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#19: Other kids didn’t grow up around safety. We were doing fire drills in our house once a quarter.

February 13, 2019 | 51 minutes 50 seconds

Podcast series host Jill James catches up with Chevon, a true outlier in the profession. Contrary to the theme of the show, Chevon was seemingly born to the safety occupation. That’s what happens when your mother is a professor of occupational health and safety. On a path to music scholarship, Chevon eventually stopped fighting her native interests, switched majors, and accepted her destiny: a career safety pro.

Transcript

Jill:

This is the Accidental Safety Pro brought to you by Vivid Learning Systems, an HSI Company. Episode Number 19. My name is Jill James, Vivid's chief safety officer and today I'm joined by Chevon who is a safety professional from Wisconsin, currently working in the safety and training education industry. Chevon, welcome to the podcast.

Chevon:

Thank you so much for having me, Jill.

Jill:

It's so great to be with a fellow Midwesterner again and we'll see what people think about our accents. I have a feeling that mine is like already worse than yours. You must not have grown up in the Midwest or did you?

Chevon:

No, I did. I'm born and raised in Wisconsin, so I've been here the majority of my life.

Jill:

Dang! Somehow you got around it.

Chevon:

I know. I guess I locked out. If I go to other parts of the country, they don't say. They can still hear it.

Jill:

Do you get ask often if you're from Canada?

Chevon:

Sometimes. I feel like the further South I go in the country, then the more I hear people saying that I sound like I'm from Canada and I say, "No but close."

Jill:

Yeah, right. I say the same thing, but maybe we should just start saying yes because it sounds like more exotic -

Chevon:

Right.

Jill:

You get from another country, Canada. Anyway, so Chevon, I'm interested to hear your story today and how you accidentally got into the safety and health industry. How many years have you been in the safety and health?

Chevon:

Yeah, I was actually thinking about that. I guess close to 13 years now.

Jill:

Wow! Great! How did you find your way into it?

Chevon:

Well, it's funny because you say how did you accidentally get into it and I don't know if I did it accidentally.

Jill:

Oh, you might be the one, well Episode Number 19, the one person who knew since she was a little girl.

Chevon:

I don't know. Well, I don't know if I knew it. Here's kind of the thing is my mom actually teaches at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater in the Occupational and Environmental Safety and Health Department.

Jill:

Whoa!

Chevon:

Yeah.

Jill:

Interesting.

Chevon:

She's been teaching there since 1983, so since I was two, I guess I'll date myself, and yeah, I grew up around it. Other kids didn't grow up around safety. I grew up doing fire drills in our house once a quarter. When we would get new just household chemicals in the house, she would spend time reading the labels and showing us the labels and showing us what was wrong with it and why she didn't want us to use certain things. When we moved into our new house and it had a second story, so that was when I was around nine or 10, she got us all ladders that we could use to get out of our window in case of a fire.

I mean these were all normal things and I remember when they were building the house and she would say, "You know what would really be cool if we put a sprinkler system in the house," and I'm thinking, "Why would we need a sprinkler system in our house?" and I remember her having conversations with my dad about her concerns with having carpeting everywhere and having an attached garage and all of these things and it was just normal for me to hear all of that.

Jill:

Wow! You grew up with like a super safety mom.

Chevon:

Yeah.

Jill:

Somehow I'm feeling like I might be slightly inadequate as a safety mom. I haven't done the chemical training with my son. We've talked about like meeting locations and emergencies outside the house. Wow! That's fantastic.

Chevon:

She would talk about all the stuff and she'd come home from class and talk about different things. She talks about everything, but the classes that she taught the most back then it was called industrial accident prevention and then she also taught fire protection and prevention and that was actually the class she liked the most. Everything that there is to talk about with that, we would hear commonly just day by day. It was me and my … I have an older sister, she's seven years older than me. I don't know why this didn't get embedded in her. She went in a totally different trajectory with her career.

Jill:

Is she like a professional skydiver or something?

Chevon:

Actually, it's funny. She went to school. Her major was in theater and her minor was in art and she works for a bank collecting basically in their Debt Collections Department and she helps to collect on people who aren't paying their mortgages, so she does something completely different from what she went to school for, but with me, I grew up with all of these. I was coming up on my senior year of high school and it was one of those situations where I was ahead with all of my credits and I was ahead with all of the classes that I needed to take, so I was meeting with my guidance counselor and he suggested that I look into taking a course at college.

I went home. I'm talking to my parents about it and my mom said, "Well, you're going to have to take intro to safety when you go to college. Anyway if you decided that you're going to go to UW Whitewater," which I knew that's what I wanted to do, she said, "Why don't you take that? You know Craig. He was the one who was teaching the class," and I had known him since I was little because my mom had been working there since I was little. I said, "Okay, that sounds like fun." I went and I took the class and learned a lot of things and I really liked it. I really enjoyed it a lot actually and did a really good job in it.

Then I got done with my senior of high school and graduated and started getting this, I don't know, almost a panic over me because I knew that I really safety, but something in my was saying, "You can't be exactly like your mom. You got to go and do something else. Like you got to be your …"

Jill:

That struggle.

Chevon:

"You got to go be your own person and be your own person," so when I went to start school, the other passion that I had was in music, which my parents weren't surprised because my sister being the art major and theater major, they said, "Well, sure. Of course, you like music." I decided I was going to be a music major and it was going to be great and maybe I was going to play in an orchestra someday. I was really good at piano and clarinet and so that was my thought and I started going to the program and stayed in it for maybe a year and a year and a half and really started thinking about it.

I said, "The only way I'm really going to make any good money," this is the feedback I'm getting from professors is, "The only way I'm really going to make any good money is if I go all the way to getting my doctorate and then I teach at a university." I said, "I don't want to do that."

Jill:

"I'm like my mom anyway then at the university, right?"

Chevon:

Yeah, so I said, "That's not going to work." Then I realized, "Okay, well, instead of continuing the stumble through college, maybe let's pump the brakes and take some time to figure out what we really want to do." I took a semester off, and while I was going to college, I was also working part-time at a collections agency because my sister was working there and she said, "Well, you need money. I'll get you a job," and I said, "All right, I guess I'll be a debt collector," which is really interesting and it actually helped with my sales skills and made me realized that if you can sell a negative product, like getting people to pay their debt, you can probably sell anything.

It was a good experience, but I started working there full time when I decided to take a semester off of college and I remember one day just sitting there and thinking this can't be what I do for the rest of my life and I had a manager at the time who said, "Well, you know? I went to college and then I decided to quit and I started doing this full time and look at me now." I mean she was good as a manager, but there were so many other things that I would hear her talk about day in and day out of things that she was unhappy about. I said, "Well, if that's how it's going to be, then I need to go back to school. I don't want to be like that."

Then I was sitting here and I'm like, "What do I want to do? What do I want to do?" I was talking with my dad and he said, "I don't know why you're fighting it." I said, "Fight what?" and he said, "The only thing you've ever been interested in is safety." He said, "Your mom would come home and talk about things. Your sister was never interested in it, but you always were." He said, "Why are you fighting it?" I said, "I don't want to be like my mom."

Jill:

It sounds like your mom was a great role model and still is.

Chevon:

She's an amazing role model. I don't know what my problem was. I said, "Well, I'll just take a couple of classes and see how it goes." I went back part time and I got to my chemistry classes and physics classes, but I was talking a class here and there in safety as well and then I said, "What am I doing?" I went back full time, dove right into to safety and it was the best decision I ever made. I think the only regret I have now is that I didn't realize it sooner.

Jill:

But I bet you built some pretty interesting skills like you said when you were doing the debt collection work it helped you with sales skills which we all need in safety, but I bet it also sharpened some empathy skills too. I mean you were hearing a lot of stories every day from people about their life circumstances.

Chevon:

And I'll tell you something, I think I had too much empathy -

Jill:

So this was not the … Yeah, okay.

Chevon:

It was not the job for me. There are people who were hitting these crazy goals of how much money they were bringing in every month and I was the person who, "Yeah, I totally get where you're coming from. Go ahead and pay $5 a month for the next 20 years. I'm totally fine with that." My managers weren't the happiest with that, but you're right, I mean I would hear all these different stories and I found myself having compassion for a lot of the people that we were talking to.

Jill:

And rightfully so very often, right?

Chevon:

Yeah.

Jill:

Yeah, I'm curious, backing up when you said everyone has to take intro to safety at Whitewater. Is that a requirement of your college or is that your mom saying like, "You have to take intro to safety"?

Chevon:

Here's the thing is I think it was her more saying that I had to do that. Now, I know that since then they've updated the program and I think now it's called personal and public safety.

Jill:

Oh, what a great idea!

Chevon:

I think it now is a requirement for students to take, but back then, she just told me it was a requirement and it really wasn't and she knew before I did that this was the field that I needed to be in and she was just trying to get me in the right direction. When that day came and I told her, "Okay, I'm going to become a safety and health major," words can't describe the glow that immediately started beaming off of her and it has been a fun ride ever since.

Jill:

That's so great!

Chevon:

But I had to have her as a teacher twice and that was a little interesting.

Jill:

What's that like?

Chevon:

Well, the first time I had her, I sat back in the back corner of the room. I was trying not to … Because the other thing is if you saw me and then you saw my mom, you know that I am my mother's daughter. It's almost like I was cloned from her. I was sitting in the back corner and I'm not trying not to have anyone make that connection and it was the first semester that when she would do roll call because she was all about roll call that used the first names instead of the last names. We were trying really hard to hide that connection and I think we made it about two-thirds of the way through class.

Then there was one day she had to step out for some reason and students finally started turning to me and said, "Okay, you must be her niece or something," and I remember replying with, "Or something." One of the other students said, "Are you her daughter?" I said, "Maybe."

Jill:

That so awesome! So history!

Chevon:

By the time I had her for the second class, everyone knew obviously and it was kind of a running joke where people would say, "So did you help you with assignments?" That was the other thing. When she was my teacher, I didn't talk to her. Like I wouldn't talk to her in class. I rarely talk to her outside of class and it was both ways. She was doing it too because I didn't want people thinking that … I wanted to earn those grades on my own and so I probably got less help from her than other students did because we didn't want anyone to think that or to assume that.

Jill:

You didn't want to play the nepotism card?

Chevon:

No, not at all, not all. We survived through it and it worked out great.

Jill:

Yeah, that's so cool! I'm wondering when you're a little kid with super safety mom and you're doing your fire drills and you're doing training on chemicals and having your escape ladders, which I did as well with my son in our house too, I'm wondering for anyone who's raising kids, who have children in their life, who are also safety professionals growing up like you did, do you think it made you hypervigilant or just vigilant? You know how people say, "Well, if you give them too much information, it's just going to scare them. You're scaring people they can't live." I personally don't agree with that, but I'm wondering, what was that like for you? What do you remember as a kid and how did that turn into your older life?

Chevon:

I remember it being normal. Nothing about it seemed weird or abnormal or something that it isn't supposed to be happening in the family. I mean the way that she presented the information and the way she covered it with us, to me it all made sense which maybe because this was kind of embedded in me anyway.

Jill:

Yeah, right.

Chevon:

But I don't remember it being something out of the ordinary. It just seemed like it was a natural part of growing up. Now, I know that when I would talk to other friends about it as I would get older and I'd notice things and start pointing things out, they would look at me like I was weird, but then I would just look at them like, "Well, what do you mean it's weird? Why wouldn't you want to know kind of safety you need to do to protect yourself? Why wouldn't you want to know that you shouldn't plug in a lot of things into your power strip or that chemicals are kept in this area for certain reason or that there should be a meeting place if there's a fire? Why wouldn't you want to know these things?"

When friends would react that way, I guess I wouldn't have the equal but opposite reaction back to them.

Jill:

What was it like when you had your first like sleepovers or you're going to other people's houses? I know what I did as a mom, so I'm curious to know what super mom did.

Chevon:

Super mom really tried her best not to impose that on my friends and she would try as hard as she could, but she wouldn't talk about certain things. She would say, "If there ends up being a tornado, we're going to hide underneath the …" at that time, she said, "We're going to hide underneath the stairwell in the basement," and I remember getting older and her saying, "No, that's not a good idea. What we need to do is we need to figure out what direction the tornado is coming in so we can sit in the opposite …" I mean she would talk about things like that and she would talk about where we're going to meet if there was a fire, but outside of that, she really wouldn't try to push too much on them because I think she knew that not a lot of families did what she did.

She didn't want to be that weird mom that now kids don't want to spend the night at your house because she's freaking them out. Then, I would try really hard not to bring those things up when I would go to friends' houses because I guess I kind of learned from my mom that not everyone has that safety sense and you don't want to be that kid that no one wants to invite over anymore. I would try hard not to do it, but sometimes, especially if something she talked about seemed really cool, I don't know, I'll bring it up.

Jill:

Yeah, of course absolutely.

Chevon:

I liked it.

Jill:

When my son was little, I remember the first time he asked me and I don't remember what the context was. He just said, "Mom, what's our safety plan for that?" I'm like, "Oh, okay," but I also remember like calling his friends' parents' houses when he would go and spend time asking about firearms and where they're locked up and those kinds of questions. I thought, well, I have a right to ask that as a parent and they were legitimate I think questions to ask and his little friends, they're not little anymore, they're all teenagers and when we go about and do things with them, they were like, "All right, Jill. When is it coming? What's the safety plan?"

This past Halloween, we always organize for them a scavenger hunt with an app called … It's a really cool app. I'll think of it and share it with people because you can do your own scavenger hunt through an app and go around in the community and take photos of what you're supposed to be finding, instead of point on a map like, "I got to this place," or saw this or whatever. Goose Chase, that's the name of the app, and so this year, the kids are like, "Okay, we're going to do the scavenger hunt again, right?" I'm like, "Yup, but you all have driver's licenses, so you do you still want the teams of parents driving you around to these places or you're going to do it on your own?" They're like, "We're going to drive."

We're like, "Okay, new safety plan." You got drivers like, "The person who's driving the car is not engaged in the game. You're simply the driver. Do you still want to play?" "Yes." Three cars of teenage boys driving around the community playing their Goose Chase app.

Chevon:

Oh, my goodness.

Jill:

I know. Anyway, safety mom at play there. Chevon, you graduated with a bachelor's degree in safety?

Chevon:

Yes, so I graduated back in 2006. Before I graduated I did my internship at an insurance agency. I got to learn a lot in regards to risk management and I call him my mentor, his name was Jack. One of the best lessons that I felt I could have gotten from Jack was just understanding that my list is never going to end. I'm always going to have a list at the end of the day, and if I can just come to terms with that, then I should be okay. He's right because I'll have a lot of times where I feel my list isn't really miles long and I can't tell if I've put a dent into it.

Jill:

Right. That is so true that it was a perfect and great advice from Jack. Our work is never done and you have to be okay with that because it's going to make you crazy if you're not.

Chevon:

It is and there is sometimes where it starts to make me feel crazy, but then I think about that and I say, "Okay. No, this is good. This is good." Obviously, he taught me a lot of other things. He was teaching me about lost control and risk assessments and things like that. It was a great internship and it definitely guided me into my future career path, so I loved working with him and I would tell other people all the time, "If you have any way to either connect with him or work with him, it's great because he had a lot of wisdom to share."

Jill:

The insurance industry allows you to see a lot of different types of workplaces too, right?

Chevon:

Yes. I only saw a few of them during my internship, but I saw a lot more once I graduated from college.

Jill:

What happened next after the internship? What was the first job?

Chevon:

Yeah, I actually did a training program with a large property and casualty insurance carrier down in Chicago and I wished I could have stayed with that company, but it was one of those things where you did the training program and it was for lost control and so you finished the training program. Actually, let me back up, when you start the training program, they ask what areas do you want to work in or what regions of the country do you want to work in once you're done. I told them I said, "I'd really like to stay either in Illinois or in Wisconsin," because I really did like staying close to home. A lot of our families are in those areas and that's just where I wanted to be. I like this area.

When I got done with the training program, they had no openings for me and there was another employee who was in the program and they didn't have any openings in the area. It was kind of, "What are we going to do know?" I was fortunate that when I first started the training program, the person who they basically assigned to me to be my mentor, he left a few months after I started and went to a different insurance carrier, and when he heard that this was happening to me, he told his boss about it and they reached out and said, "Let's have lunch."

We had lunch and they liked what I had learned and he liked the time that he spent working with me and he was advocating, "She's really sharp and work comp will be her baby, but she can handle all the lines of insurance. She'll do great." They hired me on, so I kind of locked out because the first carrier really didn't know what to do with me. I was kind of nervous. I said, "Well, does this mean I don't have a job or what's getting ready to happen?"

Jill:

Wow! You had great mentors.

Chevon:

I had. It was great and it was a nice transition and the carrier that I went to really got me exposure to seeing a lot of different industry. I wasn't just going to machine shops. Now, I was getting to check out heat treat plants and foundries and different types of food manufacturing. In Illinois, they have the state insurance pool for people who can't get work comp insurance through a regular carrier, so I was doing a lot of investigations in there, just work comp related for the state pool, so then I was getting to see a lot of small contractors and those smaller businesses that maybe only have a few employees, so I got exposure from that sense.

Then I went to my first slaughter house while I worked there which was a lot of fun and I went to my first rendering plant which was very interesting. When they say, "Make sure you bring a change of clothes," I definitely understood it after I visited that rendering plant that, "Yeah, I don't want any of these touching anything in my car."

Jill:

The smell infuses everything. I remember the first rendering plant that I went to, I thought, "Oh, my gosh! The leather in my belt smells." Like you couldn't get it out.

Chevon:

Yeah and I was kind of embarrassed because I got sick. I wasn't there for not even 10 minutes and the gentleman who was taking me through the facility could see the color draining from my face. He just pointed at a bucket and I said, "Oh," and so I went over and I did end up getting sick and I walked back over and he said, "It happens to everyone the first time." He said, "We prepare you as much as we can." He said, "Get stuff to put under your nose, like Vicks Vaporub or something, so that you weren't smelling that." I mean he was telling me everything to do but he said, "Everyone goes through it." He said, "That's why we have the buckets."

Jill:

Yeah. I was going to say as you're telling this story, I'm like, "Don't feel bad."

Chevon:

I know.

Jill:

It's the closest I ever got to vomiting on the job. It was in a meat packing plant, not a meat packing plant, a rendering plant and I don't know where you were in the plant, but where it happened to me, I didn't end up vomiting, but I was close as I have ever been on at work, in the load-out bay. If you can imagine where all the trucks come in, all the big semi-trailers with all the various carcasses and it was July when I was in one in Minnesota and it was very hot. All of these trucks kind of backed down into this a bit of a pit and there's a roof over it to protect from the various weather events in Minnesota and so it was like tight and humid and hot.

I was walking between all of the trailers because I was checking on like the chocking of the trailers and looking for hazards, doing my job with OSHA and like very overcome with that smell of death and I thought, "Oh, my gosh! I got to get myself out of here because I'm not going to make."

Chevon:

You can't see me but I'm over here nodding my head because that was pretty much the exact same thing that happened to me.

Jill:

Really?

Chevon:

Yeah, it was where everything was coming in into their big pit and he was kind of showing me the whole process and it didn't work out well, but then once I relieved myself, then I was fine for the rest of the tour, so that was good.

Jill:

Oh, man! These safety jobs, they have us doing the craziest things.

Chevon:

I know and I kind of felt like I was being initiated, I was being sent to some of the … Some of the neighborhoods too that I was being sent to were a little sketchy at times and that would make me nervous as well, but at the same time, I think I also had a little bit of naive going on, so maybe it wasn't always not realizing just how sketchy it was until after the fact. I felt like that was my getting an initiated into the group or something like that. I don't know.

Jill:

All life lessons that built one on another and another that have taken you to the next place. What did you like best about the insurance industry?

Chevon:

I'd say honestly I think what I like the best was being able to go out and see all of the different types of businesses that they insure and being able to see the different exposures that employees have depending on the operation I was going to. Being able to experience so many different industries and operations and learning what they do. I was really thankful they had a subscription to I believe it was called AM Best and so I could go in there and I could pull up either their SIC code or the NAICS code and be able to pull up basically a write up of what I was going to go see and the different exposures that I would see depending on the different lines of insurance. For me, it was just a big learning experience and getting that exposure to all the different types of jobs that are out there.

Jill:

I think at least for me I'm wondering if this has been for you as well, as a consumer of things, having been in so many different types of industry settings where things are made or processed, I feel like it looked at my consumables just like in my house or in my grocery store and think, "Oh, that was made by a punch press," or, "That was in a plating industry," or, "The number of hands that had to touch that piece of meat that I'm now holding in my hand have been probably this many." Do you think about consumer things as well, having just seen all this stuff?

Chevon:

I do and I feel that I have a lot more respect for the things that I use day in and day out in my life now or in my kids' lives or things like that because just knowing all of the time and energy that was put into making one diaper or making a plate of food or things like that, it really changes your perspective on things.

Jill:

Yeah, it really does. "This was a plastic injected molded toy that my kids got."

Chevon:

I know.

Jill:

Right.

Chevon:

Also talking about it, my husband's like, "Really, you're going there again?"

Jill:

"We're okay, Chevon."

Chevon:

I tell that myself all the time.

Jill:

What was the next step on your journey?

Chevon:

I started that job with the second carrier in Illinois and they ended up moving me up to Milwaukee where I spent the rest of my time there probably a year and a half because they were starting to do layoffs down in the Chicago area and they were trying to get me to avoid it. Then I went up to Milwaukee and worked there for a while and then I started getting an itch because I'd go out and I would make these recommendations and then have no idea if they were helping because you wouldn't see them again for three years and it was kind of getting a little frustrating. I wanted to know if I was actually making a difference.

I changed gears and became a safety specialist with a beverage manufacturer in the Milwaukee area for about six months and it was a great learning experience. Unfortunately, so you have great bosses and you have bosses that aren't always so great and that was an experience where the boss that I had we didn't see eye to eye on a lot of things and so I made the decision that I needed to leave.

Jill:

Congratulations! I mean after six months, that was good.

Chevon:

I decided I needed to leave, but at the same time, I could tell that she was feeling the same way. One way or another, I think that was going to happen and I wanted to do it on my own terms, so I did that. The unfortunate thing was there was no plan B. I didn't really think it's the right, just knew I got to get out of this environment. It was toxic pretty quick. I left and that was in 2010 and it was still hard to find positions at that time. I ended up being out of work and I would pick up little consulting jobs on the side here and there, but that was about a year of, "What am I going to do? What am I going to do?"

Then I got lucky because then a position opened up with another food manufacturer and I threw my resume out there and met with that manager and she had looked at the place I was at prior and she said, "I've heard things." That's another thing I'm realizing is that even though this is a large community, safety and health professionals, it's a large community, but it's a small community and so she said, "I've heard about your boss." She said, "I'm not even going to hold that against you." She took a chance with me and she hired me on and it was a great experience. It was a pet food manufacturer and there was just under 300 employees on three shifts. It was a union environment -

Jill:

First time for that.

Chevon:

So I got to have experience with that and it was really cool. I started out as a safety coordinator and she ended up leaving and so I was an interim safety manager. I really wanted the safety manager position, but with this company, they had a thing where the only you can move up was if you move to a different plant.

Jill:

Oh, interesting.

Chevon:

If I wanted to stay there, my glass ceiling was safety coordinator. I couldn't get to safety manager without moving and I didn't want to do that. I did the interim thing and then they hired a new manager and so I'll say the good thing about working there was getting to engage with the employees every day and it's true what they say you're going to get a lot further in the program if you just take that time to actually get to know them, not have it just be all about work and really invest your time and build those relationships and I think that's the part of the job I love the most. It just made it easier when we implemented new programs. We implemented a behavior-based safety program and it was easier to get their buy in because I had spent that time.

Jill:

Your trust.

Chevon:

Yeah, we started doing job safety analysis and so getting their buy-in on, "I know this is going to take time, but I promise you that management is going to support it," because at that time, we did have that support. We had a plant manager that was all about safety. My safety manager was all about building those relationships as well. She was out on the floor just as much as I was and so we really had all of that engagement and support and everything was going well and out incident rates were really low and we're going in the right direction and everything was going really well.

Then my manager left and we eventually got a new safety manager and his style was different. He felt that he should just be behind the desk and so that was a little bit of a struggle. Then we got a new plant manager and his focus was on production and, "We'll get to safety when we can get to safety." Talk about seeing progress just disappear in a matter of it almost felt like minutes. I know it wasn't minutes, but it takes so much time to build it up and then to see how quickly it can be torn down. It broke my heart.

Jill:

It is traumatic and it does break your heart. I've been on the receiving end on that as well.

Chevon:

You're trying your best.

Jill:

Seeing it, like you see it kind of disappeared before your very eyes.

Chevon:

Yeah, I'm still trying to say, "But I'm still here for you. I'm still trying to do my best," but they saw what upper management was doing and then it became a thing of, "Why should we care if they don't care?" That was a harsh reality check I guess.

Jill:

How wonderful that you had such great mentors early in your career to kind of help set the compass if you will so that when you saw these things happening later, I mean did it help you like with the confidence to say, "This isn't right and it's time to move on"?

Chevon:

It did. I think it helped a lot because once I've realized that was the direction that that culture was going in and I said, "Well, if I don't have the support, there's no way I'm going to get it back where it needs to go." I didn't want to give up on them. I mean I was kind of in that position where I would entertain the idea of something if it came across my lap, but I didn't really want to look because I felt like I was going to let them down and I didn't want to do that, but it turned out that a recruiter from a staffing company had seen my profile at LinkedIn and reached out and said, "Would you be interested in talking to us?" At that time, it was really just for a safety admin role. Their idea was that I do part safety admin functions and part work comp functions.

I said, "Well, I'll come in and talk about it," but it didn't feel like that was going to be a step up in my career, but it never hurts and I was thinking if anything I'll make some connections and so I'm fine with that. I met with who I ended up being my future boss and we started having the conversation. I started talking about my career thus far and I don't know, we clicked. She realized, this was back in 2013, so this was when OSHA came out with their Temporary Worker Initiative and she knew that if she was going to succeed in building a good program, she was going to need some people with my skills who could be out there working with different staffing offices and working with the temps out in the field and working with the customers that they actually provide temporary employees too.

She ended up making an argument to the owners of the company stating, "I need a safety team. I don't need just me and an admin. I need a team and I want to hire Chevon and oh, by the way, I want to hire two more people just like her." She was lucky enough that she had the owners of the company said, "Okay, if this is what you believe and you think that this is going to things around for us, then go for it." One day, I got a call from her and she said, "I know you interviewed for this admin job, but I want something more and this is what I want and what do you think?" I said, "That sounds amazing."

Jill:

Wow! That is so great!

Chevon:

I felt like I got lucky again and I was able to switch and it was a great job. I was there for five years and I think what I like the most was we built a lot of things from scratch. They didn't really have a safety program for their internal employees, so we had to work on that and they didn't really have a safety program for their temporary employees, so we got to develop the different programs and the training. They didn't really have a process in place to assess the environments or assess the companies that they'd be sending temporary employees too. We got to build that whole process from scratch and it was such a fun learning experience. Then I also had a team of other people just like me that I could work with, so I wasn't all alone trying to do something.

I did have my manager, so I have to take that back. I did have my manager at the pet food manufacturer so that was nice, but now it was four of us and then we eventually got a fifth person to work on our team and that was amazing and we were all female. I just feel the need to throw that in. It was a team of five of us that were all females. Then we're doing all these great things. Then after a couple of years, when it got to the point where they wanted to see how the results with their work comp, we had done such a great job with work comp management and then all of these proactive things that we were doing to help decrease the amount of injuries and decrease the severity of the injuries we were seeing, we ended up saving that company, I think they said it was somewhere around $3 or $4 million.

It was the first year that they actually got money back from what they had paid on their policy. For me, I think that was one of the biggest accomplishments was knowing that all of the hard work that we did and all of the hard work out in the field and training the branches and getting them to understand things that they should look for when they see the customers in terms of hazards and discussions they can have on ways that we could help them or other resources they could use to develop controls that could help with those hazards. To know that that all actually translated to something tangible that we could see, we helped them save $3 million, it was really awesome!

Jill:

Congratulations! Everything you did up to that point was really setting you up for success in a staffing agency. Your eyes had seen so many work environment when you're doing these risk assessments for these places the temporary workers are going into, you could build on all of the history that you had to be able to make it meaningful.

Chevon:

I never would have thought. One of the things when I interviewed with my manager at the staffing company, I said, "How does safety fit in with this?" I had done some contractor safety at the pet food manufacturer, but I never really dealt with temporary employees, so this was all new to me, and then as we started formulating what our program looked like and started realizing we need to go out and see these industries, all of a sudden, I said, "Oh, wait! I did this before and I've seen a lot of these places before." Seeing that tie that I never thought would happen was really cool.

Jill:

I feel like the work that the five of you did is likely on the leading edge for staffing agencies.

Chevon:

I feel I have to agree with that because other staffing companies that our customers would be working with, we would often get feedback, "Well, my other staffing companies don't do that. We didn't even see anyone come out and take a look at the work environment or ask us for job descriptions or offer us safety services or safety training." They don't train their temporary employees on safety before they get out here. We were hearing all of those gaps, so it was good knowing that. We used those recommendations if you will from the temporary worker initiative to help build our program. We wanted to make sure all of those gaps were being addressed.

Jill:

For people who are listening to this, statistically, what you did is very different. It is on the leading edge, and if people want to listen to the other side of the story, Episode Number 13 of The Accidental Safety Pro with a filmmaker named Dave DeSario, shines a light on really the crisis in the country of temporary workers and the lack of safety that they have, so Chevon, you really are on the cutting edge of this. If people are listening and want to compare and contrast two sides of the story knowing that you did it and with great success I think is just something to be celebrated, so well done.

Chevon:

I know that there is a lot of people out there who look at staffing agencies and think they don't really care about temporary employees and they're not concerned with their safety and things like that, I get it because I know there are a lot of agencies out there that are like that, but there are some that are trying to make a change and I think that companies who are looking for temporary employees, they need to be just as proactive as we were trying to be proactive. Take the time to get to learn about the agencies that you're going to be working with and what practices and policies do they have in place to protect the workers and are they on the same page as you in terms of temporary employee safety.

Those are great questions to ask and to find out, so that you can work with those agencies who really do care about their employees.

Jill:

Yeah, Chevon, next step, so you're in grad school now, right?

Chevon:

I am. I stayed with the staffing company for five years and then came into this training and education role a year ago now, just a little over a year ago and I love it. I love all aspects of it. I love everything that I am teaching, but I know that I have more that I could learn and so I came to the conclusion that I think that getting a master's in environmental safety and health is going to help me to expand my knowledge and to be able to provide more information to the students that I teach. I started the master's program in environmental health and safety with UW Whitewater last fall, so I'm in my second semester right now.

Jill:

Congratulations!

Chevon:

Thank you.

Jill:

That's awesome!

Chevon:

Yeah.

Jill:

That's awesome! I'm interested for you to share, drum roll, a research project that you're thinking about doing or have committed to doing.

Chevon:

Yes, I know I definitely want to propose it and I've been told that my proposal should be accepted, but I just love so much the work that I did with the staffing company and so much that I learned in regards to temporary employee safety and I want to continue on that. My research project is going to be around temporary employees and temporary safety and the first angle that I want to look at is with the employers, so just kind of taking a look at when we're looking at the temporary worker initiative, how much of this are you following? How much above and beyond are you doing? What's engagement like with temporary employees? Things around that nature.

That's continued to be a passion of mine, so I want to do more research into it and see what I can come up with and there isn't a lot of research that's been done yet, so the initiative came up in 2013, but how successful has it been? I don't know. I guess that's what I want to find out.

Jill:

Exactly. Well, on behalf of a grateful industry, thank you for doing that.

Chevon:

Absolutely.

Jill:

People are going to want to read this research. This is wonderful!

Chevon:

I'm pretty excited about it. I'm not going to lie.

Jill:

Yeah. Chevon, it didn't turn out so bad following in your mom's footsteps, has it?

Chevon:

No, it hasn't at all. It's funny. Her and I, actually we're just talking the other day and she says, "You know what's even funny? The way your career happened," because she did a little bit of a stint with OSHA, but then she went and worked for an insurance agency before she became a professor at the university, so she's like, "You even did some of the jobs that I did and I didn't even tell you about it."

Jill:

That's cool. Chevon, what's your mom's first name?

Chevon:

Deborah.

Jill:

So, Deborah, thank you for bringing us Chevon. What a gift to the industry! Thank you.

Chevon:

I know and she has done amazing things too. I always say, "You know, mom. You have a pretty cool career yourself." She's like, "I'm just the one teaching our future." I said, "Mom, that's a pretty important thing."

Jill:

It is a pretty important think. It sounds like maybe your mom needs to be on the Accidental Safety Pro.

Chevon:

Actually, I think that would be really neat because I love hearing her story, so I'll listen.

Jill:

You work on that and like -

Chevon:

I will.

Jill:

Let's get Deborah on the podcast. We can have a mother-daughter team. That would be so cool!

Chevon:

Absolutely, I will work on that. I think that would be really cool!

Jill:

Thank you.

Chevon:

Yeah.

Jill:

Chevon, advice for anyone in the profession or even maybe grad school in general as we close out our time together today?

Chevon:

I guess a couple of things. You bring up the grad school. If there's one thing I would have done differently I probably would have went back to grad school a good five years earlier than I am. If you think that's something you're going to want to do, jump on that bandwagon sooner than later if you can, but my other thing is don't be afraid to try new opportunities. I started out in the insurance industry and then I went into beverage manufacturing and then pet food manufacturing and then staffing, and now I'm doing training in education. The different industries, they bring you a different perspective on the safety and health profession and it really helps to expand your skills. I feel I've talked about a lot of different jobs. It probably sounds like I job-hopped a little bit.

Jill:

Sounds a lot like my resume.

Chevon:

Yeah, I think that it was worth it and it has kind of made me well rounded and I think that it allows me different experiences that I can draw from when I'm teaching the students that I teach now. Don't be afraid of those new opportunities and if it's in an industry different from what you're used to, that's okay. It's just going to broaden your experience and broaden your knowledge and make you a more well-rounded safety and health professional.

Jill:

Perfect! Thank you, Chevon. Thank you so much for being on the podcast.

Chevon:

Thank you so much for having me.

Jill:

Thank you all so much for joining in and listening today and thank you for the work that you all do to make sure your workers including your temporary workers make it home safe every day. You can listen to all of our episodes at vividlearningsystems.com or subscribe in the podcast player of your choosing. If you have a suggestion for a guest including if it's you, please contact me at social@vividlearningsystems.com. Until next time, thanks for listening.