SLC 2017: A Q&A about Critical Thinking

June 29, 2017
Paul English, safety director at CMC Steel Texas, makes the point that common sense isn’t so common, making critical thinking skills an important attribute for safety professionals.

As safety professionals navigate through their careers, the use of critical thinking during investigations as well as day-to-day operations can be tedious, to say the least. Paul English, safety director at CMC Steel Texas, a speaker in the Safety and Risk Management Track of the 2017 Safety Leadership Conference, hopes that his session will help his peers learn and understand the different idiosyncrasies of critical thinking and how it can apply to safety professionals. Perception versus reality, beliefs versus knowledge, can change in a single instance or incident, says English.

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EHS Today recently conducted a Q&A with English about his session and what he perceives to be some of the challenges facing safety professionals. You can hear more from English at the Safety Leadership Conference in Atlanta, Sept. 11-13.

EHS Today: What is the title of your presentation for EHS Today’s Safety Leadership Conference 2017?

Paul English: “Using Critical Thinking – Skills to be a Better Safety Professional.”

EHS Today: Can you offer us a description of your presentation and how it relates to safety leadership?

Paul English: Many of us have heard the phrase, “Common sense isn’t so common.” Is that a true statement or should we be asking why people think poorly or have bad judgment?  In this session, leaders will review critical thinking skills and how these skills can be applied to occupational safety on a daily basis.

EHS Today: Why is the topic of your presentation of interest to you and why is it important to SLC attendees?

Paul English: As a safety professional with 20 years of experience, I have consistently watched poor decisions made based off of poor data and information regarding safety and health. Today’s professionals need to learn how to identify different situations and ask the right questions for the desired outcome.

EHS Today: Please share an example of a personal or professional experience you’ve had related to safety leadership or the topic of your presentation.

Paul English: As a past tenure-tracked professor with the Eastern Kentucky University Safety, Security and Emergency Management Graduate Program, and a current Adjunct Faculty member, I was surprised at the lack of critical thinking skills of some undergraduate and graduate students possessed. I have since made it my mission to enhance these skills in an attempt to transcend the safety function to think critically, adding value to an organization.

EHS Today: What are the takeaways you hope to leave with attendees? 

Paul English: Define critical thinking. Construct perceptions versus realities as well as beliefs and knowledge. Compare the different concepts of critical thinking. Recognize how assumptions help us and hinder us. Understand how we process information. Evaluate common fallacies in thinking. How to become a better critical thinker.

EHS Today: What do you think are some of the most pressing EHS and risk management issues facing corporate leaders and safety professionals in 2017 and beyond?

Paul English: I believe the most pressing challenge for many companies and leaders is how to keep focused on safety while adding value to all stakeholders, including employees. New technology is allowing business to eliminate and engineer hazards out of systems. The safety function must be able to keep up with this new technology while convincing management to abandon some of the lagging and leading indicators that many have come to depend upon to measure occupational safety.

EHS Today: How will this session help attendees be a better resource for their employees and company?

Paul English: I have since made it my mission to enhance these skills in an attempt to transcend the safety function to think critically, adding value to an organization. In today’s world, we have all of these computer programs and applications giving us data. The question we must ask is, “Do we have people thinking critically to interpret that data to make an informed decision?”

(EHS Today's 2017 Safety Leadership Conference and America’s Safest Companies Award Program will take place Sept. 11-13 in Atlanta, GA at the Hilton Atlanta. This event is designed to share best leadership, risk management, compliance and safety practices with EHS professionals hoping to achieve world-class safety at their companies. The conference features 28 sessions across four performance tracks; Safety & Risk Management, Compliance, Construction Safety and Safety Technology.)

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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