Behind the Build: Interview with Dwayne Jeffery, Safety Health & Environmental Director at Howard S. Wright

Dwayne Jeffery Howard S. Wright

Safety is a critical factor, not just at a project level but across your entire organization. A strong safety culture leads to smoother project execution and a more empowered workforce. 

Promoting better safety isn’t just about handing out educational materials and conducting training sessions. To effectively ensure the safety of your team and projects, you first need to secure leadership buy-in, so your policies and best practices trickle down to the rest of the organization.  

Furthermore, establishing meaningful team relationships on a professional and personal level can also improve safety by encouraging colleagues to be more open and adaptable. 

Here to speak more about the topic is Dwayne Jeffery, Safety Health & Environmental Director at Howard S. Wright, a Balfour Beatty company. Dwayne directs and oversees all safety planning and implementation at the company's Washington state operations. He is well-versed in all things safety and shares some useful insights with us.

Tell us a bit about your career journey. What inspired you to pursue a role in safety?

I started in construction almost 19 years ago after I was introduced to the industry while playing professional arena football in San Diego. My best friend and teammate suggested that I transition my career into construction because it offered the opportunity to align qualities I developed as a leader and a team player. I hesitated at first, but I was eager to test my skills and make the transition from the football field to the construction site. And, it just so happens that my teammate and I now serve as safety directors for major general contractors in the United States.

I started in the field as a foreperson, then I was crossed-trained as a superintendent. As a superintendent, I took a job in Miami for a construction company that gave me the opportunity to cross-train entry level teammates on different aspects of the business such as scheduling, engineering, and safety. I found that I was most passionate about coaching and relating to others, so I chose to pursue a career path in safety so I could focus on the health and wellbeing of my teammates.

From there, I started as a safety engineer and then worked my way up to a safety manager, senior safety manager and regional safety director. Now I am a safety health & environmental director for Howard S. Wright, a position I’ve held for the last two years.

How do you ensure a strong culture of safety at Howard S. Wright, especially at a leadership level?

Our Zero Harm safety culture is embedded in everything we do. We ensure that everyone is safe 100% of the time, on 100% of our projects, and we do everything in our power to achieve this.

Implementing this safety culture in everything we do starts at the top and before putting the first shovel in the ground. Our local leadership team—which I'm a part of—includes our president, vice presidents, directors, and project executives who are passionate about the wellbeing of everyone, including all those who come in contact with our work. We hold an operationally-focused meeting every Monday, and the topic of safety is always first on our agenda. In discussing our projects, we have open and transparent conversations about ways we can all ensure our jobsites are safe at all times. 

We also have a safety committee meeting each month where we talk about what's going on with our projects, our corporate policies, and what changing conditions such as weather may directly and uniquely impact us locally in the Northwest. 

In addition, our people-first safety culture prioritizes a holistic approach to the wellbeing of every individual on our jobsites. This includes not only focusing on the physical but also the mental and behavioral aspects of safety. It’s important to raise awareness on how mental health wellness goes hand-in-hand with physical health especially in the construction industry.

Implementing this safety culture in everything we do starts at the top and before putting the first shovel in the ground.

–Dwayne Jeffery, Safety Health & Environmental Director at Howard S. Wright

Safety is an entire team effort, and it trickles from supportive leadership down to our highly skilled field teams and trade partners whose dedication to Zero Harm is unsurpassed. Our alignment at the leadership level is a true testament to the importance our company puts on reinforcing safety in everything we do. This is a true testament to the success of our safety culture, which has been recognized across the industry through awards we have received such as the AGC of Washington’s Build Washington Safety Excellence Award for a General Contractor over 1.5 million worker hours.

Technology can make a huge impact on the success of safety programs. Which safety innovations and technology are making an impact in your job today?

Across the nation, our company leverages a safety observation app, which is proprietary to Balfour Beatty on our projects. This app allows our teammates to document their observations about field activities in real-time, both safe choices and those that could have potentially hazardous outcomes. These observations are then shared across entire project teams via email as learning opportunities.

Let’s say you’re on one of our projects and you see everyone wearing all their PPE and you want to give them kudos for it. You take a picture of it, input their name, and that observation is subsequently sent to all the supervisors on that project. 

Or if it's something that needs to be corrected, you can take a picture of it and mark it as deficient. Then the project manager, superintendent, or safety manager receives an email notification with that picture and what area of the jobsite it's in, because it's geotagged.

The app also records statistics that give us vital insights into key project safety trends, enabling our teams to reverse course if a project isn’t headed in the right direction. It’s been an incredibly innovative and powerful tool that has empowered us to keep our people and partners safe.  

At Howard S. Wright and across our national operations, we do believe that a true Zero Harm culture cannot be achieved where safety is approached merely as a statistic without the foundational value of putting people first. We know that any successful safety observation must be accompanied by an effective conversation. Whether the observation is regarding an unsafe behavior or action or even a positive reinforcement of safe choices, conversations are integral to empowering the workforce to take charge of safety and conveying that when it comes to Zero Harm, it truly is people who matter most.

Looking towards the future of technology in construction safety, what makes you excited?

I’m excited about the technology of safety tracking. When people enter or exit a jobsite, they can track worker hours, and there are also services or wristbands like Fitbits to monitor people's wellbeing as far as health and safety metrics. 

Kelsee Campbell

As a Senior Customer Advocacy Program Manager at Autodesk, Kelsee has the privilege of working with Autodesk customers to champion their stories on the Digital Builder Blog. Kelsee strives to create an engaging experience that amplifies customer perspectives, fostering a sense of community and connection.