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How a Focus on Relationships Leads to Fewer Safety Incidents

by: Howard Riell
D. Scott Risch, Vice President of Environmental, Health, and Safety, Rosendin Electric
D. Scott Risch, Vice President of Environmental, Health, and Safety, Rosendin Electric
Effective employee safety programs inevitably include a large number of policies, practices, and procedures. But these elements alone should never be the primary focus.

When it comes to the various ways that contractors can improve safety, it is “important to have a solid program that covers the fundamentals, but that is just the minimum,” said D. Scott Risch, CSP, CHST, who recently took over as Vice President of Environmental, Health, and Safety for San Jose, California-based Rosendin Electric.

“As safety professionals, we tend to complicate the heck out of things,” Risch said. “Safety is simple: It’s about people. Focus on relationships.”

Risch brings more than 25 years of experience with a variety of companies in the global construction industry, including The Walsh Group, building cross-functional, multi-site teams dedicated to keeping workers safe. Below he shares his insights for building safe, collaborative work environments for construction employees and craft workers.

Too Early for Tech?
Risch pointed out that companies can and should use data analysis and technology to mitigate risk and keep workers safe.

“There are several exciting things being experimented with in the tech space to identify performance extremes that are likely to lead to an incident,” he said. “It’s still rather early, so they are not cost-effective, and they are not comfortable. No one wants to look like a robot while working amongst their peers, and there are still trust issues to overcome.”

The Value of Data
Given that, Risch continued, “For now I think it’s best to focus on increasing employee engagements and capturing more data points to identify areas for potential improvement. Many companies are adjusting programs based off a sample of their population. For national or global companies, this can be problematic. What one group is experiencing in the Southeast is not the same experience for another group in the Northeast or in Europe.”
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More information leads to better decisions. “By further utilizing data analysis to identify trends, we can prevent injuries for all workers, whether they are in an office or on a job site,” Risch said.

How to Lead
For any safety program, “Success begins with leadership,” Risch said. “If you have the commitment from leadership and the willingness to have difficult conversations, to challenge the process and to question the norm, the results will follow. Just be patient, continue to listen, and be willing to grow.”
Culture and Relationships
“I highly recommend to anyone that they establish a joint committee of safety and operations personnel,” he added. “The relationships that are formed, and the culture that is created, are transformational.”

Risch also recommended that companies take an active role to grow a strong safety culture and connect employees around the value of making safety a personal choice.

“Growing a safety culture is not hard, but it takes continuous effort: effort to show up every day, to engage, to ask questions, to support, and to follow up,” he said.

Safety First, People Always
Risch also stressed that, even amidst a tangle of legal requirements and procedures, the key component of all safety programs is and must always remain the human element.

“Never forget, safety is about people,” he said. “Early in my career there was a leader who would say, ‘Safety first, people always.’ I always admired that. Our firsts, seconds, and thirds often get jumbled when things get busy and life becomes hectic. His statement recognized that.”

Rosendin, the nation’s largest employee-owned electrical contracting company, was established in 1919 and now employs more than 7,500 people. D. Scott Risch joined the company in January 2024. He previously served as Director of Health, Safety, and Environmental for The Walsh Group – Walsh Construction and Archer Western, overseeing programs supporting $6 billion in construction services and focusing on improving the safety culture.

Early in his career, Risch served as a master licensed electrician and led field safety programs in Iraq as a contractor for the Department of Defense in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. He holds certifications as a Construction Health and Safety Technician (CHST) and Certified Safety Professional (CSP). He earned a bachelor’s degree in occupational safety from Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Kentucky, and is completing an MBA program in construction management.

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