You Have The Safety Role - Now What?
By Tom Fitzgerald | 03/27/2019
For some of us, we are lucky enough to have formal training and education in EHS (Environmental, Health, and Safety) prior to be given the resigns of “Safety Management”. At some point, you had some interest in all the different topics of the job. Maybe the science and technical things attracted you to the field. Probably, you also had some interest in working with people and liked the idea of keeping people safe.
For others of us, you may have had Safety in it. Possibly, you were something like a Manufacturing Supervisor. You knew the work your organization did and the danger that lurked within. You may have wanted to help keep your co-workers safe. You may have actually asked for the Safety job. However, you had some interest in the role. You saw it as a noble profession keeping people safe and you stepped up. Back in the day I knew a few people that saw safety as a route to get into “Personnel” without a degree.
But then there is another case. Forty years ago EHS specialists with like educations were rare. For all too many of us, we were just told we were the “Safety Person!” There was no choice, many organizations routinely just took the newest engineer or the freshest Personnel face and just threw them into the Safety gauntlet. Hopefully, this happens much less often than it did back then, but it probably still does happen. I really feel to just throw people into safety, with little regard to their wishes, shows a great deal how your organization feels about safety!
I know the Safety role feels like an overwhelming responsibility, a heavy burden! I have been two of the people above. I did not have any formal EHS education, but I was a line supervisor when given the primary Safety role in Personnel. However, I came to Personnel to use my degree, hire people, negotiate labor contracts, and make business deals! Keeping people safe had not been on my original list. Safety had been my primary responsibility as a supervisor, which ironically, I am thankful for to this day, but I did not voluntarily want the primary safety role. It was thrust upon me, and that is it exactly what it felt like.
Sometimes, what I have seen when people are just told to do a job, is that they lack one key strength which I feel is required for any good Safety and EHS professional. This is passion! You have to be driven to do a huge job like Safety! It is an awesome responsibility to be handed the Safety reigns and passion helps drive you through the tough times. In my case, the passion came easy. I knew what 3000-degree molten iron and 100-pound iron castings could do to human flesh and bodies, as I saw my people get horribly injured from that stuff. After I made my first call to an injured employee’s spouse that sealed the deal. I never again had to work hard to have Safety Passion for the job!
If you are a new EHS or Safety person and you do not have Safety Passion, get out NOW! Beware, if you have that passion, you have to channel it, as I was to learn the hard way. But without question, you must have it. The decisions you make, or don’t make, determine if someone goes home whole to their families! This is too important a job just to go at it half-hearted! You must be “ALL-IN, or NOT AT ALL!”