If you’re in environmental health and safety, jump in with both feet. Do not stick your toe in the water. Do it with all your heart.
Why? It isn’t about you.
It’s about the people you take care of.
Recently on The Safety Management Show, Susan Spaulding, Sr. EHS/QC Manager at J. Benton Construction, LLC, shared the above advice, as well as how she faced some of the hardest challenges in safety management.
We also chatted about:
● Her exciting current project in the U.S. Virgin Islands
● Shaming, bullying, and a culture of respect
● Safety is truly about saving lives
Let’s get right into the conversation!
“Don’t back down. You’ve got to do what’s right, and don’t let anybody influence you, especially if you know it’s the right thing to do”— Susan Spaulding
Safety is everyone’s responsibility
Currently, Susan’s project is restoration and remodeling of historic homes for the National Park Service in the U.S. Virgin Islands after the destruction of Irma and Maria in 2017. It’s definitely a detail project rather than a large-scale one.
(The houses themselves are gorgeous. Susan gets to collaborate with the Parks archaeologist over the original architectural drawings. So fun!)
As for most of us in safety, Susan doesn’t have a “typical” work day, only a lot of conversations about people working safely by taking care of themselves and the homes.
Fun fact: the Virgin Islands are also regulated by OSHA and other mainland federal entities.
According to Susan, she spends a lot of time on these activities:
1 — Education
“Safety is everyone’s responsibility, only if they know what is expected of them,” she said.
In other words, you can’t make someone responsible for something they didn’t know about.
This takes being present on the site. Susan recently walked out on a deck and realized, Hm, there’s a big drop here. So she measured and realized it was indeed a safety issue.
Her workers who are used to working up a roof for hours didn’t originally see it as a problem, but Susan brings a different point of view and — this is key — teaches it to others.
2 — Conversation
A major component of Susan’s work is conversations about safety, which takes building rapport.
In order to bring people in, Susan would throw a popsicle party (yes, even in winter) to seize the opportunity to speak to superintendents, project managers, and even client personnel about working on the site.
p.s. hard hat stickers also work well for this.
How’s your day going? Is everything okay? Do you know where your break areas are? Do you know where your muster point is?
“We gave away a lot of popsicles, but I learned about struggles people were having,” Susan said.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I don’t let anybody’s disrespect bother me anymore. I know what I know, and I’m pretty proud of my education and my experience.”— Susan Spaulding
The hard moments: shaming and bullying
The object of safety isn’t to call down someone’s superintendent to shame them for not wearing glasses they didn’t have in the first place. It’s because if you don’t have your eyes, you can’t work. If you don’t have your hands, you can’t work.
It’s important to maintain a rapport with and a respect for others. Even when those others started off by talking down to her.
Honestly, at the beginning of her career, Susan faced some challenges being a woman in the industry. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I don’t let anybody’s disrespect bother me anymore. I know what I know, and I’m pretty proud of my education and my experience,” she said.
The goal of safety is to protect people so that they can do excellent work. It’s not a role of challenge or contention but service.
“I’m here to do a job just like you, I get a paycheck just like you. So let’s work together — or not. But the not is not going to be easy for you,” she added.
“Safety is everyone’s responsibility, only if they know what is expected of them.”— Susan Spaulding
The really hard moments: fatality
Safety should be a part of the job description that comes with the tools and resources like other tasks or frameworks. Look, there’s a reason for safety management.
Here’s the short version of the story. A truck driver was having a crane mount loaded on his flatbed. Three times he returned to the hazardous area despite being cautioned. The fourth time, the crane mount fell and smashed him.
The company policy was, essentially, three strikes and you’re booted out of the area. Susan observed that if the rules had been followed, the man would have lived.
“Here’s my heartburn with all that,” she said. “Even in the general industry, we write all these policies and procedures, but we don’t enforce them. We don’t hold people accountable.”
Aside from the real sorrow of the fatality, there are many unforeseen challenges, such as working with emergency response, securing the hazardous area, notifying the family, and PTSD from witnesses.
Environmental safety management is a serious and meaningful undertaking. “For me, it is taking care of my people every day,” Susan said.
The policy wasn’t there just for fun.
A man lost his life.
“Don’t back down,” Susan said. “You’ve got to do what’s right, and don’t let anybody influence you, especially if you know it’s the right thing to do.”
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