Ryan Olsen would have given himself heaps of advice, if he could have.
Years ago, Olsen was installing fireplaces in homes around the Chicago area. It was among his first jobs in the construction industry, a profession he’d always been interested in thanks to his dad, who was a painter.
After a brief primer on how to add fireplaces to houses, Olsen got to work. But something felt wrong.
“I didn’t know enough then to do it any other way,” Olsen said. It didn’t seem right that he was working without fall protection. “I thought, ‘this isn’t the best way to do this.’”
It wasn’t, he later learned.
Olsen’s instincts led him to pursue a career in safety and compliance in construction. It was a niche he was well-suited to.
“I was looking more to get into an area of construction,” Olsen said. “I was thinking, ‘how can I use my talents?’ I was always somebody who was thinking through the process.”
The thoughtful approach to projects is critical to his current role as a safety manager at Mortenson Construction. Recently, Olsen completed two years of work on the biggest project of his career: overseeing safety at the Fiserv Forum, the new Milwaukee Bucks arena in downtown Milwaukee that enlisted some 4,000 construction workers to finish.
Olsen has managed large projects before, such as the $141 million Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin Center for Advanced Care in Wauwatosa.
But the high-profile Fiserv project, the first sports arena built in the state since 2002, brought a unique set of challenges, including a tight timeline and a massive roster of workers and subcontractors.
Keeping thousands of workers safe on such a job requires intense planning and a sustained effort to create a culture among workers that rewards safety. Olsen conducted daylong training sessions with employees new to the project, and organized regular safety meetings, where Mortenson would rent out Milwaukee’s Turner Hall or other venues, provide free lunch to 1,000 or so workers, host speakers and hold drawings for prizes.
“It was an amazing experience to live in Wisconsin and be able to build something like that.” Olsen said.