Name: David DeGraaf
Title: Safety Manager
“I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul” – Excerpt of Invictus by William Ernest Henley
Describe what you do in a day:
A typical day consists of traveling to projects and auditing them. That usually starts with a conversation with site leadership so we can talk about what work is happening, if anything big is coming up, and asking if they have any immediate concerns or issues that need to be addressed. Then we (or I, if they are busy) walk the project. We look for all hazards, observe workers in action, and follow up on any issues. It’s a good day if we walk sites and I have trouble finding anything to correct.
Triangle had all the answers to questions I asked. When I interviewed here, I had worked with them in the past as a subcontractor but had little exposure overall. I quickly got a sense that upper management was dedicated to pushing safety further, and I believed it. Top-down belief in safety is essential in making changes, so that was key. Second was the size of the company and the family-vibe I felt when I interviewed. Close-knit companies tend to have a good culture, and breed trust and accountability to each other. All of those are pre-requisites for good safety, and if you don’t have them, it can be hard to see improvement.
How has your career grown since starting at Triangle?
It’s been a unique experience to see how things are different from the GC/CM side. I thought moving to a company with fewer employees would decrease the feelings of responsibility I felt. I was wrong, and it’s one of those times I’m glad I was. As a sub I always had the feeling that there was 1 more person between a decision I make something happening. A GC/CM safety person could always come through and see something I didn’t account for, missed, or why I was wrong. They were a backstop, basically.
Now I’m the backstop, and that’s added some pressure I wasn’t anticipating. That pressure is a tremendous motivator and has pushed me to listen more, learn more, and work harder. It can be very scary to be responsible for so many people, but it’s also thrilling. It’s something that I need to keep myself engaged and to keep me focused on improving myself. It’s helped me grow as a person, and I’m grateful for that.
Favorite project you’ve worked on?
That changes totally based on how employees behave when I visit, but now I’d say Virtual Learning at Ferris. It’s a big job with a ton of moving parts. It’s familiar to me as it’s the type of project I did a lot for my previous company, but that’s only part of it. A big project like that is incredibly complex and requires vison on a macro and micro level at the same time. It’s a skill, and every time a project like that comes up, I look forward to seeing how it will make me better at my job.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I enjoy golf in the summer, and when possible, I like to snowboard. I also am a very big reader. I love books and tend to have anywhere from 2-3 going at any given time.
How did you end up in construction?
I was in my 3rd year of medical school when I made a career change, and to make some money started working for a concrete company my friend worked for. I was in the field for about a year, and they asked if I would be interested in trying safety. I accepted, and after 6 years, I got a job here and the rest is history.
What’s the last book you read?
The Gene: An intimate History – Siddhartha Mukherjee
What motivates you?
Fear of failure. It’s not overly complicated for me. If I make a mistake or use bad judgement, I am not the one who is most likely to pay for it. That raises the stakes for me significantly, and it’s something I remind myself of constantly. My failures affect others, and it’s a tremendous motivator to try harder and become better.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on how we can better increase subcontractor accountability by changing the conversation around safety from something we nitpick to a collaborative effort we continuously try to improve.
At one point I was in the top 5% of all players globally in Counter-Strike, the PC game.