Health and Safety Resource

December 2017

Brian Silbernagel

Company: Morrow Equipment Company

Corporate safety director: Brian Silbernagel

Workforce/operations: In business since 1968, Morrow employs about 300 people in North America. 

The company, which supplies tower cranes and hoists to the construction industry, will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2018.

The company’s Salem corporate office provides administrative and support services for 23 Morrow facilities in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Mexico. These services include sales and marketing support, engineering, corporate advertising and publications, field service and parts inventory control, technical training and instructional programs, documentation, fleet equipment inspection/quality control, and safety programs. Morrow’s fleet encompasses more than 650 tower cranes and 230 personnel hoists.

Responsibilities/hazards addressed: Silbernagel oversees the daily operations of the safety department of Morrow, one of the largest tower crane companies in the world.

He is responsible for the development and implementation of all company safety programs, including fall protection, hazardous communications, lockout/tagout, safety committee, and use of company vehicles. He conducts regular inspections of company facilities and jobsites to observe compliance of policies and regulations.​

Over the years, what are some key ways in which on-the-job safety, culturally or technologically, have changed in your line of work​?

The overall safety culture has changed greatly over the years. In the past, safety would be discussed once a month at a safety meeting or post-accident, and was viewed as a deterrent to completing the job. In my previous professional experiences, working in the construction industry and as a compliance officer with Oregon OSHA, it seemed OSHA was the primary force of whether employees were provided a safe work environment. Currently, safety is a significant component when bidding a job and is considered as prominent as material, engineering, and equipment. General contractors have established safety/training criteria that each contractor or subcontractor must meet before bidding, and insurance providers assist in this process. Committees are created with OSHA, industry leaders, insurance carriers, and training contractors to achieve a consensus on best practices and standards. This transition has created a more positive safety environment.

Technology has changed the way equipment and tools are used, as well as how a jobsite is managed. Many tasks previously completed manually are now completed by equipment and tools. These are supplied with guards or other safety devices that are difficult to bypass. Although some may view such safety devices as a replacement for employee training, they should be used in addition to training to ensure safe operations.

Brian Silbernagel

Employees should be involved in the development of a safety program, so that they take ownership of it. If they help build the program, then it is difficult for them to tear it down. In fact, a safety program will never be successful without employee involvement.​​"

When it comes to workplace safety, how do you measure success?

The obvious answer would be to have all employees leave work at the end of the day in the same physical state in which they arrived. But it is important to note that such a result is achieved by many contributing factors. Many things in our lives are affected by our attitudes, and attitudes can be influenced by the delivery of a strong safety message. Employees should be involved in the development of a safety program, so that they take ownership of it. If they help build the program, then it is difficult for them to tear it down. In fact, a safety program will never be successful without employee involvement. Regulatory agencies have limited time and options to deliver their safety message, and companies need to be committed to correcting an issue with the goal of preventing it from happening again. Satisfaction, for me, is achieved when the employee embraces the safety program, uses all of the training and tools provided by the company to complete their duties, and does all of this because they choose to – not because management or OSHA is watching. I have observed companies discipline or terminate an employee for a safety infraction when the companies had not provided the necessary training or proper tools to complete the task. Training, proper tools, and realistic expectations must be provided to employees before disciplinary action occurs. Otherwise, employees will not accept or respect the company or the safety program.​

You have experience working in the construction industry, as a safety compliance officer for Oregon OSHA, and, currently, as safety director for Morrow. What can you tell us about how these experiences have informed your approach to safety?

I have been very fortunate in all three places of employment to be surrounded by the best in their industries. When I was in construction, it was a family business. The company completed a broad scope of tasks, including steel erection, concrete, welding/fabrication, excavation, and logging roads. The employees had their own specific expertise, but could complete any challenge. The owner and all employees were great mentors and were willing to take the time to teach me the trades they had worked so hard to master. Although safety was not a term used often, it was practiced and observed continuously. That was the case because we truly cared about the well-being of our co-workers – not because of a code or regulation. What these friends taught me has become the foundation on which my career was built, and I will never forget it.

As an Oregon OSHA compliance officer, I was fortunate to interact with many OSHA staff and contractors who had a passion for safety. That passion inspired me to excel. I found support, mentorship, compassion, and attention to detail from a range of OSHA sources, including the compliance and accident investigation teams.

I would single out Tim Baker (former Portland field office manager) for special attention, because Tim energized the Portland team and showed enthusiasm for the mission of saving lives. He led the way in building camaraderie all around. Working for OSHA is where I came to understand, and to truly believe, that safety saves lives.

At Morrow, I met Rick Morrow who shared his dream and the path to achieve it. Rick wanted to have a safety program that paralleled the company’s business success. To do this, he was willing to commit his time and all necessary resources. Rick once said, “We have the best equipment, the best facilities, but our greatest asset is our employees.” He truly wanted to ensure the safety and well-being of all employees. It was an example of another key to a successful safety program: management commitment. Morrow has allowed me to enter the national and international stage of safety, and I have been very fortunate to work with and learn from the best safety professionals across North America.

Brian Silbernagel holding fall arrest system

During a tour of Morrow's training facilities, Silbernagel discussed how the company puts its safety programs into practice, including the use of fall-protection equipment.

What is some advice you’d give to those looking to keep their workplaces safe or for others seeking a career in this field?

Employees are the professionals in what they do, no matter their job titles. Listening to them is essential to creating and maintaining a safe workplace. It is also important to understand that just because someone has been doing a job for many years does not necessarily mean they have been doing it correctly. New perspectives may provide a better or safer way to complete a task. Encourage long-term employees to mentor newly-hired employees. This helps assimilate the new employee to the company’s work and safety culture. The safety message must be consistent throughout the organization, which prevents confusion and provides clear expectations. Establish a network of safety professionals that are trustworthy, and do not hesitate to seek their opinions. Do not be afraid to ask questions. The only dumb question is the one that isn’t asked.

My belief if is to keep things as simple as possible, but no simpler. While some may believe that citing codes will impress employees, I recommend delivering your safety message by trying to relate it to something your employees are familiar with. That way, they will better understand your expectations. I focus on protecting the employee. If I am successful, then the company will achieve regulatory compliance and workers’ compensation premiums will stay low.