Do you take safety home with you? If so, how?
VPP has had a profound impact on our safety and health systems. The skills we learn are easily transferable and can be used to promote safety at home as well. I have been with Access Compliance since 2009. It took me a while to become a true believer. If there was a short cut, I capitalized on it. When I was hired, it seemed like an inordinate amount of time and effort was spent on protecting people from the boogie man. At the time, I believed our company culture essentially was making mountains out of mole hills.
One of our core competencies is occupational health. I have seen firsthand how playing the odds can injure and maim people. I like to work on cars and perform maintenance on my home. Prior to 2009, I gave very little thought to donning the appropriate personal protection equipment.
I know now that my father had numerous health conditions related to 45 years of exposure to nasty chemicals related to plating and finishing. Although my father lived to the ripe old age of 89, he suffered.
Getting hurt or suffering a debilitating injury or illness hurts just as much at home as it does at work – so I am always sure to wear my PPE.
What is/was your position and how long have you been in the position?
I am currently the EHS Director for Access Compliance. I am an outreach trainer for both General Industry and Construction. Access Compliance is a consulting company specializing in occupational health, safety training, and regulatory compliance. I love what I do. I may be performing a gap analysis one week, while the next week I could be writing a program or developing training material.
What has been the greatest challenge in your career?
The greatest challenge is accepting what you can’t change. As consultants, we are hired to perform a service. For example, a company wanted us to provide a quote to determine what it would take to establish an in-house rescue capability. We performed a gap analysis and determined that the program in its present state was dangerous. The program listed security personnel as the responding agency. If they were unable to execute a rescue, the fire department would be utilized. Security personnel had no training in permit required confined space and the fire department was not certified. Many of the confined spaces would have required a high angle rescue capability. The company had neither the equipment nor the expertise to conduct such a rescue.
During a walk through in another facility, I noticed an employee utilizing a self-retracted lifeline at a height of about 13 feet. The line was fully extended, and he was level with the anchor point. The harness was donned loosely. No consideration was given about fall distance. The employee received his fall protection training online. To make matters worse, equipment inspections were not done. Equipment that should have been taken out of service was still being used.
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. If they don’t act on findings, employees are exposed.
What is your most recent accomplishment?
We have updated employee resources in the form of resource guides. For example, many of the PPE manufacturers have merged. Many others were formed because of the pandemic. Keeping track of the manufacturers, fit test adapters and mask configurations became increasingly more difficult. As an occupational health provider, we work with a variety of industries and disciplines. Our employees must be familiar with all of them.
The Tech Training Guide was updated to provide additional resources. It always amazes me how many people wear respirators in the field who have not received adequate training. When fitting a respirator, we ask the client to perform a seal check. If they look at you like a deer in headlights, it is a good indication that the employer’s program may have some deficiencies. A properly fitted mask is much more than passing a FIT factor. Fit testing face pieces is as much an art as a science. If you don’t take the time to show clients how to don them properly, the fail rate increase and the protection value is compromised.
What advice would you give to "Past You?"
The cost of non-compliance comes with a huge price tag. Unfortunately, there are no lines on the balance sheet to illuminate program deficiencies. The value of the employee to their company and family is priceless.
What makes you passionate about the VPPPA?
The principals of VPP work. The association represents companies from around the country that have made safety a core value. I have met incredible people that are passionate about protecting their most precious asset, the employee. By empowering the employee to execute and take ownership in the program, lives are saved, best practices are shared, and everyone wins.
What has been your favorite aspect of the Association?
My favorite aspect has been the information sharing and the ability to see what other companies are doing and share what Veolia has been doing. One of the best ideas to make our workers safer came from a VPPPA annual meeting. I attended a BBS breakout session on leading indicators. I brought that idea back to our local team. We implemented it and the system has evolved today into one of the cornerstones of employee involvement at Veolia.
What advice would you give to someone interested in the VPP or the VPPPA?
VPP is a process. The decision to pursue VPP is a huge commitment. Management needs to understand that VPP is an employee driven program and must be treated as a long-term objective. A directive from management is not enough.
In order to establish a safety culture, management needs to encourage employee participation with VPP early on. All employees must develop a skill set to assess risk. Management and employees must comply with policy. With employees, the opportunity to make recommendations and/or voice concerns is also necessary. A safety committee is an excellent platform to promote this kind of dialogue. If management fails to secure buy in from employees, the prospects of achieving VPP will never be realized.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself!
To avoid taking a language in high school, I majored in music. I played the baritone sax in jazz band and the alto sax in concert band. I went to band camp to learn how to twirl rifles. Don’t worry, no one was hurt.
“VPPPA is a huge resource for VPP Star sites. The conferences held each year always provide me and my fellow coworkers with several ideas that we can implement at our facility. I am very thankful for our facility being a VPP Star site and having the backing and support of the VPPPA."
-Stacey Craig, Pattern Maker, Clow Valve Metal Casting Facility
“Prairie State’s VPPPA membership has been very helpful as our organization strives to become a STAR site. VPPPA offers their members the tools, support, and networking opportunities necessary to building a best-in-class safety process. Whether you are an organization working towards their STAR certification or a STAR site working to continuously raise their process to the next level, VPPPA provides benefits at a value that can’t be matched.”
-Michael Yusko, Corporate Safety Manager Prairie State Generating Company