Changing a mindset takes a mountain of grit, something that describes Deb Hilmerson perfectly—from her hard hat to her steel toe boots. Her 30 years in construction as a field laborer, Safety Director and Consultant at companies like 3M Worldwide and M.A. Mortenson landed her in the right place at the right time to transform archaic equipment practices on construction sites as President/CEO of Hilmerson Safety,
While laying precast concrete during the first 5 years of Deb’s career, she was told of the dangers and fatal risks of her job. Back then construction safety was, for the most part, ignored as companies were more concerned about profits than human life. Safety regulations were constantly changing, difficult to understand, and too time consuming to follow. In those years, insurance companies covering large construction projects estimated an astounding 1-3 fatalities per project. Fortunately, this safety mindset and statistic has changed drastically over the past 10 years. Construction companies now take pride in their safe work practices and strive for zero incidents on job sites. Unfortunately, there are still dated equipment practices that have not changed.
Shaped by experience, fueled by challenge.
Deb’s upbringing in Little Falls, Minnesota implanted a strong will, competitive spirit, and steadfast sense of responsibility. Deb’s father, Jim Hilmerson Sr., owned a salvage yard where Deb got her hands dirty early in life as a grease monkey. She would remove car parts, crush cars, and do anything to be with her dad and earn a few extra dollars. As Captain of the University of Minnesota Women’s Basketball Team, Deb cultivated strong leadership and team-building skills that gave her the fortitude to challenge construction norms later in life.
On job sites, while performing thousands of safety inspections, Deb and her colleagues were challenged by safety equipment that was inadequate, cumbersome, and time-consuming to deal with. As a safety consultant, she heard managers worry about tight project schedules and the difficulty of ensuring OSHA compliance, in addition to accidents, injuries, spiraling insurance rates, and the need for better safety solutions.
Very few safety consultants or safety product manufacturers have field experience in the trenches. Because Deb does, she recognizes the inefficiencies, poor quality, and wastefulness in some safety practices and equipment. Falls are the #1 cause of death in construction. Deb saw the process of building wooden guardrail systems that were trashed at the end of each project as a huge waste of time and money. Wooden guardrails are wasteful, take time to install and are often installed incorrectly, thus providing a false sense of security to workers. Never one to back away from a challenge, Deb and her team have been on a mission since 2016 to make leading-edge fall protection safe, lean, efficient, and profitable. To do that, she realized she’d have to offer a better way to protect people on jobsites and help the industry view safety through a new lens.
“I know what needs to be done. If I don’t try to do it, chances are, nobody will.”
Searching for design input, Deb and her team hit the road in her Dodge pick-up and product demo trailer, visiting hundreds of job sites around the country. Project supervisors weren’t shy when complaining about the drudgery of guardrail maintenance and were clearly frustrated with dealing with OSHA citations for non-compliant guardrail construction.
The innovator sees opportunity. The disruptor defies accepted convention with new, improved solutions.
With Deb’s real-world, boots-on-the-ground experience and the encouragement and input she received from project supervisors to trades personnel (“if you build it, we will buy it”), the Hilmerson Safety Rail System™ was born. This patented guardrail system is OSHA compliant, the easiest to install, the most cost-effective, durable, and sustainable way to eliminate the primary cause of serious injury and fatalities. It’s the only construction grade, galvanized steel system designed to last 20 years and engineered and manufactured entirely in the U.S.A to customized specifications. “With the field’s help, I wanted to create a construction grade guardrail system in a kit. It would contain all the necessary components for easy rollout, faster installation, maneuverability, stacking and storing, and be efficient and economical to ship from one project to the next.” One case study demonstrates the Hilmerson Safety Rail System™ installs 60% faster than standard 2×4 wood rail installations.
Deb didn’t stop there. At the request of a field superintendent with 40 years of experience, she was challenged to come up with an improved, robust perimeter control temporary fence system to protect construction sites. The problem with existing temporary fencing is that it’s not construction grade, is labor intensive, damages concrete barriers, and is basically inadequate to protect construction sites. Deb and her team designed and engineered the Hilmerson Barrier Fence System™, which is construction grade and comprised of lean design principles. The patent pending mounting brackets won’t damage concrete barriers. The single panelized fence allows for quick, easy removal in access areas without having to navigate around long lengths of fence. The $1.5B Kansas City International Airport expansion project recently installed over 1.5 miles of the Hilmerson Barrier Fence System™.
“We continue to listen to field requests for safe, lean construction solutions that put smiles on faces, add to project profit margins, and most importantly save lives, ” Deb insists.
Hilmerson Safety is dedicated to providing its customers with innovative and lean American made products that provide common-sense solutions for the construction industry. Check out the new patent pending Hilmerson Barrier Fence System™ or The Current Cover™.
Talk to Deb about your job site safety challenges. She wants to help.
Contact her at 952-239-0125 or Debra.Hilmerson@HilmersonSafety.com.
Deb Hilmerson is a long standing 20+ year member of the American Society of Safety Engineers, past World Safety Organization Board Member, member of the Association of General Contractors of Minnesota and Association of Women in Construction.
2020 Finalist – Women in Construction: Minnesota Company to Watch by Finance & Commerce Magazine