Enhancing Safety in Construction: Insights from YellowBird CEO Michael Zalle


Recently, YellowBird CEO Michael Zalle was on the Construction Management Podcast where Michael and Damien Edwards chatted about YellowBird, Construction mishaps, COVID and more. You can listen to whole episode here!

The Construction Management Podcast ft. Michael Zalle

00:01 The ideas and content expressed on this show are our own and do not represent the views or opinions of any previous or current employers. Thanks for listening today guys. Today we sat down with the founder of YellowBird, Michael Zalle. YellowBird is an on demand health and safety company similar to Uber but instead of going for a ride, actually adding safety to your job site. Awesome interview, check it out. I think you’re gonna love it. He has a great idea for a company and he’s got some great insight into safety on the job site. Today we’re talking about safety and your safety toolbox would not be complete without ISO tunes bluetooth headphones. They have headphones for every occasion, every work environment, including their newly released earmuffs. All of their products are ANSI and OSHA compliant and certified to reduce noise. They have crazy long battery life. Some of their products actually last multiple workdays, which is great. Their pro 2.0 was created to be a super durable certified for dust, sweat and waterproof, which is awesome because if I know you’re going to drop them, all their products have background noise cancelling microphone, so you can actually carry on a conversation when that engines running next to you. It cancels it out, guys, ISOtunes is an investment in your health. For years, I would never put on earmuffs or earplugs or anything and I’m paying for it now. 20 years in the business I have debt. Do yourself a favor pick up some ISOtunes you can listen to music while you’re on the job site you’re OSHA compliant, you can talk on the phone while you’re on the job site and still protect your hearing it’s a fantastic company a great product check them out. Also would be remiss if I didn’t mention builder tactics, possibly the greatest website history of the internet. You can download our book, builders tactics, Practical Guide to construction management. There’s tons of information on the blog, and from the website, go check it out, download the book, you’re gonna love it. Unfortunately, Jason did not join me today. He’s very important, very busy guy. He’ll be back next time. So he missed out on this interview with Michael Zalle on YellowBird, great interview, I think you guys are gonna love it. Enjoy. So Michael, it is awesome to have you on the show today. I really appreciate you taking the time to come on and talk to us about your company, YellowBird How are you doing today?

02:39 I’m Fantastic. Thank you for having me.

02:41 Yeah. Awesome. So through the course of our conversation, you told me kind of a crazy story as to how you started this company. You want to share that with the listeners?

02:51 Yeah, sure! I’ve been in the health and safety technology industry for a long time. 20 years there abouts, mostly serving high risk environments. And a lot of construction, where folks are dealing with moving subcontractors and contractors and folks like that. And I was actually in the back of an Uber one day, being driven by a gentleman that was way overqualified to be an Uber driver. And I started thinking to myself, there has got to be a better way for somebody of this gentleman’s caliber to be leveraging his skills. And in this case, it was in his retirement for the markets. So when he retired from a very high ranking military position, he actually started driving Uber at 5:30 in the morning, because he was bored. And so I thought, a professional matching platform for health and safety would be a really neat idea. And so I started looking around and it didn’t exist. 

03:57 Yeah, he was probably already awake. been in the military for that long. He was probably sitting at 5:30 in the morning, like, what am I gonna do with my time everybody else is asleep.

04:07 Well, yeah, it’s so true. And interestingly enough, he was probably the most professional Uber driver. I speak about this guy often because he’s our gold standard for YellowBird professionals as far as how I would want our YellowBird professionals to treat a customer. He got out of his car. He shook my hand. He offered me some water. And he wasn’t young. I mean, he was a 65 year old gentleman from the Chilean Air Force. I believe he was a Colonel, very high ranking. He was not driving Uber for money I assume. And so, you know, I think it really resonated with me that somebody of this caliber, wants to continue to contribute. And so that’s really how it all started for me.

04:58 That’s fantastic. So tell us about YellowBird.

05:01 Sure. So, we are an environmental health and safety on demand company. And so what that means is if you have a need for somebody like an OSHA Inspector, or maybe an EPA auditor, or even if you’re doing a construction site, construction project that is anywhere from a week to six months or a year, and you need somebody trained to be your safety supervisor, or do OSHA or safety audits or things to that effect, you go into YellowBird, or goYellowBird.com, and you say I have a project and it’s at this location, and we will within literally minutes have multiple somebodies that are ready to ready to work, ready to help. And so the model is very similar to an Uber. But it’s more it’s more closely analogous to a match.com. Because we take so much of people’s backgrounds, and we actually do pre-vet them. And we do go through their backgrounds. And so we we try to not just get a safety body, but we try to get somebody who’s, 20 years in construction that has a construction search that works on residential construction in the Phoenix area that is available on Tuesday morning, not just a body that may be available at some point in the future that holds a safety cert.

06:32 That makes sense. That does make sense. So you guys are doing, you’re not just doing training there. You’re actually doing audits and inspections as well.

06:39 Oh, yeah. So in fact, this in the elevator speeches is the hard part. EHS environmental health and safety cover so much that you need to be careful about, you know, kind of pigeonholing what our pros capabilities are, we have 166 individual certifications on over 2000 people that are on the platform. And those people. Yeah, and so that can range from, yes, I want to have my folks, I’m a small construction firm, and I want to have a safety person come out at the beginning of every shift and do a safety huddle to, I’m running a 5000 person operation, and I need to do a program. And I want you to come through and create a program for us on our manufacturing site. So it really ranges, our big claim to fame right now, is we’re doing a whole bunch of COVID returned to work plans, because industrial hygiene is actually part of that plan. And so we’re doing industrial hygiene on demand where we can do surface testing, and actual scientific lab testing to see if there’s any COVID in the ducts, and surface testing and things to that effect so people can return to work. 

07:57 So here’s something crazy. I heard yesterday, I was on a conference call. And somebody had mentioned that there was a report, I guess that came out that said that on construction sites, people were actually picking up covid in the porta potties.

08:12 Mm hmm, that is occurring.

08:14 Yes. That’s crazy. So I was like, What are they? Because I know when I use the porta potties on job site, I don’t touch anything. But when the speaker was like, Look, you know, if I go in there and sneeze, and then walk out, it’s hanging in the air, then you come in behind me. You know, you have the potential even if you don’t touch anything, you have the potential to pick it up. 

08:36 Yes. And so the aerosol or the mist is in the air. That’s why this whole thing of IH and airborne particulates and all that kind of stuff is so important. You know, it’s funny, I think we’re all at some point does this, it’s like, well, nobody’s around, and I’m not gonna wear my mask to go into a porta potty. Although, honestly, maybe it would help if you did. But you know, you’re keeping your mask on, and following the proper precautions, is an important thing to do. Because you’re right, somebody sneezes and it’s in the air, and then you walk in without a mask on and you breathe that in, you will have a bit more exposure. You know, that’s, that’s absolutely a concern. 

So when you’re doing these, I don’t want to talk about COVID but, I mean, it’s kind of relative right now. But I know like in Virginia, they have they are there’s a whole new set of laws, where they’re requiring for construction entrances, you know when applicable when when a when possible, I guess is how it’s written but they’re saying you got to have an designated entrance designated and exit point for everyone. You know, they were talking about originally, you know, logging people in as they come in. Taking temperatures, I haven’t a guy standing there. I think they Yes, they’ve backed off on that a little bit. I actually, I’m not in Virginia, but it just came up on this call. But I mean, the requirements they were looking for were really tough. And I’m like, how does a general contractor, you know, maybe a small to medium general contractor deal with that.

10:20 That is the number one issue that we’re contending with right now as a society and in the industry. Because what you’re doing, what you’re dealing with is, there is the litigation aspect of it, the legal aspect of it, but then you’re also dealing with practicality, it’s like, we have to get back to work, we have to run our business. And so, you know, there is the common sense piece of this equation. And of course, I’m not speaking officially, but I am speaking from just running and owning a business. There’s common sense aspects of this. And then there are things that you do to mitigate your legal risk. And I think if you’re doing the best things that you can do, for this process, it’s going to be much more helpful in the long run. Yeah. So, um, you know, but it’s really crazy right now, it honestly is, it’s very, very challenging to figure out what the right thing is to do. And that’s one of the reasons that we actually came up with the return to work protocol is we have Third, we have third person assessors and industrial hygienists who can come in and actually do a spot check for you. You know, it’s hard because you can’t see COVID. So it’s not like you got green slime on the countertops? And there’s no smoke coming out of the air ducts. You can’t see it. And so do you really know that it’s clean? And so that’s one of the reasons that we came up with this return to work protocol. And it’s been very successful nationwide. Again, we have people in every state in the country now at YellowBird. So we can do this very, very rapidly. 

12:26 I think that not everybody realizes. So if you can’t, if OSHA pops up on your job site, and one of the main things that they’re looking for, is proof that you’re doing something. So and I know, that alone, if and I guess, probably, maybe some people realize some people don’t realize, you know, if somebody if an OSHA inspector comes out, they’re like, I want to see your safety log. Well, if you don’t have one, you’re in trouble. So that’s great, because if they, you know, the big fear now, I don’t know if the fear is that OSHA is gonna show up, and you’ve got no COVID compliance or no protocols in place. So I guess if, if I’ve hired you or your company, I can say, well, oh, I have, you know,I’ve taken the steps to make sure that I’m compliant. And here’s YellowBird. Here’s the inspector. And here’s what we’re doing. And people don’t realize, I mean, that in and of itself is an insurance policy.

13:25 Absolutely. It’s funny that you should say that because we actually had a circumstance just this week, and I can’t talk about the specific details, but it was a gentleman who was either a plumber or electrician. And he had a $40,000 job at a university and he had an incident. And I’m not sure exactly what the incident was, nor did we get into that, it didn’t really matter. But the university came to him and said, You need to get somebody here who can be can oversee the safety of this project. And so somebody had said to him, Hey, have you heard of YellowBird and so he came on, we did a 15 minute assessment, we sent out a text message to 21 qualified people who could match what he needed. In less than 10 minutes, we had somebody accept the job. And the next day, we had a Professional on that site. And so that is a that is a small investment to protect a very large investment. And for us, I was so proud of that because it literally changed. We’re trying to flip the script on safety. Yeah, we’re trying to say it’s no longer difficult to get somebody to come help you. And so that’s what I’m really very proud of that one. That was an exciting moment for me personally.

14:43 Yeah, that’s awesome. So how does that work? So I’m a general contractor. And Yep, because I can tell you I was a general contractor years ago and I’ve walked away from many a job because in the requirements it would say, you know, must have dead kitted safety personnel and I’m like, Well, I don’t have that. Right. So I wouldn’t even I wouldn’t even bother bidding those jobs. Because I just couldn’t I, you know, I didn’t have the first qualification, which was, I didn’t have the money to pay somebody to be an on site, safety guy, for my company. So if I’m a general contractor, what do I, how do I employ you guys? How do I get you guys to come out and start inspecting my jobs?

15:24 Yeah, so and that’s a perfect example. And that’s exactly why I created the company, because the, the average salary of a certified safety professional in the US is somewhere around $80 to $83,000 a year. That’s a lot of coin, especially if you needed them dedicated to a project. And so what you do is, generally speaking, they have trained safety people at headquarters, as you know, assuming now if you’re a very small, general contractor, like yourself, like you’re mentioning, you don’t have anybody and that’s a real pain. But if you, if you let’s say you have somebody, you still don’t have the staff to go out to each and every site. So if you are a small general contractor, like you explained, and you’re going after a bid, you could, and we do have folks that come onto the website, they go to go yellowbird.com they put in, it literally will take five or eight minutes, it’s not even a 10 minute process. You say I have a project, I’m bidding, it is a construction project, it’s going to be at this location. And honestly, it can be if I’m awarded, which is perfectly fine. Yeah. And you get you. Ideally, when you are awarded, that’s when you do it, because we have people ready to roll. But even if before will talk to you, and we’ll give you a general range, or the site will give you a general range of what it will cost on an hourly basis based on what you need. But there should be no small general contractor at this point, then no bids because they don’t have access to safety. And that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to change the safety culture. We don’t want anybody to not do business because they don’t have access to safety or even worse, do business without safety oversight, because they can’t afford it.

17:04 Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s a game changer. I mean, it really is because that’s giving smaller companies the ability to bid on bigger and bigger jobs and become larger and larger companies. That is, that’s fantastic. I love it. So thank you. I mean, I can tell you, there were times where I would have guys working on four or five different jobs at the same time. And yes, sweating bullets.

17:30 Yeah, you know, wondering what they’re doing. Yeah. And that’s the worst part is, you know, I heard of a horrible story. And I, you know, it was a Canadian story. So hopefully it wouldn’t work this way. But it might, where a gentleman was on site. And he fell through a skylight, and he passed, and they put the owner up on criminal charges, because they had zero safety protocols in place. And that the owner actually went to prison. Oh, wow. I mean, it’s horrible I mean, not only having an employee that obviously he values and your I would hope that they would value and this would be heart wrenching to begin with by having a loss. But then now, it’s, you know, because what happened, my understanding, and this is a hearsay from a chat I had over, over some drinks a few weeks back, talking safety, but somebody was working on the skylight, it wasn’t quite ready, they went and put a piece of plastic over the skylight to cover up the hole that they’re putting, and, because they’re like, Oh, I’m going to be back in the morning, somebody walked on the roof in the morning, stepped on that plastic went right through the plastic and dropped. 

And if you know,those types of things, and those are the types of things if you have a safety person that can come out at the beginning of the end of each shift and or be there during these shifts, you know, you can really save a life. And that’s, that’s one of the things that gets us going every day.

Yeah, I will tell you through you know, I’ve been in construction now for about 20 years, a little bit, maybe a little bit longer. I guess I’m getting old. But I’ve had you know, guys fall down elevator shafts I’ve had Yeah, I had a fatality on the job where a guy was crushed with, you know, drywall pinned him by his neck against the wall. You know, and it’s really, you know, it’s so it’s on whoever’s managing the job, obviously, safety is their number one priority, but to have the added comfort of knowing that there are safety professionals that are going to come out and double check you. Because here’s the thing, if you put all and this happens a lot, they put all the safety requirements on one guy, but he’s also managing the jobsite he’s managing subcontractors is managing the client. And it becomes very difficult for that one person to then manage all the safety as well as having the comfort of knowing that there are other people coming out behind you to double check to make sure you know everybody’s doing the right thing. I think it’s If money in the bank having been on job sites with horrible accidents, you know,you can never ever place too much emphasis on safety.

20:11 No, no, and it’s a problem because everybody has good intentions, they really do. Nobody goes to work in the morning saying that they’re gonna put somebody else’s life for their own at risk. Yeah, it’s the moment of, well, if I just lean with one foot over the scaffolding, it’s just one one nail that I have to hit in, if I could just do that I’m gonna be a lot faster, you know, time is money. My boss doesn’t want to be late on this project, and they start making really bad decisions. But if you have somebody who’s trained there, and you know, and doing it the right way, that’s the other thing. If you don’t have to be the safety cop, you can be Hey, you know what I was, I noticed that if they’re, you know, let’s chat or things to that effect. And you have people that are trained on proper communication, which is one of the things that we vet for YellowBird. We don’t just bring up safety. We didn’t just bring on safety people, we brought out people who actually can communicate effectively to get the message across. That you’re not, you don’t want somebody the other piece of the equation is is that in most circumstances, on construction sites that GCS are, especially in the big guys, like the McCarthy or the conference or one of these groups, you know, they’re really, really good. Yeah, there’s subs, their subs can get tossed off sites, because they’re not following safety protocols. And so the subcontractors or guys that I often will yellowbird will be hired by to say, Okay, well, I’m about to I’m a, I’m a, this is a big job for us. And we’re subcontractor to these guys who have stringent requirements. I need to get a safety person on site. Yeah, so sure, all the subs are good for us.

21:53 Well, you know, that’s good. I’m glad to hear that because every major safety violation that I’ve seen over the past 20 years has been the result of a subcontractor that didn’t have the resources, or didn’t invest in the resources to properly train their people on what’s safe. And what’s not. I will give an example. Years ago, it’s probably 15 years ago, I was a CME construction manager on a job. And I saw a guy, he was four stories up, outside on a window ledge holding on to the head, it was a single hung window, and he had pushed it up. And it was cleaning the outside of the window by standing outside the window on the ledge. And you know, my first instinct was to yell at him. But I didn’t want to startle him. I’m like, I’m looking at him. And I like froze for a second. I ran up there, and was like, Hey, buddy, Hey, could you come on back in here? And then when he came in, I let him have it, but. And he’s like, well, I’m cleaning the windows. That’s how we do it. And I’m like, here, buddy, you know, and through the conversation with the owner of that company, he’s like, Well, listen, I don’t have a male at this four stories up, I can’t put them on a ladder, but they want me to do and I was like, you need to come up with a better way to clean these windows, because that is not it. You know, but you know, even when I had, you know, a guy fall down the elevator shaft it was because they had a two by four by 16 Penny nail on either end of it. It was standard on lift and drywall up? Well, you know, if they had a safety guy, he would have said, Hey, those 16 this is not a proper scaffold. But they had no safety program. I actually know that company. I know that they do now, but at the time, they didn’t. And I think that one of the benefits that I see from YellowBird is that now all of a sudden, not only is there no excuse for not having safety professionals monitoring your guys, but you’ve made it so convenient, that and affordable, that there’s no there’s no reason there’s no foreseeable reason to not have safety as a number one priority. If whether you’re a small subcontractor or a big GC or whatever,

24:10 Man, thank you for that and that’s really our vision. And at the end of the day, it’s a two sided platform. So you’ve got these companies where you’ve got these people that are employing people and they’re and they’re doing their best and they’re trying to run a business. And then you also have, unfortunately, these great resources that get you know, tossed away when they retire and or are in transition, maybe coming out of the military or, or are between jobs during the recession, that can actually make a very good living and contribute. So that’s the other side of the equation. I feel like part of what we’re doing is making an impact on both sides of the equation. We’re not just helping the companies which we absolutely are but we’re also helping these professionals to you know, get their kids through college or make ends meet when when COVID downturn, it’s, it’s challenging out there, particularly in some industries, you know, things like oil and gas, right now is really rough. And so safety folks in oil and gas are very well trained. And so maybe their skills can be used in construction as an example.

25:18 Yeah. Because construction is booming.

25:20 Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. That’s great. And it is great, you know, all the power to him. And I’m so excited for the construction industry.

25:29 Yeah. You know, when COVID started, I was super relieved that the construction industry was deemed as essential. And for the most part, there were a few states that had to shut down. But for the most part,you know, the construction industry didn’t miss a beat, which is, you know, thank God, because that’s what I do.

25:50 Yeah, absolutely. I hear you, I hear you.

25:53 So Michael, what’s the best way so if a company wants to get in touch with you, or your company, what’s the best way for them to do that?

26:00 You know, we make it super easy. I mean, it’s goYellowBird just like it sounds, Goyellowbird.com. And there’s two options. If you’re a professional, there’s a button for professionals to sign up. For a company, there’s a button for companies to sign up. And generally speaking, you will get a call and or an email within 30 minutes by YellowBird employees. We can have people out, we’ve been as fast as hours, on site. Now, we don’t guarantee that. But that’s the most important thing is knowing that it’s not just, we’re not a staffing agency. And we are not a consulting firm or we are an aggregator of talent. So we find talents and we put them to get in touch with businesses. Awesome. I love it.

26:54 Yeah. So Mike, I, you know, thank you so much for your time today. I love what you’re doing. You know, when I heard about your company, I was like, whoever owns this company, or is running this company, I got to get him on this show. Because safety is so important. We’ve actually dedicated a couple different podcasts just to safety. Because it’s so important. Awesome, you know, and I find that guys that have been around for a while and have had accidents on their job site. There’s no, I put this there’s no way to describe what it’s like if you’ve had a fatality, or a horrific accident on your job site. But the one thing that it does, is it ingrains in you how important safety is. And I mean, they don’t call it on purposes, right? They call them accidents, and they can happen at any time. And you’ve really got to be diligent. So when I heard about your company, I was like, I gotta get these guys out there. So my hat’s off to you. I think what you’re doing is fantastic. I think you’re helping businesses be safe. And people get home every day to their loved ones, because that’s the most important thing.

27:57 Absolutely. Oh, thank you for having me. And I hope that we can help. That is my goal. Thank you for sharing that story.

28:10 Great. Thanks, Mike. Have a Yeah, have a great rest of your week. All right, but thank you. Thanks so much for listening today. We love our listeners and we live to help you improve your performance as construction managers and trade professionals. Hope you enjoyed that interview checkout YellowBird at goyellowbird.com, great company, especially for small to medium size. General Contractors, they are there to help you don’t forget to pick up some ISOtunes, protect your hearing now before it’s too late. And you don’t have to listen to this podcast turned all the way up. That’s no good. Your spouse is gonna be yelling, hey was the TV’s gonna be too loud because you didn’t protect your hearing just like me 20 years I’m not doing it. I now know better use the wisdom of the old guys on the jobsite and protect your hearing. ISOtunes, you’re gonna love their products, check out true work calm, their products are awesome. I wear them all the time. You’re gonna love them. Use a promo code championship team, you get a discount, you’re going to be a repeat customer guaranteed. And of course, the greatest website of all time about the factory comm check it out, download the book, with possibly the best website in the history of websites. I think I’ve mentioned that. Check it out. And again, thank you so much for listening. We love you guys. Keep the comments coming. Thanks so much.