Abrahamse & Co. employs more than 30 tradespeople; we work on projects ranging from custom homes to large office buildings and churches. But when we started in business 31 years ago, it was just three guys and a pickup truck. Like many small contractors, we were fairly relaxed about safety issues, more or less expecting everyone to take care of himself.

Over the years, as our company grew, our awareness of safety issues expanded as well: We felt we were doing a good job of following safe work guidelines. Then, in 1989, a laborer slipped off the bottom rung of a scaffold and fractured a vertebra. Even though he fell from a height of less than 2 feet, he suffered a serious spinal injury that...

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