I started thinking after reading your recent blog post asking construction workers about what makes them safe and whether civilized treatment motivates them to look out for one another’s safety. It got me thinking about my past life working in construction, oilfields and environmental remediation and about where I stand today, working in loss control for a major insurance company.

And I started thinking about what I got from my father, Fred Chenault, who passed away in 2004 when he was only 69. 

I grew up in West Texas where you generally started working anywhere from age 12 to 15. This entailed helping family members bale hay, drive tractors, build corrals or string fencing. 

From my family members and my first “full-time” job as a welder’s helper, I learned to weld.  I made progress acquiring the other skills that came along with these jobs – driving heavy equipment, DOT license, painting steel, carpentry work for concrete forms, etc.

I was very lucky my father, who was a drilling superintendent for an oil and gas company, broke me in and taught me how to get work done but also how to stay safe.  He always said we are going to have all fingers, toes and limbs at the end of the day! 

And he taught me how to look out for other workers too. Whether they were safe, inexperienced, foolish or didn’t give a damn, we were supposed to look out for them. I worked on many a crew where the order of the day was to cuss you, holler at you or make you feel inferior. It wasn’t their fault that was the way they were trained. And so they followed suit and trained others that way, too.

I can recall those night shifts on drilling rigs, erecting steel in blazing hot summers, coming home covered from head to boots with grime. I still smile when I think about those days. We were tired, hot and worn-out, but we felt an immense pride at having completed more production than lots of fellows twice our ages.

I went to college and graduated with a degree in geology, intending to stay in the oil and gas business, and as  I began to work my way up through various levels of field, project and office management, I never lost the yearning to be out in the field.

Pride in Craft

These days my job is to provide assessments of projects, companies and their work forces. I find young journeymen and journeywomen from all walks of life performing their craft with the same pride that I had as a young fellow. I am always fascinated with how they like me to interface with them when we are walking through a project or manufacturing plant. They like when they are looked in the eye and asked how their day is going.

And they like it when I ask, “Can you explain to me what you’re doing here?” They are proud of what they do and I can see many who will one day be running jobs in their respective trades.

I think back to my dad and remember how he said that you have to show respect to folks even when you’re “breaking them out” or training them. 

So I always try to pay it forward and show the respect and interest to the field workers who I may never meet again.

I hope they take a bit of my interaction with them and pay it forward by doing the same, somewhere down the line.

Ron Chenault is an assistant vice president for loss control (casualty) with Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance. He can be emailed at Ron.Chenault@bhsspecialty.com.