Tom Seiter: A Career Built by Hard Work and Company Support


Thirty years plus. Tom Seiter, safety director at Denier Electric, joined the company at 19 years old following his service in the U.S. Army reserves. Mom and Dad signed so he could enter the Army at 17 after graduating high school. It was in the Army that Tom began his electrical career. 

He perfected it at Denier, and his career path illustrates perfectly what IEC promotes about the benefits of this trade. Work hard and take advantage of the various twists and turns offered. 


The Path Traveled 

“I’ve been with Denier since 1991 and started out as an apprentice going through the program at IEC of Greater Cincinnati,” Tom says. “I got my journeyman’s license and my Kentucky master’s license. And then I worked my way up — field electrician, support foreman, foreman, field project management, and then safety director.” 

Tom says he began ‘dabbling’ in the safety arena once he hit that foreman level and it greatly piqued his interest. His uncle, John Sayne, was in the role at the time and he appreciated learning from him. He began to see himself in that role someday, and he spent time and effort learning and preparing for it. 

“When my uncle retired, the position opened up, and Denier moved me into it,” Tom says. “I had gotten a lot of one-on-one time with my uncle, and it was a natural fit for me to carry on the torch for the family.” 

During this hand-off time, Denier Electric was growing and Tom had plenty of ideas about how the safety program could help with that. Today, Denier Electric boasts about 375 employees with offices in both Cincinnati and Columbus. 


The Role Expanded 

Tom says he walked into a well-established, well-run safety program at the company.  

“I took the groundwork that was there and continued to build on it,” he says. “There already was great emphasis on training for company employees — both in the field and in the office. And, there was a great group of owners in this family business that supported safety efforts.” 

His first initiative was to update the safety manual. Tom says it had been close to 10 years since its last update and there were many changes in the general contractor requirements as it relates to safety compliance on job sites. 

His second initiative was a bit more challenging — take a deep dive into the format, timing, and content of all company training.  

“I took a good look at Denier’s incentive program as it related to training,” he says. “While employees could earn incentive points for additional training — kind of like a profit-sharing program — these trainings were often offered after hours and on Saturday mornings. We were noticing a drop in attendance and believed that newer employees were more concerned about what was in their paycheck week-to-week and didn’t want to sit in a Saturday class for the potential to earn more money six months from now.” 

After deep study and testing, Denier moved to its current Company Performance Plan and to scheduling training during working hours. Employees still can earn incentive points through additional trainings as long as they complete all their required trainings. Tom says each employee gets a report card and access to a list of all trainings they’ve completed. 

“A third initiative was to get away from killing 30 trees every day, as we digitized all training materials,” Tom jokes. “It’s certainly not uncommon to walk on a construction site today and have a 60-inch flat screen in the job trailer with the prints pulled up. Workers use iPads on job sites. Everything is electronic and so are our training materials.” 


Denier’s Safety Trainings 

Training, of course, is dependent upon the role an employee is filling. But all field employees begin with a new hire safety orientation and the online OSHA 10.

“Before they even step into the field, during their first week of employment, new employees must take OSHA 10, followed by our new hire safety orientation which brings in what they just learned through OSHA 10,” says Tom. “We refine it a bit more for company expectations, policies, and procedures.” 

He says this includes bloodborne protection, falls, and ladders, for example. Then, based upon the new employee’s role, this will be followed up by lockout / tagout, scissors lift safety training, and other equipment training as needed. 

All employees, including office staff, must take first aid / CPR. First aid / CPR is one of the many classes that Tom himself is certified to teach, such as OSHA Outreach trainer for construction, certified equipment trainer for MEWPs (mobile elevated work platforms), Hazard Awareness, QEW (qualified electrical worker), and NFPA 70E. 

OSHA 30 happens when an employee climbs to a foreman level worker.  

“We watch our apprentices and as they show promising signs that they can lead small groups, for example, we step up their training,” Tom says. “Training continues as employees continue to perform and we begin to see them as a competent person on the job site. We train them per 70E, and teach trenching and excavating to really help round them out. We do all our training in house.” 

Instructors are Tom, his two safety managers (one in each location), or retired safety people like his uncle John. Tom feels it’s important that those teaching safety have been in the field themselves to better understand not only all the hot spots for incidences but so that students know they themselves have experienced the work. 

“The trainings we offer are to help prevent accidents on the job site,” Tom summarizes. “Denier employees know that I was out in the field for 20-plus years. I’ve got plenty of my own examples of what not to do, but I try really hard to get the guys and girls to talk about their own life experiences. I tell them you’re going to learn from my life experiences and I’m going to learn from yours. At the end of the day if we can talk about all of those it’s probably more valuable than me spewing a bunch of standards and policies for the next eight hours. We want to hear about all of those ‘crap, let’s not do that again’ moments.” 

Tom wants to hear it all, and he tracks what he hears, looks for trends, and uses them to improve the next training as well as company policies and procedures. He emphasizes that they’re not ‘tattling’ on one another, and he’s not running to company owners with his spreadsheets. 

“I explain to them that I watch for trends and doing so really helps the bigger picture,” he says. “It gives them a better understanding of why we have policies and why we have training. I also joke with them a lot, saying things like ‘if you quit doing stupid stuff, you wouldn’t have to be in this class,’ or ‘I wouldn’t have to be up here teaching but for me it’s job security’ so we’re moving on.” 

Joking aside, he reinforces that just because someone on the site made it through a near miss and didn’t really get hurt, the potential is out there. 

“Electricians for the most part have the mindset that ‘it won’t happen to me’ and they won’t be that less than a 10th of a percent that gets injured,” he says. “Yeah, that percentage might be smaller than the odds of you winning the lottery, but just the sheer fact that that percentage is out there means you have to be aware.” 

Tom says he gets them to think about it from a personal level, remembering one of his first trainings as an apprentice when the instructor put up a slide that had a collage of his family. He made the point that everyone has somebody who is relying on them to be safe and maintain their gainful employment. 

“That class stuck with me, and as I was trying to figure out what my training methods would be, I stole that one,” Tom says. “I wanted them to understand that while the percentages of injury are small, it’s still out there. What happens if something does happen to you? What happens to your family, your loved ones, your dog, or your goldfish? Also, if you’re not thinking about your own health and well-being, you have to look out for your brothers and sisters on the job site as well. Take that one or two seconds to think about what you’re doing; that’s all it freaking takes!” 


Denier for Life 

Tom values the fact that he has been able to work for one company his entire career. He enjoys his work, the opportunities he has had to grow in his career, continuing to learn and conquer new challenges, and the people he works with. 

Denier is a family-owned business with a rich history that goes back nearly eight decades. The business started as a small electrical contractor business, founded in Cincinnati in 1942 by Howard Denier. In 1974, Denier became a second-generation business when Dennis Denier, who started as an electrician helper in 1963, assumed the role of president. In 2012, second-generation owner, Sandy Feldhaus, was joined by new third-generation business owners Susan Laumann, Steven Denier, Daniel Denier, and Katie Koetters. 

“It’s rare for construction contractors to be third generation,” Tom says. “There are ones that have been out there hovering in their second generation, but to make it to that third and fourth generation, those percentages of companies get smaller and smaller.” 

Just as Tom talks about having credibility with employees during safety training due to having been in the field with Denier and doing what they are now doing, he, too, gets satisfaction by being surrounded by company leaders he has worked with for decades. 

“It’s helped me out a lot being with the company as long as I have; we have many long tenured employees that are now vice president of construction, workforce manager, field project managers, and more,” he says. “We all kind of grew up through the field together. I know them and they know me. They like to give me crap and I can give the same amount of crap back at them. But we’ve all built our reputations together.” 


IEC Involvement 

Like at Denier, Tom followed his uncle into involvement at IEC National. He spent about three years on the National Safety Committee before moving over to the A&T Committee where he has served as the safety liaison for about three years now. He feels he can best share his work experience when it comes to curriculum work with A&T.

Tom, third from left, receives the IEC Grand Achievement Award for Denier Electric at SPARK 2023 in Dallas.

Part of his A&T role includes helping out with the Apprentice of the Year (AOY) competition at SPARK, where he often judges and serves as the safety monitor for the competition during motor controls each year. IEC of Greater Cincinnati runs the Productivity Challenge in AOY. 

“I’ve done grading for the timed Productivity Challege or helped with tear down and set up for the next group,” says Tom. 

Tom also is a first-year instructor for the IEC of Greater Cincinnati Apprenticeship Program, a role he’s enjoyed for eight years now. Denier Electric usually has at least a dozen apprentices in the first-year program. 

“It’s been a career that’s obviously taken me a lot of different avenues all within the same company,” he says. “I’ve always enjoyed my work, and I’ll probably retire from Denier. I’ve got a few years yet to work but I also have grandbabies to spoil!”



Tom’s Top Three 

  1. You need the support of leadership.

“Without that, you’re not going to get anywhere,” Tom explains. “I’m not just talking about the owners of the company; I’m also talking about project managers and foremen. Without support from your lead employees, your program is not going anywhere. I report directly to the president and having the support of leadership has helped me be successful.” 

  1. Make sure your policies and procedures fit your day-to-day work.

“Don’t just carbon copy somebody else’s program and shove that down people’s throats,” Tom says. “That’s not going to work. If the individual employee doesn’t see how it relates to what they do each day, you are not going to get their buy-in.” 

  1. Find good trainers.

“You have to be sure you have trainers who are able to captivate the audience or you’re going to lose people in the first five minutes,” Tom says.