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ASSP President Rixio Medina: A Change in Name, A Change in the Game

June 4, 2018
Rixio Medina, incoming president of the American Society of Safety Professionals, discusses the organization’s branding change, the big topics in safety and how ASSP is addressing them.

Rixio E. Medina, CSP, ASP, CPP, is passionate about safety. A member of ASSP since 1991, his proud Hispanic background combined with domestic and international experience provides a framework for the organization, which is undergoing a name change after a century.

Members of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) approved a change to the organization’s name in August 2017. Outgoing president Jim Smith cites the change—from “engineers” to “professionals”—as an effort to reflect a more diverse membership. “Engineers made up our entire membership when we were formed, but today the occupational safety and health profession encompasses many disciplines,” he explains.

In an interview with EHS Today, Medina—whose career includes more than 30 years in various EHS leadership roles at CITGO Petroleum—addresses the underrepresented populations in the safety profession, how to recruit a younger generation into the industry and the organization’s upcoming initiatives.

EHS Today: Please discuss your background and how you plan to use those experiences to enhance the mission of ASSP.

Rixio Medina: I chose to be a safety professional and went to college at a young age to pursue a formal education in safety. My background was with oil and gas, primarily. I have always been involved with safety and had the opportunity to be a technical person and then lead teams of safety professionals in different facilities.

I had the opportunity to move around the country and internationally. That gave me a noble but also a global perspective about professional safety and health. So, that's what I bring to the table. Being a safety professional, I have a global view of the practice of how safety is while also being involved with ASSP at different levels.

I also have had the honor to serve some government functions because I was appointed to the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. I saw from a very close perspective how the government works in relation to safety. This is a tool that will help me also work with stakeholders in helping advance safety and health across the nation.

Are there any specific initiatives going into the presidency that you're working on?

Medina: We have designed four pillars or strategic aspects which we are working within: member communities, education, standards and advocacy. So, within those four big pillars of areas there are some initiatives. We’ve been very active and my goal is going to be to continue advancing and gain good results in each one of them.

We will place emphasis on work with the center in health, sustainability and our work in professional competency that we do with a number of global organizations. We have made a lot of progress in this last two to three years, and we're going to continue pushing those areas with specific programs that we have in advocacy and speaking for the safety professional where we define what's being called the safety pipeline—bringing more people to the practice of safety.

We’re going to make a big emphasis on bringing more women, more veterans, more Hispanics to the practice of safety. We're targeting other stakeholders to present to young people. People in middle school and high school will learn what safety is all about, what a safety professional is and the opportunity that we have to make a contribution to society—not only having great jobs, but also preventing injury, preventing harm to environments and having very exciting careers.

Can you please tell us more about the branding change?

Medina: We’re very excited about the change. For years, as an ASSE member, I’ve heard about the concern [that the organization was just for engineers]. A lot of people were joining but still had a reservation because of that.

We have embraced this name change because we now reflect the diversity that we have in our organization, the inclusion that we have as professionals and the different fields of expertise that have an impact in safety.

The feedback that we are getting from current members and potential members is that they are very excited about it. They welcome the name change, and we will see an increase of participation in membership just because of the name change.

The opioid epidemic is a big topic across the country. Is there anything the organization is planning in the next year that focuses on it?

Medina: It's a national epidemic and we are working with other stakeholders up to the intersociety forum, organizations, peer organizations and membership organizations to be part of a team.

Instead of having our own new agenda or new initiative, we’re going to join forces with other stakeholders to bring the message to the workforce and add value with specific recommendations, efforts and activities to help alleviate that problem. First, we want to make sure that all practitioners understand what the problem is and what tools and solutions are available at the workplace to help address that concern. But again, instead of doing this by ourselves, we’re going to join a larger force of stakeholders that includes people in the public and private sector to work as a team to advance this message.

Are there any new plans to address distracted driving?

Medina: We have addressed the issue internally through various publications, webinars and information that we have shared for the professional development of our practitioners. At every conference, we have topics addressing distracted driving, and we have done some work in that area, but we need to do a lot more.

We’re going to continue that emphasis and bring the information to the young professionals and practitioners across the country and use all the tools that we have in the toolbox through professional development to public appearances, communication, network and chapters to see what impact we can have at a local level in addition to the things that we learn from a society standpoint. We also have a wonderful opportunity to utilize our members from different chapters to interact with schools and with local organizations to identify the problem and how we can help to address that.

Are there any specific OSHA or industry regulations that ASSP will be focusing on?

Medina: During the spring of last year, we published a position paper about managing risk, extending options and eliminating inefficiency. It contained our own ideas about reforming workplace safety and health, and we had the opportunity to discuss this with OSHA before we published the document. We are supporting the adoption of a risk-based approach.

It’s more than just the prescriptive approach to safety. We definitely encourage a focus on opportunities to address the primary issues in the workplace such as transportation and falls.

We encourage the public sector to concentrate their efforts on addressing those key issues. If we can reduce transportation-related fatalities, then we’ll make a definite impact. From the government perspective, there are several agencies that are dealing with it, but from the occupational standpoint, we really need to refine our approach and ask what else we can do. After all, these are workplace fatalities. So, we need to make a bigger emphasis on transportation-related accidents.

We are encouraging the administration to expand the use of third-party auditing. We also encourage the recognition of employers who are doing the right thing—they are examples of excellence in occupational safety and health.

We are encouraging the use of settlement agreements to advance occupational safety and health—more than just the penalty—to give employers the opportunity to use some monetary penalties to establish management systems and programs that can help them improve their performance. So, instead of the money going just to the general funds of the government, employers can use some of that to reinvest in those facilities under a controlled type of program.

We are encouraging better cooperation between NIOSH and OSHA, and we definitely support the total worker health effort that’s being led by NIOSH.

We had a position with the recordkeeping rule. We believe that a lagging indicator is a non-advanced way, example after example, to demonstrate safety. The best performers in occupational safety and health use other measurements to track and demonstrate advancement of their programs. So, we want the administration to consider using other type of metrics and be cautious about the recordkeeping rule in areas pertaining to privacy.

What will ASSP focus on for the next year in regards to integrating wellness into safety programs?

Medina: For years, we have addressed this because we have a number of safety professionals who also have responsibility over health. A lot of companies have had wellness programs, but we are now embracing the idea of total worker health, not just the accident prevention part of it.

There are practices, facilities, activities and actions that have an impact on employee health and their work condition and that can make them more productive and more effective at work. Things like our lifestyles—everything that we do that contributes to work-life balance. The issues of adequate diet and exercise are factors that affect employee behavior and their physical ability to perform. More of these topics are being shared with the members and attendees and you’ll see more publications and webinars that address the issue.

We are working with stakeholders, particularly with NIOSH and the American Industrial Hygiene Association, to focus on total worker health. You will see this more and more in our venues.

Anything else you’re looking forward to during your term as president?

Medina: We had a workshop on the national safety research agenda. We need to advance our knowledge, and through working with a number of stakeholders, we will have a workshop again this year. We are creating with an agency a special council on academics and research because we definitely want to continue advancing, sponsoring and promoting more research in the area of occupational safety and health—not only from the government, but also including the private sectors.

We’re going to have a Hispanic occupational safety and health workshop and invite different stakeholders and agencies who will sponsor an activity to identify what has worked, and what is and is not working well. What else can we do to reduce the number of fatalities among Hispanic workers?

We’re also concentrating on bringing opportunities to veterans and people who are about to leave the service to catch them up, and use the skillset that these people bring in and offer them the opportunity to learn about safety, become a safety professional and brief them about the practice of safety.  EHS

Safety 2018, the ASSP’s annual professional development conference & exposition, will be held June 3-6, 2018, in San Antonio, Tex.

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