For the April roundtable, we are pleased to feature three knowledgeable health and safety professionals from various industries and backgrounds.  

Q - What do you think will be the most important safety issues this year? What are the biggest challenges facing EHS leaders today?

Lindsay - Other than staying healthy, dealing with mental health concerns has become a high priority. Everyone has been effected in one way or another during the pandemic. Whether a spouse has lost their job, schools are closed, childcare is no longer readily available, a family member isn’t well or just being confined in general will take its toll on the strongest of us. As an EHS facilitator, its challenging to maintain a positive environment or even provide a distraction for the employees when it’s evident that the state of the economy has taken its toll on our business and the future is uncertain.

Donnie- There has been so much emphasis and resources invested in deterring the COVID pandemic during 2020 that many of the other safety issues have been glossed over. For example, in our facility, we’ve had just as many cases of strains, sprains, cuts and contusions than we’ve had COVID positives during 2020. It’s important to not turn a blind eye to those safety issues that existed prior to COVID, which is a part of what I feel may be the biggest challenge of EHS leaders going forward – resource limitations. It’s the duty of the EHS leader to foster a culture of safety in their facilities and ensure that their employees work in a safe environment where they feel confident that their leadership is doing everything they can to ensure their safety on all fronts. With limited resources available to do this, EHS leaders must be able to trust their employees to do the right thing, watch over one another and instill accountability and reliability in each and every employee as it pertains to safety.

Clover - The biggest challenge I face with my shops is bringing in new employees. Unfortunately, due to the tough job market, we have difficulty identifying new employees with a safety mindset. A new employee does not need experience in steel manufacturing and fabrication; we provide our new employees with extensive safety and on the job training to promote development. We invest a considerable amount of time and effort into developing a safe, knowledgeable and productive employee with the intention of establishing a career.  However, due to the hazards related to our industry, an employee must be safety minded in order to be a good fit for CMC. In the current environment, it is challenging to hire people with the right skills and mindset.

Q - What have you learned from your hearing conservation and/or respiratory protection compliance programs?

Lindsay - I have learned that the more a company puts emphasis on its employees’ health management and wellbeing, the more likely the employee is to do their due diligence in protecting themselves adequately. If an employer has a lax approach to health and safety or the general welfare of its employees, more often than not, workers will develop a negative or self-serving attitude towards the company. 

Clover - When providing annual hearing conservation safety training I’ve learned a couple of things from my employees. Many do not understand the necessity of wearing hearing protection outside of the workplace.  Through discussion of their outside activities, we help our employees understand why it’s important to protect their hearing at home. In addition, I’ve learned our employees have been wearing hearing protection for years, but often are not aware of the proper way to wear hearing protection or have been wearing hearing protection that does not fit well, thus not providing the appropriate level of protection. In training, we demonstrate the appropriate way to wear various options of hearing protection. Also, we perform hearing protection fit testing to ensure the option selected provides the best protection for the employee.

Donnie - Our hearing conservation program is a tool that helps us identify where the problematic areas are in our facility as it pertains to high noise hazards. By analyzing the data we receive from annual audiograms, we can locate trends and determine both locations and specific employees that we have to invest our resources in to protect them and others from noise hazards and potential hearing loss. We have determined that only a few distinct locations in our facility are actually above the 85db threshold requiring hearing protection and monitoring. Nevertheless, we use a blanket standard for hearing protection because we realize that many of our employees are mobile throughout the day and travel from station-to-station, some which are within that 85db threshold. We do this not only for OSHA, but also because we care very much about the safety and well-being of our employees.

Q - Any tips or tricks for increasing employee participation or employee engagement with health and safety? How do you create a safety culture?  

Clover - CMC has a Pro-active Safety Program which allows each employee to participate and engage others. Through this program our employees are encouraged to report physical hazards, conduct behavior-based observations and report near-miss incidents. Employees are encouraged to immediately correct physical hazards, if possible. If not, these hazards are directed to the department that has the ability to correct the hazard. We have found our employees appreciate these efforts and it increases their sense of ownership in their work areas. Behavior-based observations encourage our employees to say something when they see others working unsafely, but also to recognize when an employee is working safely. We believe peer to peer recognition of safe or unsafe work habits strongly contributes to the safety culture in our shops. Near-miss reporting encourages an employee to report something that almost happened. Then we work together to determine what happened and what we must to prevent it from happening again. Our Pro-active Safety Program allows the employee to be heard and work together with the management team to create safety awareness and strengthen the safety culture.

Donnie - Prior to COVID, I was increasing engagement with safety trainings that included games such as “Jeopardy” and “Family Feud”. These events were extremely popular, resulting in heavy employee participation. When the pandemic is over and we are able to resume having larger scale meetings again, it’s my intention to develop new games with safety-related information in them, such as “The Weakest Link” and other games that can incorporate EHS knowledge into them. As for creating a safety culture, it’s imperative that employees quickly understand how accountability, responsibility, and authority factor into safety, as well as how resources are utilized in safety-related matters. This is done with continuous communication, such as weekly TPS meetings, posters, etcetera, to promote transparency that helps employees to trust safety supervision, fellow employees, and themselves more.

Lindsay - Actively listening and promoting open communication is always a challenge when trying to bridge the gap between different departments. Employees can often feel a certain disconnect or feel like they’ll be punished for actively speaking up when they witness unsafe behavior. As Donnie and Clover have mentioned, engaging with employees face-to-face, and often, will frequently bring up issues that they may have otherwise kept to themselves. Rewards, recognition and positive reinforcement for safe behavior help transition the thought process from “look what I’m doing wrong” to “look what I’m doing right.” Recognition as a whole, not just individually, often spurs active participation amongst groups simultaneously, encouraging each member to look out for others as well.  

Q - What advice do you have for a new safety pro just entering the EHS field?

Donnie - If you’re new to the EHS field, then make it a point to reach out and start networking with other safety professionals. If you get comfortable with one or two in particular, ask them if they would like to help mentor you in becoming more knowledgeable and adept in the EHS industry. I can tell you that I had a mentor in a very knowledgeable person named Tony Silva, the Director of EHS at Malarkey Roofing Products in Portland, OR. He taught me so much about EHS and its practical application in the workplace. I lost contact with Tony a while back, but I took so much from him and carried it with me forward to Trulite where I have been growing as an EHS professional.

Lindsay - Documentation is key! Sometimes it can be overwhelming and you will miss something every now and then; and that’s ok. One thing life in general has taught me, no matter how much you think you are prepared, something will come along and completely prove you wrong.

Clover - Understanding you do not know it all and that professional education does not make you an effective safety representative yet. It’s best to learn from your employees, whom have most likely been performing a task for many years and are much more knowledgeable. As a safety professional in the field, I’ve found my employees know the hazards and the best way to correct it. I have the best results when I work direct with my employees to make improvements that are effective and sustainable. Sometimes we have to make adjustments to the recommendation to comply with standards, which is explained. By doing this, the employees is much more willing to come forth with information we as safety professionals need to hear in order to facilitate a safer work environment.

Q - What are your favorite resources to stay on top of safety trends? How do you continue to grow as a safety pro?

Clover - When it comes to safety trends within my company, my favorite resources are my fellow associates within our company safety department. Our safety director and managers are proactive with providing information to keep us up to date on safety trends from a higher level. In addition, the area safety coordinators have a tight network. If I have an issue in one of my shops, then I am quick to reach out to another coordinator whom has most likely been involved with the same or similar issue. Together, we help each other stay on top of safety trends and continue advancing as safety professionals.

Lindsay - Donnie mentioned networking. Networking with other safety professionals on LinkedIn is a great resource. Being able to ask questions and learn from real world experiences and solutions from tried and true approaches from other industries may help obtain a different point of view and gain a broader perspective to similar issues and solutions.

Donnie - We use Keller Online as a resource for all safety-related needs. They send emails every other week regarding current safety trends and resources to help keep me informed. From time to time, I will get on the OSHA website and simply start digging into a topic that I am curious about, learning as much as I can about it. Also, we have a local source for training and education in Tulsa Technical Center (Tulsa Tech). I have a partnership with them to obtain training in EHS whenever I can get it. I believe that knowledge is power, and once you quit learning you start dying, so I’m always trying to learn something new when I can. Perhaps that’s another reason why I’m currently pursuing my doctorate in strategic leadership from Liberty U.