Superheroes of Safety: Who Inspires Us?

June 13, 2017
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?"

A few weeks ago, I asked these questions of our audience members: "Who do you consider to be an EHS leader?" "Who motivated you to become a safety professional?" and "Who engages your brain when it comes to occupational safety and health?"

The response was amazing. I was hoping for three or four names that I could integrate into our traditional "50 EHS Leaders" roundup. Instead, this project took on a life of its own.

Here is a list of our readers' Superheroes of Safety. Some of these superheroes have several degrees in disciplines related to occupational safety and health and risk management. Some of them stood on a production line and don't have "safety" anything in their title. Some of them, while teaching youngsters how to safely mow the grass, shared life lessons that continue to resonate. Some of them metaphorically kicked butts, but they all have one thing in common; They are EHS leaders and the very best EHS leaders inspire and encourage those around them to work safe and work smart.

The Stories

When I first posted an article asking for people to share the names and stories of the EHS leaders who inspired them, I wasn't sure what the response would be. As I said, I was hoping for three or four submissions. I received five or six times that many.

"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 motivational speaker at a conference – not even a safety professional – who caused you to think about EHS in a new way," I suggested, adding: "Often, these 'safety heroes' are unsung, but they never are forgotten."

Not only did I learn about the safety superheroes and what made them inspiring, I learned a little bit about the people who were motivated by them. After sharing her safety inspirations with me, Heather Humphries, plant safety manager at Smithfield Farms, said, "Thank you for allowing your readers to speak about this topic. It’s also very timely for me and my plant.  I am in the midst of a super hero campaign where we are asking our employees to become safety super heroes, to find a way to inspire others to be safe, much like the heroes I am sure you are being flooded with right now.  I can't wait to read the article."

Here are the Safety Superheroes nominated by EHS Today readers. These are the people who made a difference in their lives and in the lives of the workers around them. I have listed them in the order received and the accounts have been edited for space. We will run each listing, in its entirety, on during the month of June.

"William (Uncle Will) Fuller from the Houston, Texas area, a NCCER CSST Instructor. Best safety guy I know. His dedication to keeping people safe, his professionalism and his instructional method are world class. He is a true master of his craft."
Submitted: Bill Oliphant, SGE / CSST, TechCorr USA LLC, site safety supervisor, Chevron Phillips Cedar Bayou

"It is with great pleasure that I recommend Kenny Edward, director of Key Accounts, Carroll EMC, as my safety hero. Kenny always has displayed a high degree of integrity, responsibility and ambition. He is definitely a leader of people, not a follower. His good judgment and mature outlook ensure a commonsense and practical approach to safety and helping others in his community and that why he is my safety hero and friend."
Submitted: Keith Welch, Brad Cole Construction

"The one person who has influenced me the most in the area of safety – and my career in safety – was my dad, Jim Williams. Not only did he train and expect safety excellence but he was an example through his leadership. During his career in the pulp and paper industry, he was the supervisor of the yard/bull gang crew at the pulp and paper mill in St. Helens, Or. When he retired, his crew had exceeded 28 years without a lost-time accident. His safety record was such that all new employees were sent to work on his crew for the first two weeks they worked at the mill. During that time, my dad would provide them with an orientation in safety and then he would observe their work practices to provide additional guidance.

For me, his influence began when I was much younger. I remember my first safety orientation with him when I was six years old and was going to be helping my older brothers with mowing the lawn for the first time. Even though my job was to pick up the debris in the yard before my oldest brother would mow, and then rake the grass clippings, my dad had all of us sit down with the mower and the owner’s manual. We went through the manual and inspected the mower as a team. We would tighten the wheels, change the oil and inspect the blade for cracks, etc. as instructed by the manual."
Submitted: Shawn Williams, safety manager, Dillard Composite Facility

"It is when a fellow worker takes it upon himself to assist management to make safety a top priority that it truly becomes part of the company culture. At my current company, we have such a person. Electrical engineer Tom Johnson is able to quote safety policies in everyday language that makes sense of why they need to be followed, not just for the company, but for individual well-being. Tom becomes that little voice that says, 'No shortcuts, do it right.'

If you follow safety procedures at work, the more likely you will do the same at home. So, to Tom, we all say: Thank you."
Submitted: Fred Hofer, install coordinator, ABS, Advanced Blending Solutions LLC

"Back in 2003, I was working in a tool and dye shop as an industrial cleaner. I worked nights cleaning the machines, floors and bathrooms. I was a recent U.S. Navy veteran and I needed a job. While working there, I noticed I did not receive any type of new-hire safety training. I mentioned this to my then-boyfriend Todd and he suggested I volunteer to be the safety trainer for the shop. I spoke to the owners and they agreed.

My husband encouraged me to go back to school and get my degree in occupational health and safety. Fourteen years later, I have my B.S in occupational health and safety and I am working towards my M.S. degree in the same. I currently work as an EHS professional for a Fortune 100 company and to be honest, I could not have done any of this without the love and support of my husband, Todd. He is my EHS hero."
Submitted: Mark Wathen, EHS professional, Arconic Danville

"In the brief eight years since being formed, the South African Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (SAIOSH) continues to reach new heights, under the leadership of its CEO, Neels Nortie. He has been practicing occupational health and safety for the past 30 years, including working for the National Occupational Safety Association (NOSA). He currently is employed by the Master Builders Association, KwaZulu Natal, where he holds the post of occupational health and safety manager. He was the originator of the Master Builders South Construction Health and Safety Audit System, which still is used today and has helped to reduce the construction industry’s accident claims ratio in South Africa by 70 percent. When it comes to construction health in safety in South Africa, Neels is widely regarded as one of the industry’s leading experts. He has been appointed by the Minister of Labour to service on the Minister’s Advisory Council for Occupational Health and Safety (ACOHS)."
Submitted: Dr. Bill Pomfret, MSc, FIOSH, FBI, managing consultant, Dr. Bill Pomfret & Associates, Incorporating Safety Projects International Inc.

"My safety superhero is Michael Urac III. From day one, Mike took me to every safety call and every meeting, mentoring me every step of the way. Slowly, he gave me more and more responsibilities for running the safety program. No matter how many classes I took or seminars I went to, he gave me my real safety education. After he retired I still called him to get his opinions on things. He passed away 9 years ago. I miss my mentor and my friend. I could never thank him enough for his guidance. He gave me the career I have today."
Submitted: Karen Moreno, risk safety coordinator, Ventura County Fire Department

"I would like to tell you about MY safety superhero, Dr. John D. Parks. I graduated from Fairmont State University in Fairmont, W.Va. in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in safety engineering. Dr. Parks was tough, he was stern and demanded respect as well as top performance from his students. He would call you out, chew you out and throw you out if any were necessary.

I remember one time in his office and he looked straight at me and said, "Goodwin, you are not going to make it! I will be retired before you ever get out of here!" I was floored and quite frankly, ticked off! No professor was going to tell me that I would not make it!! Little did I know, that was the push that I needed. Fast forward 24 years and here I am, a safety professional."
Submitted: R. Scott Goodwin, corporate safety manager, SSOE Group

"My safety superhero is Dr. Robert Hawley, formerly the safety and occupational manager at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), at Fort Detrick. He embodies the best qualities of a safety professional and a life scientist. I have known him for over 20 years and watched him mentor many individuals in the growing specialty area of Biological Safety, including myself. 

Dr. Hawley started his career as a microbiologist and moved into the field of biosafety midcareer. He has extensively published on topics on laboratory safety and safety management and is recognized as one of the thought leaders in the field of biosafety and biosecurity worldwide.  It has been my pleasure and honor to have had the opportunity to have worked with him on a variety of projects to promote safety in the laboratory.

I know your magazine does not often cover research and laboratory safety or the growing field of Biosafety. However, when I saw your request I could not help but to write about this incredible safety professional who has taught me and many others how to be better safety and health professionals supporting the life science sector."
Submitted: Joseph P. Kozlovac, M.S., RBP, CBSP, SM(NRCM), agency biosafety officer, USDA ARS Office of National Programs, Animal Production & Protection

"I would like to nominate Scott Lyon, director of safety analytics and operational excellence at Ecolab. I have come across many health and safety professionals across many industries all over the world, and Scott is in a league of his own. His passion, knowledge and ability to motivate both management and frontline workers to work towards the same safety goals is inspiring."
Submitted: Saif Al-Naib, data strategist, product, Intelex
"I have three.

My Father – a marine veteran, an avid athlete in his younger days, woodworker and sportsman. My dad always took precautions in everything we did from as far back as I can remember. He was always making sure we were buckled in or that we were wearing knee pads when we roller skated. He has been a mechanic on all types of vehicles from fighter jets, passenger airplanes to commuter cars and now diesel buses. He would come home and tell us stories about his buddies getting their fingers smashed or cut on a piece of equipment and tell my sister and I why it happened. There was always a story behind the short cut or not wearing protective gear, and he would smile at my mom and tell her she didn’t have to worry about him. 

Cindy Braun of Braun Safety Associates is the second one. When I was promoted from machine operator to EHS coordinator, I took as many training classes as my company would let me and worked very hard to soak up regulatory and technical skills. I met Cindy in a class at the Minnesota Safety Council while training for my advanced safety certificate. I saw her – and still see her – as a role model for women in the industry, helpful and willing to share her experience and skills so that others can learn from and advance their programs. She is one of the best trainers I've ever had. In 2011, she was honored by ASSE as one of "100 Women Making a Difference," and I could not think of anyone more deserving. She is what all safety professionals should strive to be.

Paul O’Neill, the former CEO of Alcoa, is my third safety superstar. Something he said struck me like a ton of bricks and has stuck with me ever since. He said that there are three questions an employee should be able to answer yes to every day in order to be successful. The first is: 'Do I get treated with dignity and respect by everyone I encounter every day while I am at work at all times?’ The second question is: ‘Do I feel that my work is contributing positively to my life?’ (O’Neill’s belief is that we spend so much time at work that our lives need to be positively impacted by our work.) The third question is: 'Am I provided the training and resources I need to grow?’

You can always point to behavioral psychology for why we do the things we do and why we make the choices that we make, but this is a good way to bench mark whether or not our workplaces are making the world better for our employees and our customers. I will always look to these questions and the work he did with Alcoa as a standard for shaping my programs and interacting with employees."
Submitted: Heather Humphries, plant safety manager, Smithfield Farms
"Rand Magee, who works for the Kiewit Corp., took me under his wing and showed me how to relate to people and get people to understand the importance of safety. He is a true safety leader who exemplifies the qualities and knowledge to be the 'Best You Can Be.' If you are doing well, you are recognized for those efforts. If you have shortcomings, you are tutored with empathy and when necessary a butt chewing. Either way it is done the end result is that you have learned a lesson and in turn be a better safety professional. Definitely a man among men in our chosen profession."
Submitted: Perry L. Seals, CHST, senior safety manager, All Aboard Florida Project

"Twenty-nine years ago, I was in a head-on motor vehicle accident and 18 months of my life was spent on recovery and in rehab. At the time, I was a process engineer working for a pharmaceutical company where I did equipment qualifications and process validations. From the accident and my exposure to a stream of medical professionals, I felt compelled to have a career with a social responsibility, using my work experience around equipment and blending it with the human element. And the result was, I entered into the field of occupational safety and health.

While no one person was my mentor, the medical service providers were instrumental in my decision to take the career path of occupational safety and health. However, as a student at EKU in the SSEM Masters curriculum, there was one professor whose words I will not forget, Dr. Michael Schumann, Department of Safety, Security & Emergency Management, who said, "Safety professionals are not made…they are born." In my case, I was born out of a near death experience."
Submitted: Joni M. Merrick, safety program specialist, MS-SSEM, OSHA-authorized general industry trainer, Transportation & Environmental Services, city of Alexandria

"Dr. Robert L. Marshall is my hero. He was a pioneer in safety. A dean at Central Missouri University, he initiated the industrial hygiene program there, built an interactive driving range (real cars, real hazards) and led the CMU safety program to national recognition. Over the years, he introduced hundreds of new safety professionals to industry. He consulted in Australia, Japan, Romania, Brazil and other countries in the area of traffic safety. He was inducted to the Safety & Health Hall of Fame.

He is also my father. I grew up listening to conversations about safety, industrial hygiene, professional ethics and public service. He practiced his speeches on me. When I went back to school for my masters, it seemed the logical career choice. He's 92 now and retired, but he knows he made a difference."
Submitted: Suzanne Broussard, director, HSE Consulting and Integration, Fluor Federal Petroleum Operations LLC

"David Huizen is the Department Head of Grand Valley State University's Occupational Health and Safety Management Program. I started in 2011 at GVSU. I chose Occupational Health and Safety on a whim and also because I was almost guaranteed a job after graduation. David, whom most of his students fondly refer to him as Huizen, was my inspiration to succeed. He has had numerous experiences in the safety field from working at Pfizer for many years to consulting to assisting on standard review. He went above and beyond to make sure we got Internships. He would travel to our internships to check on us and our progress. He was available for those tough, heart-to-heart discussions on career choices. He’s an all-in-all awesome person who deserves the recognition for the countless things he does for the university and his students.
Submitted: Anne Moore, Safety Specialist, Bells Brewery

"In 1986, I supervised a crew of home heating oil delivery drivers. I saw one of the drivers get off his truck, stiffly and painfully. I asked him what was wrong, and he said 'What’s wrong? 30 years ago, someone should've told me not to jump off the last step of the truck. My knees are shot. I’m gonna retire soon and I can’t play ball with my grandkids!’

He would be on and off the truck as much as 40-50 times each day. I remember thinking – forgive the expression – 'That sucks! You should not work all your life and ruin your body to the point of not being able to enjoy your retirement.' Yes, there are horrible, life-changing incidents. But much more prevalent is retirees with chronic pain or restricted/damaged body parts."
Submitted: Steven Levenson, health and safety specialist, the University of Kansas

"I've been fortunate over my long career in ergonomics to work with a few different safety professionals who influenced, mentored and motivated me. But I wanted to take this opportunity to speak about one person I didn't meet until much later in my career. About two years ago, I began a long-term contract assignment reporting to a young (to me) corporate director of safety, Adam Bates, global director of health, safety and security, Cooper Tire and Rubber Co. There is something special about working with a visionary. It is contagious. It makes work that you have done before seem fresh. But even more importantly, it encourages you to develop your own vision. Adam Bate's vision of what safety could be pushed me out of my comfort zone and led me to be more creative and more daring in my work."
Submitted: Rick Barker, senior consultant, Humantech

"I normally would not respond to this kind of request. However, the first week of May 2017, my best friend died very suddenly after only being retired for 30 days. He was my safety hero.

For over 30 years, Michael Porter, CIH, CSP, was the director of global health and safety for Goodyear. Mike was the inspiration for me. Mike got me interested in making the jump from running a construction site to becoming the person who kept everyone safe. I know no one else in my life that could be the resource and friend Mike was, from a simple one-on-one phone call to reading a periodical article, to being asked to be a guest speaker for a safety convention.
Submitted: Michael White, safety director, CT Taylor Inc.

"I am so fortunate to have a great EHS leader. The empowerment, support and leadership of Karen White, head of EHS at Dresser-Rand - A Siemens Business, has been a true game changer for me professionally. Being a female in a male-dominated industry, faced with many challenges, I admire her strength, passion and ability to stand up for what she believes is best for the workforce and not back down. She's supportive, inspires and pushes her department for excellence. She makes the development of her direct supports a priority and this has brought out the best in me. In a nutshell, she's powerful and deserves the recognition."
Rudoulph Norris, Environmental Health and Safety, Dresser-Rand, A Siemens Business – PG DR GO RME

"My company held its first meeting for all our first responders, fire captains and members of our Zero Harm Culture team. The event was called "Safety Palooza." It gave us an opportunity to all get together and share our teams mission, vision statements and team background. After the speakers gave their presentations our EH&S leader, Keith Yaun, my personal safety hero, took time to thank us for our commitment to help keep each other safe and secure by serving on one of said teams.

I've seen safety and its importance wax and wane over my 35 years of service for the company, but when Keith joined us a few years back things changed decidedly for the better.

I've gotten to know Keith over the last few years, but never really knew what pushed him towards a career in EH&S. What started out as a short thank you, became a personal and tearful recounting of Keith’s first direct involvement in a loss of life fatality. As Keith spoke of the incident I could feel my own eyes starting to tear up, and I could feel my throat tighten as well.

Keith is my safety Hero because he cares about our safety above all else."
Submitted: Chuck Chorba, leadperson, shop floor safety coordinator, Siemens Mechanical Drives

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.

I hope you enjoyed these stories, and will go online to read the full accounts of these inspiring Superheroes of Safety.

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