Women in Safety – Safety Design Strategies (SDS): Mother and daughter discover opportunities in family business


Ontario Construction Report special feature

The mother: Tammi Dean

From a background in business and marketing, Tammi Dean worked for small and large corporations within a variety of sectors over her career. Today she is Safety Design Strategies (SDS)’s director of operations.

Dean says her husband founded SDS 10 years ago, based on his 30 years of industry experience and a constant and growing demand for safety personnel, consulting services and training.

While he excelled in knowledge of safety and construction, she was able to provide the necessary marketing and business support. “I started helping him by looking after bid documents, client contracts, safety forms, training certificates, creating websites, marketing materials, accounting, payroll and implementing safety data management systems.”

In the early days of the business, she continued full time in another role, working on projects for SDS during evening hours. Eventually SDS became her full time career. “Now, 10 years later, it’s hard to believe how the company has grown and how much I have learned about construction and the important role safety has in the industry.”

Dean says while women may still have to work harder to prove themselves in this industry, she believes conditions are easier now. She says her husband is among the first to say he fully understands why women are being hired for safety management positions.

“He sees more and more women being hired by corporations as safety officers, co-ordinators and for safety management,” she said. It’s about who is knowledgeable, reliable, willing to put in long hours and capable of getting the job done.”

Dean says especially in safety, and in particular the construction industry, everyone is increasingly overwhelmed with documentation, keeping up with new legislation, budget restraints, engaging young workforce, keeping up with technology and staying ahead of competition. “If anyone today cares whether it’s a female or male who is tackling all these challenges and doing a good job at it, they won’t be in the industry much longer.”

The safety industry relates to education, knowledge of legislation, due diligence and documentation, she says. All of these are traits many women possess. Dean says it is an incredible feeling (whether you are male or female) to be involved with construction or industrial projects and to play an important role in the success of the finished product.

Dean says her experience at SDS has been both challenging and rewarding. As a family business, she says the inclination is to breathe the business 24/7 and that it can be difficult to separate personal and work time. “We used to have a rule that we shut off on Friday nights and stop talking about work. It never seemed to happen so now, we just go with the flow.”

She says her position is fairly demanding, with clients often needing help with safety reports, training or personnel on site “yesterday.” Trying to co-ordinate last minute and very often after hour while spending quality time with two children is always challenging.

A great network of female friends who are in the field or are in similar professional positions, helps she says.

SDS has an amazing group of diverse personalities, genders and ages. Each individual brings their unique talents, knowledge and experience to the team.

“I feel very fortunate and enjoy being involved with some of the largest construction and infrastructure projects in Ontario. Safety procedures and policies are unique for each site and working with power plant, nuclear, automotive, hi-rise or infrastructure projects gives me the opportunity to be involved in many aspects of safety.”

She says she is proud of the success of starting a business from scratch, seeing years of hard work come to fruition. “Our safety data management system is something I am proud to have created. It is an ongoing and evolving project that allows us to keep track of client and contractor’s safety training, generate electronic and hard copies of training certificates, expiry date notifications, online job site orientations and online safety documentation.”

Beyond career, Dean considers her children her biggest accomplishments. With both now in university, they will soon be headed off on their own adventures.

Her advice to her own children, and to young people considering career options: “Never stop learning. Be a sponge and take in all you can. There are so many opportunities to learn from people who have worked in the industry for many years. It’s also important to keep up with technology. What you think you know now, will change tomorrow.”

The daughter: Mitchell Larmer

As a young person spending the day at the office with her mother, Mitchell Larmer commented that her work was “boring.” Today, as a third-year student in Ryerson University’s Business Management program, it seems she is following very closely in Tammi Dean’s footsteps.

Working in the SDS family business, Larmer has already gained experience in a variety of safety programs and industry related tasks. This summer, she will be involved with creating online job site video orientations and online safety programs for clients. She says she has enjoyed working alongside her mom and learning about the way safety management has played a role in the industrial and construction industries.

She says both of her parents have been great mentors along the way. Her mother, she says, has always taught her that success comes in many different forms and will be determined by her own values.

“For my mother, success is having that balance between work and her family. For me, I have yet to determine my definition of success but I always know that my mother will be by my side to support me.”

She says she doesn’t believe anyone should feel limited in their career options due to their gender identification. “As a young woman who has worked part time and has been indirectly exposed to the industry for the past 10 years, I have learned that the industry is constantly changing and evolving. I have seen more and more women like my mother join the industry and kick ass at their jobs. Young or old, gender should not define or limit your job options.”

She says everyone should feel empowered and confident to put themselves out there and keep pushing. “Don’t feel intimidated but rather consider it an opportunity for change and to make a difference in the industry.”

Larmer says she hopes to spend a year abroad before settling into a career and that she isn’t sure yet which industry she wants to work in next.

She says she knows many young people, like herself, who aren’t sure of the industry they want to work in after graduating. “It can be very overwhelming thinking about your future career. I recommend trying different jobs and see what interests you most.”


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