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.