDs and did all that fun stuff,” he said. “And then I decided to change things up and get into the construction stuff.”

Read more: Why noise in the workplace is a concern in many industries

The transition

His connection to the construction industry through his dad was one of the biggest reasons for the jump, said Laing.

“My dad was a superintendent at the time, and I was getting out of the music industry. He asked if I wanted to join. He decided to bring me under his wing per se, and just start right at the bare basics of being a laborer.”

Other than that, he also had an analytical mind, which he can put to practice in the safety field.

“When it comes to safety, there's something I find special and somewhat challenging as well. It’s taking this stigma away from the typical safety officer. I find it a challenge, and it's a good challenge, to really come and try to figure out the best approach on selling safety,” he said.

Read more: 6 Ways to reduce noise pollution in the workplace

Safety leadership

Before jumping into the safety profession, Laing did a bunch of renovations with his father at their house, and then did random odd jobs here and there.

And with his father by his side, he started to build his career in the safety space. He assisted with project coordination, project management and quality control. He then became a safety officer and started being involved in some large projects.

He was also a quality control manager at Talisman Homes Ltd. from January 2013 to October 2017 before becoming OHS lead at ETRO Construction in February 2018.

And even in the safety space, his performer side is aiding his success.

“You have to know your audience and be able to communicate with people effectively, and understand what they want and what they need, versus the safety side of things. And bridge the gap so that everybody's working together as a unit versus safety against everybody.”

Read more: How to build a safety career in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories


As a safety leader, Laing spends most days checking in with their projects, getting a pulse for a project and seeing how people are doing.

“If there's any sort of large item or scope of work that is present for the day – like concrete pours or crane erections and stuff like that – I would be a little bit more heavily involved in the preparation and planning for that stuff.”

He also does site visits and manages program updates in projects. But his biggest job, he feels, is standing as a safety mentor for workers.

“My job is to take the knowledge that I do have and possess over the many years that I have been in the industry, and ensure that all of our employees understand the ins and outs of how to look out for safety and really immerse themselves in the culture behind safety.”

And in this mentorship role, handouts are not enough. “[It’s about] being out in the field and really providing that real-time or real kind of education in a real-world setting. So being able to walk around with project teams or employees and explain why we do certain things is very important, rather than just saying you have to do this because I told you so or it's written in a book somewhere.

“To be able to explain it to the point where they understand it, and then they can take it for themselves and then explain it to somebody else is very important.”