‹ All Episodes

#28: How to raise a safety pro

June 19, 2019 | 58 minutes 42 seconds

Podcast series host Jill James connects with Debra, a lecturer at her alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in the Occupational & Environmental Safety and Health Department. Debra received her formal safety education at the school in the early 1970s, making her a pioneer in what remains a male dominated profession.

Often the only female in class, Debra’s experience started with whispers of “She won’t make it” and ended with “May I borrow your notes?”. After earning her degree, Debra found work as an engineer in the loss control division of a large insurer. She went back to the school to earn her Masters and found herself lured into teaching a few classes part-time, and hasn’t stopped since.

You’ll learn—through Debra’s example—why learning continuously is so critical to success in the safety profession.

Transcript

Jill:

This is the Accidental Safety Probe, brought to you by Vivid Learning Systems, and the Health and Safety Institute. My name is Jill James, Vivid's Chief Safety Officer, and today I'm joined by Debra. Debra is a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin White Water in the Occupational and Environmental Safety and Health Department.

If any of you are listeners of the Accidental Safety Pro, you may have heard about Debra before. In Episode 19 we talked with Chevonne, and Chevonne is that one safety pro who actually knew since she was a kid, she wanted to be a safety pro. It's because she was raised by this guest today. Deborah is Chevonne's mom. Debra, welcome to the podcast.

Debra:

Thank you.

Jill:

So, Debra, it's so great of you to agree to join us, because I think Chevonne sort of set you up for this.

You should hear from my mom.

Debra:

Thank you for inviting me.

Jill:

You're so welcome. Like all of our guests, I want to hear your story. You've been in safety now for how many years?

Debra:

Gosh, okay. Since I was an undergrad.

Jill:

Wow.

Debra:

I did not start in the safety arena. I was really looking at maybe going into journalism when I was an undergrad, and took some journalism classes, and said, "Okay, this is not exactly me." It just wasn't a good fit at the time.

So I was trying to decide what I was going to do. Actually, I had a friend of mine, a friend of the family actually, who was taking classes in what was then known as the safety studies department.

Jill:

In what university was that at?

Debra:

The University of Wisconsin White Water.

Jill:

Okay.

Debra:

Yeah, UW White Water. He was taking classes, and one day we started talking and I told him, I said, "Yeah, I think I'm going to change my major." He told me, he says, "You might be interested in taking some safety courses. I think you would be okay." I'm like, "Safety courses?" So he explained it to me. He told me that, "Yeah, I think you could do it." He said, "You don't seem to be afraid of men." I'm like, "Okay."

Jill:

Oh no, what does that mean?

Debra:

Right. He said, "You seem to be able to hold your own." So I was like, "Oh, okay."

Jill:

And everyone who's listening in the audience knows what Debra's talking about, because the field has been classically-

Debra:

Male dominated.

Jill:

We're making head way.

Debra:

Oh yeah.

Jill:

But we still have a way to go.

Debra:

So I think I took Intro To Safety was the name of the course. So I took Intro To Safety, and it was an introductory course. I took a couple of other courses, and then I eventually took what was then known as industrial accident prevention. I was hooked.

Jill:

Yeah?

Debra:

Yeah, I was.

Jill:

What hooked you?

Debra:

I think it was just learning about what could possibly go wrong. How people could be injured in the workforce, and what could be done in order to, if not, prevent the injuries at least mitigate the injuries. The more safety classes that I became enrolled in, the more interesting it became to me.

My friend was right. Because often times I was the only female sitting in class at that particular time. Because we're talking the 70s here, the early 70s. I wasn't afraid, and I could hear the whispers, "What is she doing in class? It's a girl, she's not going to make it." It went from that to, "Hey, can we borrow your notes?" As far as that was concerned.

But I really became interested ... it was different, and it's funny because I kind of think back from time to time. For example, when I was in high school and I decided that I wanted to take the drafting class. That hadn't been opened up really to girls in high school. I pushed, and my mom pushed because I really wanted to try it. I was the only female in there.

I guess it was just something that was going to be for me, as far as that's concerned.

Jill:

Yeah, you're a ground breaker.

Debra:

You know, as far as that's concerned. But I became very interested in that. I'm happy that I stuck with it, as far as the field goes. So it's been rewarding for me.

Jill:

You finished your degree at White Water.

Debra:

Right.

Jill:

And what were you thinking the career might be? What did you think you'd go in, like where?

Debra:

I didn't know. I did my internship at a cannery, which I found very interesting. The person that oversaw my internship while I was there, also was ... and he was the safety director, but he was also involved in other sister plants, if you will. So sometimes he was there, and sometimes he wasn't. When he wasn't, because it was really almost like a one man show as far as the safety department is concerned. So I was the one that was on duty. It was a good experience. Everything from a gentleman almost having his eye put out, because he was standing too close to a truck when they were removing a frozen lug nut. It ended up hitting him just above the eye, and here's little old me trying to convince him to ... that you need to go to the hospital, you have to go to the hospital.

So everything from that, to a person that lost part of his finger. So it was interesting, and I kept wondering, "What am I going to do? Where am I going to go?" So what I did was I lucked out after graduation with my bachelor's degree. I had a friend that was working at an insurance company, in the engineer, in the loss control division. He talked to his boss about me, said "She just graduated. She's a female." And gave him some background information. So I was invited to submit my resume. I ended up being a loss control representative at that point. So that was great.

Jill:

Which means you got to see so many different work environments, I'm guessing.

Debra:

Exactly. It was an eye opener. Sometimes it was frustrating because there were ... I had to really earn my bones, so to speak. Because depending on where I went to do audits and the like, that depended on also how I would be received. There were still men out there who, "Geez, she's a female, why is she doing this?" I even had one that asked me, "Shouldn't you be at home taking care of the kids? Your husband should be doing this job." So it was interesting.

Jill:

Right. I'm thinking about the timeline that you're talking about. You were in school in the 70s you said.

Debra:

Right.

Jill:

The OSHA Act had just been enacted in 1970. So not only is this whole regulatory landscape brand new to employers, you as a female, are carrying that new message. For many of us as females in this industry, we've experienced, and heard what you're talking about. I personally haven't been told that am taking a job from a man, and I should be at home. Because I'm that much younger, but I have had-

Debra:

See what I did for you.

Jill:

Yeah, I know. That's exactly what I'm thinking. I am standing on your shoulders, thank you. But I have had the question of ... or the comment, "Wow, when you came here today, and I saw that you were a female, I didn't think I'd learn anything from you. But you surprised me." Or, "Are you married?" Or those sort of ... been hit on in my professional job as a government regulator, many times.

Debra:

Right.

Jill:

So those are interesting waters to navigate when you're trying to do your professional job. So I'm thinking about you being young, female, 1970s. Wow, that's a lot.

Debra:

So I worked there for a while, and decided ... I had taken a couple of classes towards my master's and decided to finish then my master's degree. But was always grateful for the time that I was out there in the field. Like I said, it was interesting. I learned a lot. When you're talking about being an engineer in the loss control division, you go to so many different establishments. Learn about the different hazards, and trying to convince those that are older than you to do things in a safe manner.

So you take what you learn as time goes on, and eventually then was asked to teach a class. It was supposed to be a class.

Jill:

At White Water?

Debra:

Right, at UW White Water. It was supposed to be a class, because I was trying to decide, "Do I want to go back out in the field?" I had my second child, I had Chevonne, bless her heart. What my children went through, yes I did quite a bit of safety-

Jill:

We do want to hear about that piece of the story too. Please keep going.

Debra:

... in the field. It was supposed to be for a class. I was actually asked by the then department chair, "Hey, why don't you maybe teach a class? You've taken all the classes that we have to offer." At that particular time, and the like. But the program has really grown since then. It lead to, "Hey, can you come back?" It was part time at first, and then full time.

Jill:

How have you seen in the years that you've been lecturing at White Water, how have you seen the department shift and change, and grow from the students perspective and what it ... what's the evolution been like? White Water's been around for a long time, and very well regarded.

Debra:

I know, and I'm proud to say that yes, the program and the department has grown a lot. We used to be in the college of education. Now we're in the college of business. We are ... like I say, the classes that are available, I have told students over the years, you have no idea. Those that are majors for example, you have no idea how lucky you are. You should really feel proud in the classes that we are offering. Because some of the classes we have now were not available to us when I was a student.

Our department started out more in the education arena when you're talking about motor vehicles, and the motor vehicle arena. So over the years we've gotten into more of the industrial side. We've gotten into the environmental side as well. And it's just great, it's just wonderful.

So it has grown quite a bit. So has the number of students that we have in our program.

Jill:

And the diversity, I bet you've seen a shift. Since you were the sole female in the class.

Debra:

Right, oh yes, there are more women. It is still male dominated, you know. When you're talking about the arena as a whole. But we have had more females, and we're attracting more females into the program. It's good to see that they realize, "Yeah, you can do this too." It's a great opportunity, you learn a lot of things. You learn things in this field that you can take with you, and just incorporate it into your life. You can incorporate safety into your life. I like knowing what could possible go wrong, and what I can do to prevent that.

Jill:

Speaking of incorporating it into your life. Let's talk about how you hand raised the next generation of safety professional in your own home, which is so fabulous. So first of all, thanks for bringing Chevonne into the industry. But was that like when you're a young mom, and you're bringing ... I know what it's been like for me, but I'm interested to hear from your perspective. What did safety at home look like? What did you transfer to your kids?

Debra:

Well, I just thought it was really important, the more that I learned about safety and the things that can go wrong. Not only in the workplace, but when you're talking motor vehicle. Because like I said, we started out our department in driver's education.

What can go wrong when you're driving, what can go wrong in the home. You have to be very careful when you're talking about fluids, and chemicals, and all these things in the home. I was trying to determine, okay, how can I pass this on to our kids? How can I let them know what some of the dangers are in the world, without scaring the freegeebers out of them. And having it where they would be afraid to actually enjoy life. And go outside and play, and things of this nature.

So I just tried at each level of their age to explain to them as best I could, without scaring them that these are the things that you need to do to be safe. Of course I would sometimes get the eye roll.

Jill:

She did not.

Debra:

Chevonne didn't tell you that part. But sometimes I would get the eye roll. They started to get it. They started to understand it. I think it was because they saw some of their friends who ended up having accidents or things go wrong. Because they did not adhere to safety, or listen to their parents and things of this nature.

We had fire drills and they were taught to please pick up your toys-

Jill:

Stabbing your foot with a LEGO on the way out the door.

Debra:

... and everything. So if anything ... if we had to leave in an emergency, we wouldn't be slip, tripping, and falling all over the place. Right, exactly. I had latches on the cabinets that they could reach, and things of this nature, depending on the age. Somewhere in there, it seemed to stick more with Chevonne. She didn't seem to realize it at first, and she was trying other things, and we let her try other things, other interests. Then finally she, "I think I'll take a couple of safety classes. I might be able to handle that." And it went from there.

My eldest daughter, Calinda, she decided to go a different route in the banking arena, which is fine. But at least she can be safe, right.

Jill:

You set a good foundation for both of your daughters.

Debra:

I tried. It rubbed off on my husband too, I must say.

Jill:

That's excellent. I've done exactly the same with my son. I have to say I haven't done a fire drill with him, but we talk about gathering locations. We talk about gathering locations if there's a catastrophic incident in the community. We live in a community with a ... it's a switching station in a rail yard. Every once in a while there's some kind of accident, or there might be a chemical spill, so we've talked about where is our gathering location?

Living in the mid west, we also have tornadoes and so we have a go kit for that. We live in a place that does not have a basement. So we have a plan for where we go, and then a kit that we grab to take with us. With the weather alert crank radio, and the flashlights. The things that we would need to leave quickly to get to a shelter. So he knows that.

Debra:

I went over information not too long ago. Especially when we were still having the really cold weather, and the heavy snows, and went over winter safety with my students in class. Talking about those things, winter safety and kits for your car, kits for your home. The whole bit for that.

Jill:

And how to keep your exits open in your home when the snow is piling up.

Debra:

Right, exactly.

Jill:

So safety definitely a transferable skill to your home life.

Debra:

Yeah, as I used to tell my children, I said, "You know that those ... " when you learn and when you practice, I say they become tapes in your mind that during emergency situations or even if it's not emergency, but if you have to make a quick decision. I said they go off automatically. So I told them, I said, "You don't have to think you know everyday or before you get out of bed, oh no, what can go wrong. I said, "The tapes are there, and I've tried to do my job. Now it's up to you to listen to those tapes." I said, "Think about it as being a little angel, if you will, on your shoulder and listen to that angel. Because she's trying to tell you something." As far as that goes. Some of the same thing, I try to instill in my students.

Jill:

So Debra, when you were getting started in the early parts of your career, did you have mentors or how did you continue expanding your knowledge base and who did you go to with questions? How did you make those connections and networks with people?

Debra:

Actually, they were the individuals that were in my department that I ended up actually working alongside becoming a member in a department. Jerome Withrow, he was our department chair. We had Joseph Peas. I used to get information from, and ask questions, and try and get some guidance. Al Mimms, who was a very tough bird to say the least. He was a no nonsense kind of guy that shot from the hip. I said, "If nothing else ... " even though sometimes he could drive me crazy, and make me angry. As a student, and as a colleague, you know you would get a straight answer from him about things. There were others.

So they were kind of like mentors to me as I was going through the program. Because it could be tough sometimes. If you were sitting in the classroom, and the only female. That could be kind of difficult. But I made it through, and received good guidance from everyone in the department when I was going through the master's program. Like I said, next thing I know, I started teaching a class in '83.

Then as time went on, I had different individuals in places where I worked that were mentors for me. It was just a great experience. At first I wasn't sure if I really wanted to teach per say. I was really looking to go back out in the field. But one of the thins I liked about it was I was still sharing the information that I had learned, my experiences, in the classroom setting. I enjoyed the students, and I enjoyed all of the interactions with the students. That part I really liked.

I also have to say that I liked the fact that I was close to home. Because we lived in White Water as well. I was close to home, and the kids were in school. So if anything came up, I was there.

Jill:

You had a good work life balance.

Debra:

Right. If anything came up, I was boom, mom's there. As far as that goes. I just kept up with my learning. Because I think this is a field ... actually I think any field you're in, but especially in the field of safety, you have to continuously learn and grow, and expand, and learn to accept differences of each generation of students. Because students change.

Jill:

Through your career in the past and up to now, are you a member of any specific organizations, or sit on any boards that have afforded you different opportunities to either learn yourself, or to engage with the next generation and mentor people?

Debra:

I'm a member of the Institute of Safety and Health Management, that's ISHM. I have a certification through ISHM. I'm a certified Safety and Health Manager. Member of the National Fire Protection Association, the NFPA. I'm a member of the Building Fire Safety System section of the NFPA. What else have I done? I've served as the interim director of the educational opportunity program at UW White Water.

Jill:

What's that?

Debra:

Basically that's for minority students. It used to focus primarily on minority students, and trying to ... especially those that might be first year college attendees, university attendees and their families. Offering them financial assistance, and advising, and helping them with their classes, things of that nature, at the time.

I've done that. I've sat on numerous committees at the university, also at the UW level, University of Wisconsin level. So I've been busy sine '83, I've been busy.

Jill:

Some of those memberships and places that you belong, have any of them ... do you enjoy one more than the other, or look to some for your own professional guidance, so that maybe someone listening, who hadn't thought about a membership to the NFPA, or something like that. What has that afforded you?

Debra:

I like them all, I do. The NFPA, one of the advantages there is one of the classes I used to teach was the fire protection and prevention course. The NFPA has a monthly journal for it's members. I love the fact that I could really keep abreast of what some of the problems were out there. As far as fire prevention, fire protection. Some of the different systems, as far as fire suppression is concerned. What some of the problems were when it came to fires and confined spaces, et cetera.

Any organization where I actually have journals and the like coming to me, I really see as an advantage. When it comes to ISHM for example, I like the fact that there is great contact with a lot of individuals out there, safety individuals out there that have different types of certificates in various fields. So one of those groups where if you needed help, or you needed advice, or you needed information of which you are not very clear on, you can get in contact with those individuals that you have out there.

I like them all.

Jill:

Interesting. You had mentioned the organization that you were a part of, or maybe still are for diversity in the ... is it specific to White Water?

Debra:

That was specific, that particular one was specific to White Water, yeah. That was quite some time ago, for that one.

Jill:

Very good. Well I'm wondering, so you encouraged Chevonne, or at least you guided her to choose a career in safety. Has that happened with any of your students by way of ... have you encouraged any of them to teach like you are? That's a lot of students to look back on.

Debra:

No. I actually have a past student of mine, her name is Tracy Buckner. I actually have her as a colleague now in our department. I'm not going to say that she ... "Oh, because of Ms. Bowen." But she speaks often times, especially we have a women in safety day as part of a larger gathering for the COB, and that's the College of Business. That's a larger gathering of students that come in and many of them are from high school. We have quite a few that are minorities. She always let's them know that Ms. Bowen was an instructor of mine. She'll tell them she was in my class.

Who else? Wayne Cole is another person I think that was on the graduate level. I think I had him in my fire class. He was one of my students. He was what you call a non-traditional student, he was an older student. But it feels good when I have students ... I've had a couple already this semester who told me that they were going to switch their majors and become safety majors. I said, "Oh, how many safety classes have you taken?" And they said, "You're the first one."

Jill:

That's awesome.

Debra:

So I've gotten that over the years, and students that will come back and introduce their kids to me. I remember when I took you Ms. Bowen, as an instructor.

Jill:

What an awesome legacy.

Debra:

It makes you feel old too.

Jill:

Yes, I'm getting to know that feeling quite well when ... a shift happened in my head probably I don't know, maybe three years ago when I was thinking, "I don't have a mentor right now." I've always had at least two to three mentors in my career. The people who've mentored me, well they've passed away. I'm looking away-

Debra:

That's what happened to me.

Jill:

... I'm looking around the landscape going, "Gosh, I need a mentor, I don't have one." Then a colleague of mine said to me, "You are the mentor now." I'm like, "Oh man, that's a lot of weight. That's a lot of responsibility. I kind of like having a mentor."

Debra:

I know. It's like, "Oh no, I grew up too much."

Jill:

So we just have to find different ways to get mentors for ourselves.

Debra:

It's just like in a family when you realize that a lot of your elders have passed away, and then you have family members that ... like cousins that will call you and say, "I need your advice." And you realize, "Oh shoot, am I an elder?"

Jill:

Exactly.

Debra:

As far as that goes. But like I said, it's been great learning experience for me, it's been wonderful.

Jill:

Tell us more about this Women In Safety day on the campus. What happens? You said you bring in kids from the community. Are you working to support the idea that safety is a career path within the STEM disciplines, or how does that work?

Debra:

Well see, it's actually it is ... we have groups from various high schools that will come in, and we have different what we call stations, where they will actually learn about different programs in the business college. We're now part of that. We let them know what we do in our department, and give some demonstrations, and let them ask questions. Because what we find is, especially when it comes to occupational safety, that students more readily hear about all the other majors that are out there. But we are still trying to get the word out, and get them to know that there is actually a major in occupational safety, and what it's all about, and things of that nature.

It's really great when they come in, and they have all these questions. What is your major about? What is it that you can do if you receive a degree in the major? Of course you know is it something where you can make a good earning? And I go, "Yes it is." As far as that goes. That happens on an annual basis. We have that going on. So yeah, it's really great. Especially since we have a lot of females that come in that day.

Jill:

That's such a great thing that you're doing as a value to your community, and to the students.

Debra:

We try.

Jill:

Debra, what advice do you have for anyone maybe just starting out in their career? Maybe they have an educational background in safety, maybe they don't. What sort of things do you think they should be leaning into, or advice you have for success in this career path?

Debra:

You have to be steadfast. You have to accept responsibility, be professional, get to work on time, and you have to stay abreast if you're going to be in the field of safety, no matter which field you decide to choose. If you're talking about being in loss control with an insurance company. If you're talking about being a safety director at a company, opening up your own loss control firm eventually. Or if you're talking about being a student, you need to be studious and you need to continue learning in this field. Like I said, keeping abreast with OSHA, keeping abreast with NFPA when you're talking about their regulations, their standards, things of this nature.

So that's what I would tell them. Things have changed. It takes a little bit more to keep the interest of students nowadays. So go ahead.

Jill:

I was going to say, as things ... like you said, as things have changed and evolved, what have you learned from your students? Because I bet the information sharing goes both ways.

Debra:

It does. What I've learned is they want their information more it seems electronically. We do have our graduate program, for example is online. We find that more students like that, that they are able to get their masters degree online. We are in the process of getting our undergrad classes online as well. They like a little bit more bells and whistles. They are not thrilled about everything being power point. So I'm a power point, but I throw in some video clips and I also put things on the board. I also talk to them, and ask them questions. So that they can be involved and have more interaction.

They like a little bit more detail, when it comes to assignments and things of this nature. They want as much detail as possible. I also have been learning in all of that, and especially in the interactions, what some of their fears are in this world today. It's been kind of rough for them. I've even gone so far ... I really didn't want to, but the last couple of semesters, even though the chance of them being involved in an active shooting event is very low. I thought it would be a good idea to go over that information. Give them an idea of what they can, or what they should or should not consider, what can possibly happen and things of this nature.

So I'm learning what their fears are.

Jill:

Personal safety is a great concern to our youngest generation right now, because it's been so much in their face. They were raised at a time where not only were they practicing fire drills in their schools, but they were practicing lock downs. That's something that you and I didn't experience when we were growing up.

Debra:

No, but what I do tell them is do not be afraid. Go out there, live your lives and enjoy yourselves. You're young, don't stay locked in your house, or in your dorms, or in your apartments or whatever. I said, "Just be aware of your surroundings, and enjoy yourselves." I said, "When I was in school, when I was an undergrad, yes you have to be a serious student. And that should transfer then over to be a serious worker, and that type of thing. But you need to enjoy life as well."

Jill:

I'll share something with you to share with your students when they're talking with you about those concerns about their personal safety. Something that everyone, including your students, and yourself, anyone listening to this podcast, can access. I'm going to do a shameless plug, but it's really absolutely coming from the heart.

A couple of years ago we wrote an online active shooter course. That's offered free from our website, and it will always be free, and anyone can access it. The story behind it is ... my colleague and I, Barrett were attending a safety conference. There was a speaker from the east coast who was speaking about active shooter response training. He was so compelling in his discussion about why it was important, and what was important to include in training. Specifically brain research he was citing about how run, hide, fight is fine. However, we have this amygdala response in our brains to react with the bear is coming at us, like caveman days, so we freeze. So we can't decide to run, hide, or fight until we override that amygdala response to be able to do that, and how to train your brain to do that.

So we were really interested in that. Together we wrote the content for this active shooter response course, which included that research on amygdala response. But it also includes information on situational awareness, and how to just practice and train yourself when you're in environments to just be mindful of where are my two ways out of this?

So that once I can override that, I know where I'm going. So I can make a choice that I've already paid attention to, but it's not limiting me from living my life, like you said.

Debra:

Exactly.

Jill:

While we were in the midst of putting that together, we approached one of our coworkers at our company, at Vivid, who's a survivor of the first school shooting in US history, in Moses Lake Washington. We asked him if he would please share his story, so that we could have a testimony on a story that went along with the course. He graciously agreed, as well as his teacher from that time, which is a junior high teacher who stopped the shooter that day.

So the two of them tell their story throughout the course. What we learned from the ... one of the many things that we learned from my coworker Chris, who tells his story, is what they were thinking when they were kids at that time. What gunfire sounded like. He said, "You know, we heard these noises in our school and we all thought it was dogs barking." Because they didn't have a frame work in their mind for what real gunfire sounded like, versus Hollywood gunfire, and what you'd hear on TV in a movie.

So we have a listening exercise in the course, so that people can differentiate that so they can hear those sounds in a safe environment. The course is what we call G rated. It's not meant to scare anyone, so it's safe to share with kids. It's safe to share with faith communities and with your family and friends, and certainly with your students.

That's something ... it's called active shooter response training, and it's on our website and anyone can have access to it at any time. So you can use that with your students.

Debra:

That's great. I try to get ... I don't spend a lot of time on it, because I don't want to scare them, but I did spend enough time ... like I said, let them ask as many questions as they wanted to ask, and I took them around the building that we're in, in Highland Hall and gave them an idea of where their exits were. I said, "No matter what building you may be in on campus, or if you're downtown, or wherever you are, to just be cognizant, and try and identify like you said, at least two exits.

It takes practice like anything else. What saddens me, and I told them that I'm really sorry to have to feel like I need to have this conversation with you. But we live in the times we live in. So what can you do?

Jill:

It's a powerful conversation and one like you say, it doesn't have to make people think that they can't live their lives and be joyful. It's just like, "Let's build this into our fabric of paying attention to other things that we would be paying attention to in our lives."

So great tips, Debra. Being steadfast in your work, whether as a student in being professional, and staying current. I think that's one of the things that safety professionals really can struggle with. When there's so much information out there. How do you approach staying current? I think it really depends on where you work. Kind of what the discipline is where you are, and which resources, or sources you should be paying attention to.

Debra:

And having a mentor is very beneficial as well. Whether you're talking about on the job, or even if you're talking about an older student. If you're still a student, an older student that can tell you what this class is about, and what that class is about, and things of this nature.

But they need to develop the skills that will make them ... when it comes to students that would make them successful.

Jill:

Yeah, I was going to say what are those skills? You started out as a journalism major, right?

Debra:

Writing skills, and being able to verbalize your thoughts, and being able to speak to those individuals that may be of a higher level, if you will, than you are in the company. And doing what you're supposed to do, and realizing that everything is not going to come with bells and whistles. That's just not going to happen. So you have to make sure that you have focus. And when you do get bells and whistles, be happy.

Jill:

Right. I think that's a good point. The bells and whistles part, the safety profession and the tools, if you will, the 21st century tools that are afforded to so many other disciplines. Safety is kind of behind the curve in many respects. We have a ways to go, and many of us are working to shift that for the safety profession. But that's a good point.

Debra:

Then when it comes to those that teach, trying to be relaxed. Letting the students know that I don't know everything, but I know a lot.

Jill:

But you know where to look.

Debra:

Right, exactly. Getting them to realize that's what you need to do if you don't know. You say you don't know, but you go out and you find out. That's why you have to keep abreast.

I let them know that I want a relaxed class. I do not want them so relaxed that they jellyfish out of the chair. Or they hold their own little conversations while I am lecturing a class, or asking questions. That I am approachable, but utmost importance is treating me with respect, I will treat you with respect. I expect you guys to do the same with your peers in the classroom. You learn those things so that when you go out there, and you do get a job, you realize that you get respect by earning it, and you should do so, you should work at it.

Jill:

Yeah, good tips Debra. I think safety professionals by and large ... when I'm doing onboarding with our employees and they're asking about what safety professionals are like. I said, "They almost always have these really big hearts for humanity. They really care about people. Or they wouldn't be in it."

Debra:

Right, exactly. You have to care as far as that goes. I think we all do, and I think that's why we stay in this profession.

Jill:

Yeah, along with having an inquisitive mind. I think that's another trait of many safety professionals. We have this want for learning more, and we like the fact that our profession is sort of ... there's always something new around the next corner that you didn't know.

Debra:

Right. I'm getting some updated information. I've been looking at more details as far as things like suppression systems, and the like. I am a big advocate of suppression systems, those things that can put out a fire quickly, to save lives and things of this nature. So I'm a little behind in my NFPA journals. I saw an article, so that's the next thing I'll be taking a look at.

Jill:

That's the next thing that you're ... you heard it here, Debra is still just getting started, which is so great for our profession.

Debra, thank you so much for being with us today, and really thank you so much for placing your hand on this career and raising the generations of safety professionals that you have, including in your own home.

Debra:

Thank you for having me. I've really enjoyed the session.

Jill:

Very good. Thank you all so much for joining in today, and listening. Thank you for the work that you all do to make sure your workers, including your temporary workers, make it home safe every day.

Special thanks to Will Moss, our podcast producer. You can listen to all of our episodes at vividlearningsystems.com. You can find that active shooter response class there as well. Or you can subscribe in the podcast player of your choosing to find the Accidental Safety Pro. You can also find us on YouTube. 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.