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Superheroes of Safety: Who Is Your Safety Inspiration?

May 8, 2017
The very best EHS professionals lead by example, inspiring and encouraging those around them to work safe and work smart.

Who inspired you in the past or inspires you now to work safe and work smart? Whose name pops into your mind if I ask: “Who do you consider to be an EHS leader?” “Who motivated you to become a safety professional?” or “Who engages your brain when it comes to occupational safety and health?”

Sometimes it’s a mentor, sometimes it’s a professor in college or an instructor in a training class. Sometimes it’s another EHS professional or safety manager or industrial hygienist or a consultant who set us on a new path and whose words contribute to keeping us on that path. I've heard stories about safety professionals from workers' compensation insurance companies and even OSHA inspectors and consultants who motivated change and made a difference. Perhaps it was a motivation speaker at a conference – not even a safety professional – who caused you to think about EHS in a new way.

Often, these “safety heroes” are unsung, but they never are forgotten. If you have a person like this in your life, please email me at [email protected] and how he or she motivates your EHS efforts. (Please put "EHS Leaders" in the subject line.)

This year, we’re doing something different for our June issue. In 2017, we’d like to celebrate the mentors, teachers, coworkers and colleagues who inspire you to do better when it comes to safety. The ones who motivate you and give you something to think about.

For me, it was my dad, Obie Smith. He held a variety of jobs over the years from Greyhound bus driver to meatpacker to shop foreman to real estate agent and quite a few in between. He would tell me stories about working in the Minnesota meatpacking plants in the 1950s, and what he mostly talked about were the injuries suffered by the employees in those plants. He talked about the severed fingers, the horrific cuts, the musculoskeletal injuries (although in those days, they didn’t call them by that fancy name), even some deaths. And he talked about the blood on floor, not from the animals, but from the people.

When I first interviewed here, 20 years ago now, the then-editor emeritus of Occupational Hazards – the precursor of EHS Today – asked me why I was interested in the job. I shared with him my dad’s stories, and the fact that my grandfather contracted black lung while working in West Virginia coal mines and how it impacted his family, including my mother. I explained that workplace safety was a topic of discussion at our family dinner table. I got the job.

Now, we know a lot more about leading indicators and the psychology of risk and risk taking than my dad knew 40 or 50 years ago. We’re learning what motivates and engages employees and keeps safety top of mind. We do a better job of engineering out hazards and protecting employees from hazards we can’t eliminate than my dad was able to do in the 1950s and 1960s.

But one thing remains constant: Almost every EHS professional can share an anecdote about the one person who motivated him or her to either choose occupational safety and health as a profession, or who inspired a change in his or her thinking. Maybe the change was as huge as a career change or a change in a life path; perhaps it was a quiet “aha!” moment that inspired a change in approach. And almost every employee can share a story about an EHS professional who motivated them to work safer and smarter.

For my dad, it was a shop foreman who had been elevated to “safety guy” following an injury. The foreman was an old-timer, and held a lot of sway with the workers, and his injury had not only changed his life, it had changed his mindset about safety. He saw my dad do something incredibly dangerous – life-threatening, even – and pulled him aside and said, “Don’t be stupid. You were trained better than that.” (Times were simpler back then!) From that point on, my dad said he heard that man’s voice in his head whenever he was about to take a risk. 

We’d like to recognize these inspiring leaders in our June issue. Please email me at [email protected] by May 12 and put "EHS Leaders" in the subject line and tell me who motivated you and how. Who is your personal EHS leader? What did he or she do to motivate and inspire you?

Help us recognize and celebrate the people who are protecting and motivating employees – and their companies’ reputations and profits – every day. We would like to include their names in our June issue, along with a little bit about why they deserve the recognition.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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