Like many industries have in recent years, construction companies are beginning to understand the importance of cultivating a diverse workforce. The Associated General Contractors of America released a report in 2018 detailing the business advantages of diversity and inclusion (including increased innovation and safety and reduced employee turnover), and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will celebrate Construction Inclusion Week October 16 through 20. Recognizing the need to prepare the industry for evolutions in workplace culture, environmental health and safety professional Tiana Drisker founded Hazard Eliminators, creating occupational safety trainings and bringing a holistic approach to occupational safety that focuses on communication, situational awareness, and other soft skills.
AN OPPORTUNITY FOR EVOLUTION
In an industry that has historically lacked ethnic and gender diversity, change cannot be expected to occur overnight—as of 2020, only about 10% of workers in the industry were women, while only 5.1% were Black. So when Drisker first entered the construction industry as an environmental health and safety professional, she knew that her outlook would stand out. “Through my lens as a Black woman, I’ve been able to contribute to the field with a holistic approach of mindfulness, encouraging self-awareness, and situational awareness,” says Drisker, who also has a background in healthcare which increases her attention to personal health as safety. “My approach towards safety has been to look at the bigger picture and not just the skills of the workers.” This approach, she felt, was not always valued in the workplaces she would train.
Drisker saw an opportunity to elevate what traditional environmental health and safety (EHS) training entails. Knowing the importance of strong communication about personal comfort and mindset, Tiana imagined an approach to standard EHS training–about how to alert coworkers of immediate hazards, how to operate machinery safely, and more–that integrated behavioral safety, encouraged workers to see themselves as leaders in workplace safety and was inclusive of diverse identities and perspectives. “I wanted to empower the construction field to be prepared for the influx of all different types of people,” says Drisker.
ENTREPRENEURSHIP FOR CHANGE
Without the opportunity to implement these changes in her workplace, Drisker turned to the Women’s Business Center (WBC) for guidance on starting her own business. Working with a business counselor, Charles Thomas, Drisker solidified her vision into a business idea, wrote a business plan and a budget, and launched Hazard Eliminators in 2020.
As the CEO of her own business, Drisker is able to leverage her professional certifications and technical knowledge to create unique training programs that cover the requisite safety information and include education on interpersonal communication, self-awareness and diversity. With her programs, Drisker also educates clients on how to create safe workplaces for women, including appropriately fitted personal protective equipment.
“It’s not just about how well you can drive a forklift, it’s your awareness when you use those tools,” she explains. “It’s your communication style and how you spoke with other people in your environment about the hazards that they would be engaging with during that task.”
Beyond ensuring a safe workplace, Drisker knows she is an advocate for employees and their rights. She sees her methods for safety training as a way that employees can feel empowered to communicate their needs and boundaries and confident that their colleagues understand them as well. “I want to grow leaders, grow people, grow their perspective,” she says, adding that her programs are also accessible to businesses experiencing growth and need to integrate safety plans for the first time.
Through her work with the WBC, Drisker has gained contracts with repeat clients and continued to acquire her business certifications. “[Charles] has connected me with other professionals that I’ve been able to do business with, and I don’t know where I would be without his guidance,” she says. Looking forward, Drisker is hoping to work on her business full-time. In the meantime, she is expanding her clientele and teaching classes to repeat clients. As the construction industry continues to become more diverse, the knowledge and innovation of leaders like Tiana Drisker will be in ever-greater demand.