Faces of EHS, Safety Culture and Behavioral Safety

Faces of EHS: Reggie Asare on Bringing Safety to the Forefront

Reggie Asare is a director of EHS in Texas for Skanska, one of the world’s leading project development and construction companies. He graduated from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, earning a bachelor’s degree in construction management technology. Reggie joined Skanska in 2008 as a project engineer and soon he realized his true passion was on the safety side when he became an EHS coordinator in 2013. Since then, Reggie has worked to implement Skanska’s Safety, Health, Environmental Management System (SHEMS).

For our latest Faces of EHS profile, we sat down with Reggie to discuss how he got started in the safety and construction industries, the growing diversity in EHS, and the questions leaders should ask to build a better safety culture.

Q: How did you get your start in the field?

As a child, I was fascinated with buildings and knew I wanted to get into some aspect of the construction field. When I went to college, I began studying architecture, but it wasn’t the best fit. An advisor recommended I try construction management and it worked out perfectly. Through my internships, I began to realize how we build what matters. I enjoyed the process of building and helping projects come together.

I pursued safety because I have a passion for people going home the way they came to work. After all, they didn’t come to work injured, and they have the right to feel safe at work and work for a company that cares for them.  Because I “care for life,” which is also one of Skanska’s core values, I knew I wanted to be in a position where I could make a difference in people’s lives. I wanted people to be able to get to do things they enjoy without hindrances. You can’t build and shape the future if people are not in a healthy state.

Q: Who has been your biggest influence in the industry?

My most significant influence in the industry was a former boss of mine who was an EHS director. He was my most important influence because he helped mold me into who I am today. He demonstrated how to handle challenging situations and find solutions. My mentor was a good communicator, problem solver, and lifelong learner. A great piece of advice he gave me was to always ask questions in order to learn from those who have less experience or a different skillset. I admired how curious he was about life and this field, and I believe I embody the traits I learned from my former boss, and now seek to educate others.

Q: What’s your best mistake and what did you learn from it?

With previous employers, safety was viewed as just a box to check. The safety position was not a respected position, especially since it was an afterthought. Safety didn’t seem like a fruitful career path, so I had some reservations about this field, even though I enjoyed it. I was apprehensive about the career path because I didn’t think I would be valued as a colleague. After much delay due to the position’s perception, I realized it was my calling. Now I wish I would have entered the field sooner. I learned from this experience that you must do what you enjoy and care about. Overall, safety is viewed much differently today, but Skanska has always made it a top priority, which is what attracted me to the company.

Q: What’s your favorite and least favorite part about working in the industry? Would you change anything? 

The most rewarding part about working in the industry is being out in the field, connecting with people, and being a partner. So I enjoy every day when I go to sleep knowing our team gets to go home the way they came to work.

The least rewarding part is when I get a phone call from a job site reporting someone’s injury. What makes it worse is when it comes from a situation where I have no control. If I could change anything, I would place a bigger emphasis on leadership training in the industry. I would ensure a culture of safety was effectively communicated to team members from the foreman and superintendent. These are the individuals who create the culture, organize trainings, and implement the practices. A cultural breakdown takes place when a foreman or superintendent don’t take corrective action and teach their men and women to do the right things

Q: How can company leaders make safety a value within their organization?

Company leaders can make safety a value within their organization by asking these questions:

  • Are company leaders walking the job site, looking out for safety issues, and talking with the crews about safety or do they provide employees with bad/wrong resources as a shortcut or to save money?
  • Do company leaders promote training and demonstrate the programs and processes? Are they leading by example?

In addition to these items, I think there must be two-way communication among leaders and employees on safety regulations and expectations.

Q: Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Or are you seeing any current trends?

I see the industry driven by more technological workplace solutions in five years. I think there will be more emerging technology available to predict unsafe behaviors or conditions in addition to the current use of drones and Aero cameras.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic complicated or exacerbated problems with safety culture?

One of the biggest challenges in the safety culture we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic was the ordinances around masks and social distancing. However, to some degree, I believe that the pandemic made people more cautious and aware of their surroundings, and as a result, our incident rates dropped significantly in 2020. However, at the same time, the pandemic was hard on individuals working with masks and performing their jobs in spaces without air conditioning. Heat was and is always a factor in Texas. Additionally, when individuals got sick, it affected the productivity and project efficiency since teams had to operate with little staffing.

Q: How will safety culture look in the future?

When you look at the fatalities and injuries, many come from companies that don’t have a safety culture or safety professionals. We will begin to see a general awareness and increased focus on safety across the construction industry. I think, eventually, more companies will follow Skanska’s lead and begin cultivating safety professionals and establish strong safety cultures. I believe safety culture in the future will evolve and the bar will be raised, either organically or through additional federal regulations.

Q: What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of working for a company where I feel supported as a safety professional. I’ve gotten to where I am today is because operations, safety, and other departments support me and embrace the safety culture.

Q: Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

I encourage people to come into this field with an open mind. It is important to approach any position with the mindset that you can achieve what you put your mind to. You can grow and be as successful as you want. Make sure you ask questions, be positive, stay engaged, be a team player, and have the drive to move the industry’s needle to the next level.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

The industry has a few stereotypes, like construction is only for men, specifically Caucasian men. Additionally, people are taught that being a project manager is the only way to succeed in the industry. I believe that anyone, regardless of race, sex, or position, can succeed if they put their mind to it. The business is changing with more women and other minorities pursuing construction careers. The industry is diversifying more and more, so don’t let stereotypes deter you from your passions.