Lessons from a Life in Safety: #9

Lessons from a Life in Safety: #9

Jill James

Jill James

Chief Safety Officer

Jill James brings an unrivaled perspective on risk, regulation and liability. With 14 years of experience as a Senior OSHA Safety Investigator with the State of Minnesota, and nearly a decade in the private sector as a safety program manager, Jill is a passionate advocate for training ROI.

Watch the

Be brave. Be Consistent. Be You.

The safety field has been dominated by ex-military, white males, dating back to the 1970’s and 80’s.

In fact, my first 3 mentors where men who had served the Navy, Army, and Air Force.

Many of those early pioneers are retired or starting to retire now. My three mentors have passed away. Our field is opening to a whole new generation of people and there aren’t many qualified safety pros to backfill all those jobs. Many more of you are tasked with dual or triple responsibilities, safety among them. 

So what does that mean for today’s safety professional? I believe it means three things: 

  1. Honor the work that was done before us, learn from those who paved the trail, and keep the parts of their work that work for you.
  2. Remember that when you hear, “But that’s the way we’ve always done it”, it does not have to define how you do your work.
  3. Be brave, put your own spin on this practice, and bring it into the 21st Century, your own way. 

One of the things I’ve honored and kept from one of my early mentors came from Dale, former Navy.

Dale taught me to rely on a checklist.

Dale and I both worked at OSHA and we had this checklist we were suppose to follow as investigators. It served to remind the investigators of all the legal stuff we had to share with employers and all the documents we were to examine or obtain. Dale told me to use that checklist without failure, every single time even long after I had it memorized. Dale said there would come times when something was hitting the fan, where someone was in my face trying to rattle me, or when it was a really complicated case like the explosion fatality I worked as an OSHA investigator.

Dale said, “Lean on that checklist, it’ll keep you focused and able to do the work.”

He was so right, and I did exactly as he said, and leaning on that checklist saved my butt countless times. When I moved into private sector, I decided I needed a new tool to lean on and keep me focused when things got overwhelming, or crazy, or there were too many fires and I couldn’t keep my head straight. That’s when I came up with the concept of the 4-Pillars of Safety to help me focus my efforts, and so that I knew I was making progress on the minimum requirements of safety.

The second idea to lean into was the concept of triaging tasks. 

I invite you to come up with your own method—something to lean into when you need it.  

Now, while we’re here talking about being brave, consistent, and being ourselves in this profession, I’d like to speak directly with the women working in safety today. 

First, thank you for choosing this profession. There are many more of us now than when I started, though we are still a minority in this field. Every time I go to a conference, regardless of where it in the country, the standing joke among women is that safety conferences are the only place where the line to the men’s restroom is longer because there are still so few of us! 

This isn’t always an easy profession for us and it hasn’t been easy for me at times…

  • I’ve overheard conversation about whether or not a boss had gotten me to sit on their lap.
  • I’ve been told, “I didn’t think I could learn anything from a woman”.
  • I’ve been the expected note-taker in many meetings.
  • Been the assumed spouse of my male co-workers at professional conferences.
  • I’ve even been unknowingly led to a secret bedroom tucked away on the second floor of a metal fabrication plant with an expectation once inside.

Hopefully, your experience continues to be better and more professional. 

We woman are half the human experience and here is what I want you to know:

  • You are smart and qualified for this work.
  • You are good exactly how you are.
  • Always trust your gut and take direction from it first! It’s likely something your mother taught you and it applies at work too.
  • Create a checklist or some kind of tool for yourself to lean into like my dear friend and mentor Dale taught me, for when things start to go sideways, it will focus you.
  • Stand on the shoulders of the women who came before you, we’re here to help support one another. 

For everyone listening—be brave in this field.

You get to create your path, so be consistent with your work as you will be trusted for it.

Above all, be you and true to yourself. 

If you missed the first post in the series, you can find it here Lessons from a Life in Safety: #10

Read the next post in this series, Lessons from a Life in Safety: #8

Watch the