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#3: Everyone’s invincible until chemicals are pumped into the wrong tank.

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June 13, 2018 | 48 minutes 25 seconds

Series host Jill James speaks with ‘Philly Joe’ Kaufmann, Director of Occupational Health Services for the Inspira Health Network.

Joe discusses making the leap from 12-hour shifts in refinery production to the safety and occupational health role, and how his father’s severe occupational injury impacted his childhood, ultimately shaping his approach to the safety job. The conversation covers the pursuit of higher education mid-career, leaving behind the fear of reinvention, and the uncanny adrenaline rush of emergency response. You’ll hear all about what happens if you stay in a job where bad things happen to people, ethics and the state of safety denial, along with Joe’s advice for all safety professionals.

Bonus? What happens when the Pope visits your block and how to plan for that.

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Transcript

Jill:

This is The Accidental Safety Pro, brought to you by Vivid Learning Systems and the Health and Safety Institute, episode number three. My name is Jill James, Vivid's Chief Safety officer and today I'm joined by Joe.

Joe is from the greater Philadelphia area and is currently the director of occupational health services at Inspira Health Network. Welcome to the show today Joe, and thanks for being with us.

Joe:

Sure. I really appreciate you having me and the greater Philadelphia area, still very excited over our Eagles Superbowl champion. We get up every day with that being excited so thanks for having me.

Jill:

You're welcome. Congratulations.

Joe:

Its been a long time.

Jill:

You can continue to live in that zone, that's awesome.

Joe:

Exactly, yep.

Jill:

Hey Joe, so how many years have you been in the safety profession?

Joe:

I started in various roles but it goes all the way back to 1996 when I was volunteer EMT and eventually went paid and even that has a component of safety to it. I started at a manufacturing plant in 2001, quickly joined an emergency response team and I was at that refinery for 13 or 14 years and had a number of different roles but I eventually went from production and I made the big jump over to safety and with safety came occupational health.

Within a year or two I was promoted to the site, emergency response coordinator, which I really enjoyed. I like responding to things and stuff like that and I guess as some others would know, putting out the fire and maybe figuratively and literally.

In my career, I remember seeking advice from those older than me and those that had been in the field for a while and I said, "Hey, I really feel like I can make it to the next level, what do I need to do?" Their response was, "You have to put the radio down."

That was kind of eye opening for me. I basically realized that meant-

Jill:

Yeah, what did that mean?

Joe:

You had to be... you had to stop responding to things and be proactive ... you had to prevent them. You couldn't react, you had to be proactive. That was what that meant.

A couple people gave me that advice and it was good advice. My career then took me to a health care facility in Philadelphia and that facility was known as the Inglis House and that was a live in and an outpatient facility where folks all had spinal cord impairments for various reasons but they were very intact from a intelligence perspective and so you never had a bad day there. You would really just enjoy going and speaking with people. The building was very historical in Philadelphia so from a safety perspective, it was difficult to manage because thing like ceiling lifts and stuff don't fit well in a 100 year old plus building.

Jill:

Yeah, right, right.

Joe:

Then I went over to an HVAC company that was well known in this area and I got a lot of fleet and risk experience with that. I would say that things were going very well there and then a series of things happened and it basically... it's one of those, the recruiter reached out to me at the right time when things were happening. I thought it was the right move for me and I ended up at Inspira and I don't regret my decisions or my path a bit.

Jill:

What a great story and what a winding path. Like we always say, no one really kind of got into this profession, not often anyway with purpose. We kind of came about it through some winding path or accidentally as is the name of our podcast today.

Joe, I want to back up just a little bit. When, and I've been thinking about this for my career as well, was there any time in your life, did you grow up with safety around you or was there something you think maybe sort of planted that first seed for safety or prevention in your mind?

Joe:

Oh sure. I always tell people, I just went through my birthday and I always tell people I hate my birthday and they say, why is that, and I said well when I grew up as a kid, I mean a young kid, maybe five, six years old, my dad was a diesel truck mechanic and he was involved in an accident at work where he was working on something. Basically suffered a catastrophic back injury and then he had to go through a series of surgeries and kind of each one, in my view as a kid, worse than the next.

I specifically remember one instance on my birthday where my dad was going for a check up from one of these surgeries and my mom had my neighbor watching me and it was supposed to be a one or two hour thing, next thing I knew it was dark and it started to seem like, where's my mom at? This was in the day of no cell phones or things like that and I found out that there had been complications in that surgery and basically my dad was back in the hospital with more issues.

All the while, as a young kid, you're not aware of what companies or thinking or what people think or how work injuries are perceived from the outside. I now, in reflection and having heard my dad's story, he was really treated badly by the company that ... they just didn't do right by him. I think that my approach in safety has always been do the right thing and I think if you approach it that way, you may find yourself in conflict at times but you always are good to yourself. You never feel as though you owe it to anybody else.

For my dad, I always approach it that every injury is real. Sometimes I'm proven wrong but more often than not, they are real. I don't think people set out to go to work and get hurt.

Jill:

Exactly, exactly. I did worker's compensation case management for a number of years and I applied exactly what you're saying and essentially it's the golden rule. You're treating people the way that you'd want to be treated and sure, did I sometimes get duped? Yeah. Was it common, no.

You're right. People do not set out, wake up in the morning go, "Oh, I'm gonna try to get hurt today at work." Everyone wants to be treated humanely and it's a great way to ... yeah.

Joe:

My dad, he never went back to that job. You always hear about people filing petitions or things like that to get monetary value. People think, "Oh, they're just trying to make money," and things like that. I remember growing up with my mom being the sole provider for awhile while my dad sort of reinvented himself and he did, he went back to college, he became a chemistry teacher and then at some point, he actually got into chemical manufacturing. He became a production superintendent before he retied. For me, it was all about never be afraid to reinvent yourself. When that opportunity for me from a production standpoint to a safety standpoint came, I just thought, "You know what? It's really not for me," It's never been about what you know, it's always about how hard you'll work to know it.

I always say if you put two people next to each other and one has the highest degree you can get and one doesn't but wants it more, hard work beats everything else. That's really been my approach.

Jill:

Yeah, right. Back to that refinery job. You're at the refinery, you're literally putting out the fires like you say, on the radio all the time and the safety thing opens. What did you think it was going to be and who kind of mentored you along? Because I'm guessing you're sort of green to, at that point at least, to all thing occupational safety.

Joe:

Yeah, you know the refinery was a 24/7 operation and safety was an eight to five job there. I had a schedule in which I was working 12 hours shifts so there were plenty of times where I was on site when things were growing wrong and there were no safety folks.

I had had time to kind of progress through injuries and things like that. I was always somebody that was curious about OSHA regulations and things like that because at my plant, it was a collective bargaining plant. There would be questions raised all the time about what was a violation and what wasn't. You had to kind of have some knowledge.

It actually happened that I was going through a review time and I would ... I was kind of doing a check in. I felt like I had peaked out in production and I was questioning the person that was doing my review, it was in human resources, I said, "Where do you see this going? Do you have any upward mobility?" 'cause I was kind of feeling like I was stuck.

He said, "Well, we don't have an occupational health nurse right now and we really are having a hard time recruiting one and you're an EMT and you treated people here before and you always do a really good job. What would you think about doing like a hybrid role between occupational health and safety specialist?" It took me three seconds to decide that was what I wanted to do. It was more along the lines of how I envision what I wanted to do. That's how I got into it.

Jill:

Yeah, so how long were you at that job?

Joe:

I did that job for about another two and a half years before I moved on. The advice I can give people there is, I was at a point in my career where I went back to the ... it was another review time and I had done very well, I was emergency response coordinator. People knew who I was, we were doing really well, but there was an open safety manager position and it had been open for awhile and they had not found the right fit and at this point I had 13 years experience at this plant.

I made the mention that I wanted to be the safety manager. At the time I was told, "You'll likely, definitely be in the pool, apply for it, we're gonna really help you get there." But then it came around to interview time, they just decided that I didn't have an environmental engineering degree so then I was not qualified.

That was unfortunate because, if you have 13 years at a place, you tend to know how everything works. I did, but I didn't let me demotivate me. It was either you were gonna sit in a position you were in and not be happy that you were told you couldn't do it or you were gonna use that as motivation to kind of go the next place. That's what brought me to the Inglis House in Philadelphia, that health care facility.

They took a chance on me and I went and took a chance on the fact that I thought that I could do it on a management level ... I started there as their safety manager and I was promoted within a year to the director of safety security and communications in a big city.

One of the most memorable things there was the pope came to Philadelphia during the time I was there and he stayed. ... he literally stayed probably one and half blocks from where we were. The city was shut down. There was plenty of hospitals that were living in places so we had to basically build a plan to live in our facility so we could make sure people got in and out and we did.

For me, that's one of my more really great memories because it didn't really involve anything negative. You were reacting to a positive.

Jill:

What a fun story. Not only did your state win the Superbowl, you also had the pope visit while.

Joe:

Yeah.

Jill:

What's next?

Joe:

I was gonna say, to this day, I still have the video of the pope riding by on my cellphone because out there, we had done it and had everybody there. We knew he was going to the city, everybody walked the city line avenue and watched him go by. It was just really incredible.

Jill:

Oh that's interesting. What a fun story.

You've also earned your degree in safety and health. At what point did you decide, hey it's time to go to school and do this and how did you kind of walk through that and I'm assuming maybe you were employed at the same time?

Joe:

Yeah, I had never done anything the easy way. I was not ...I did not see the value of education as a high school student. I did not see the value of education coming out of high school. When I got the job at the refinery, within a few years, maybe five years I'll say when I became the supervisor, I thought to myself, well now you need a degree.

I started to pursue a business degree and I got my associates and around that same time, I was still pursuing business, this health and safety job came up and I thought to myself, "You probably should stop and figure out what it is you're gonna do because if you continue business, business isn't gonna really help you in the complete sense."

I sought out online schools. There's one in New Jersey called Thomas Edison State University, when I went there it was called State College. That's in Trenton and you get in state rates and it's an online school, you go up there maybe once or twice a semester and take tests. It was really good for me because all the sudden I went from the guy that saw no purpose in school to, "What do you mean you took a point off my paper?" That's just kind of the way I've been. Your pride level in your work has changed.

Now I'm very much that way. I continued that through school, through two kids being born and really just have tried to keep hustling.

Jill:

Yeah, right, right. Who over all of these years and this career path, do you have mentors or have you had mentors that kind of have walked in and out of your life that have helped influence maybe one way or the other?

Joe:

Yeah absolutely. From a safety perspective, EMT is kind of different than occupational health. I was fortunate to partner with at the time at the refinery they had an outside doctor that they had and his name was Dr. Michael Bojarski(sp) and he still practices today and he, in my opinion does more with less than anybody you can imagine. By that, I mean his notes are fantastic and sometimes he types them on a type writer or a computer. He's not using these glorified EMR systems that give you just regular canned things.

He really taught me a lot of stuff. I think more importantly, he gave me confidence in what I was doing. That helped me immensely because sometimes you need other people to believe in you to believe that you're doing well. I think that well on the other side of it, my family, my wife was a tremendous supporter of me getting into it. Always has, I think sometimes even more than me, felt that I can do it.

Jill:

We always need that.

Joe:

Yeah, absolutely. At the refinery, when I was in charge of the emergency response team, my assistance chief, he also believed that I could do it. He was a very, very good friend of mine and he passed away about two years ago. He was 39 years old and he had two kids, yet he died of colon cancer. For those of you that have history and stuff like that, its important for you to know that ... just because you're not 50 years old or whatever the case may be, you go to keep an eye on that.

It was a major loss for me. Like I said, those are probably the three big ones. At Inglis, I had a guy who was not a safety person at all, his name was Harold Strawbridge and Harold is probably the guru of making everything you talk about in a presentation visual. He was very good at ... you would go to these people who had no understanding of safety or no understanding of planning the pope visit and he would put pen to paper and he would make it visual and they would get it.

I think that we can probably relate to-

Jill:

Sounds like a great guy.

Joe:

Yeah and we would speak to people and we would be like, "What do you mean you don't understand? How could you not understand this?" Harold was able to kind of show me the bridge between, "Look, you have the knowledge, they don't and if you get aggravated with them, they shut down, they don't listen to you."

Jill:

So paint a picture.

Joe:

Yeah, exactly.

Jill:

That's awesome.

Joe:

I think that was a really, a tremendous, a help for me there.

Jill:

Yeah, yeah. I had a mentor not in safety either, a number of years ago. He's an industrial psychologist and I just ... paths crossed in a job at some point and he was helping with some project and he became a mentor to me, somebody that I reached out to for a number of years and he would listen to me kvetch about a job when I was thinking, what am I doing here, where can I go, kind of struggling with it and he'd paint these pictures in my head that helped me decide like what am I gonna do next.

I remember one time he said to me, he said, "Jill, you kind of thought that this job was going to be like you're in the barn with the race horses and you get to groom the race horse and brush it every day and make it really shiny and perfect and beautiful to be able to run its race but in actuality what I'm hearing you say is you're in the back of the barn shoveling the crap."

I'm like, "Oh, yeah. You're right. You're so right." He goes, "So what do you want to do? Brush the horse or shovel, keep shoveling?" I'm like, "I want to brush the horse." He's like, "Get out of there." I'm like, "Okay, thanks." Nothing to do with safety but he was just listening to my story and in a compelling way and pushing me forward.

Your job right now is in occupational health, is that a clinic setting Joe?

Joe:

Well so I basically have switched teams I guess so to speak. We have gone from trying to keep people safe to I am now in charge of developing a treatment of work injuries plan for a hospital based system. We're using an urgent care model to bring folks in that are injured and-

Jill:

From other, from outside employers?

Joe:

Correct, yes.

Jill:

Okay, mm-hmm (affirmative).

Joe:

One of the things that I think helps me is I go out to these employers and I ask question like, do you have job descriptions and what are the types of injuries they're facing, how can we help them, how can we partner with them.

I know about the OSHA laws and things like that, that they're suffering from where maybe they have somebody who, has written as an OSHA recordable but that's because they can't lift more than 50 pounds but they were a desk worker who was answering a phone, it's not really a restriction.

For us, like I said, we genuinely I think, in my group, want to be the best. It's still a relatively new program and we're in the South Jersey area but I think you have a lot of ambitious people who see this as an opportunity to be the best. I think like I said, for me, that's how I approach everything. I always want to try to be the best at what I do.

Jill:

You get to do a little bit of prevention work with the companies that you reach out to and then you're also helping guide them through the worker's compensation process when someone's injured. Is that accurate to what you're doing now?

Joe:

Yes. We bring new companies on and when we bring those companies on, we talk to them about what the state laws are as far as workers compensation. We talk to them about, do they have job descriptions they can supply us. We give them ideas of different policies they may want to create and some of these companies have never even thought about what happens if somebody has an injury and then they're restricted.

That leads them to basically say, "Okay go home and when you're better, come back." That gives them a lot of time to watch the attorney ads that flash up that say, "Have you been injured at work?" And then the people go, "You know what, I have and I've been wronged." That hurts companies and I think ... there's a time and place for that but I also think that if the company is buying in on the people, and they want them to get better, it's really good to get them back into work.

I have plenty of boiler plate policies that I always say to people, "If you want that policy, I'll send it to you." I really just try to be a little but different in that sense.

Jill:

Right and it also is hard on the employees moral if they're at home, not feeling like they're contributing in a meaningful way and I think you're right. I think many employers just think, "Okay the employee's hurt, they're off work," and aren't thinking about the ramifications. The ramifications of the employee's moral, the ramification of, "I'm paying loss wage benefits now." The ramification of, "I have to find somebody else to do that job and fill in for now."

I think employers are still on that learning curve of, "Oh really? We could bring them back but it doesn't have to be in their current role or it could be a different version of their current role?" And helping them see that I think is really powerful.

Joe:

I think its always difficult for employers to understand that in their minds, they're not seeing, "Well we're paying the salary technically one way or another." It may not be directly but that will go to your insurance and your insurance, it will create loss and you may have a poor loss ration at that point.

There's value in them being around even if maybe they're not doing everything they could do.

Jill:

Yeah, so when you're reaching out and talking with employers now, are you generally working with management teams, you're working with safety people or who's your primary contact?

Joe:

It varies, to be honest with you 'cause South Jersey is a wide scope of different types of business. We have everything from refineries in industry all the way down to mom-and-pop farms that are very seasonal. It can really depend on who ... what type of business you're dealing with.

I think... I bring the same approach to everybody that, we want you to give us a chance, we want to do right by you and we also want a lot of feedback as to how we can get better. With the safety professionals, I try to speak the safety language because I think that's what they want to ... they want to hear that the person that's overseeing the program understands where they're coming from and if they think they're getting sales pitch then that's not what they're interested in.

I want them to understand how we're different, so to speak.

Jill:

Right. So were you able to spend some time in some of these employment setting with some of the safety professionals, maybe looking at some of the risk exposures, particularly when bringing people back, how could we engineer something out, how can we make an improvement to ensure it doesn't happen... same thing doesn't happen to somebody else. Are you able to do that sometimes?

Joe:

When we bring on employers, I usually ask to see their facility to get an idea, of a tour and I've really seen some neat places and stuff that you really ... you just don't know that that's what they do on the outside.

I feel fortunate in that regard because you understand at that point that some of these jobs aren't out of the scope of what they could do and some of it is a lot harder than I think sometimes the job descriptions say it is. It could go either way.

Jill:

Right, right. I worked in occupation medicine for a while as well doing similar work exactly to what you're talking about and my eyes being able to bring that picture back to the provider, who was writing the restrictions was really powerful because the providers don't always have time to go and do tours of work environments to find out what is it that this employee's gonna go back to but our eyes get to do that, we can paint that picture to be that partner between eh employer and the provider and that's pretty cool. That's pretty cool.

Joe:

Absolutely.

Jill:

Yeah, so in all the years you've been doing the safety, I've got to ask this question because I think this is sometimes a funny answer from different people. What's the craziest thing you've ever done to build street cred with your work force in different jobs?

Joe:

I think that I've always been a hands on person because I came from that refinery where I was a production working. At the refinery, it was easy for me. I would just go out on the production floor and talk to people and listen to what issues they were having and things like that.

It became more difficult for me at the health care facility because I have never done healthcare before. That meant walking unit to unit talking to residents, talking to everybody. Actually, believe it or not, as I said, those residents were very, very smart, they just unfortunately were quad and paraplegic. I would actually ask them to tell me when they would find safety issues. They actually became reporters for me. That was very powerful.

When I got the job at the HBAC company, I had a quick company truck and I would just go to places. I would go to locations and I would talk to people and I would talk about how I want to make sure that they don't get hurt, they have to think about what they're doing. I really just always, again, try to do the right thing.

I had a lot of risk experience there too. When we would have significant losses, worker loss or a loss like that that I felt was very significant, impactful on someone else life, I would even go out to those and talk to those people because the last thing you wanted was, here's an insurance adjuster and the company doesn't really care about you.

I always wanted to put myself in a position of how would I feel if that was my house or how would I feel if I got hurt at work. I've always approached that. My current role, still new but I think a lot of my experience is carrying over into this role its stuff that people don't really know, you know in the order of operations will say of how to approach an employer and what are the things you could say to get them to listen to you and have them come on board or at least want to meet with you.

Jill:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Joe, in your path, career path in safety, I'm interested to know how did you go about, or how do you think it happened, maybe accidentally finding what your niche is in safety?

When we look back at our career and all that safety and health encompasses, it can be so vast and often overwhelming to people like, "Am I ever gonna learn it all?" And the answer is no, you won't. Sometimes you kind of have to sit with yourself and go, "You know, what am I really good at or what do I really like," and what did that look like for you in finding that niche? Assuming you've found it at least for now.

Joe:

Yeah, and I think I have. I do enjoy the occupational health setting because it really is kind of impactful to people that have already, unfortunately, had an incident. Hopefully you could prevent those but where I'm at now, you're dealing with folks that have been injured.

For me, like you said. It's such a wide scope of things. I enjoyed a lot of different aspects of safety but I just knew what I liked the most. I just say when people are getting into it, try to figure out what the parts are that you like because there is a lot of different parts and I think that you could worry too much about trying to learn them all. Unfortunately, you could see those jobs descriptions that have, "We want to safety manager that has 30 years experience into his process safety management and occupational health," and everything else but the reality is, everybody starts somewhere and you have to start and be good at what you do and take that you and then maybe you're on to something a little bit different and you take that with you. You build up a portfolio of things that you know and are good at and I think that it makes you better overall.

Jill:

Yeah, agreed, agreed. Absolutely, I can see that.

Joe:

For me, I think the most important thing in safety, regardless what direction you go in is you have to be passionate about it.

If you go and you see these speakers sometimes at the conferences, there are some that just really do a fantastic job and they're very passionate about what they do. Sometimes I watch them in awe of how passionate they are 'cause they're way better than me.

You can't ... to me, safety in general is not a job, it's a responsibility. You got to understand there's people relying on you to do the right thing for them. It's a much higher level of responsibility than, "Hey, we have to make that widget and get it out by the end of the month."

Jill:

Yeah, safety is a responsibility, not a job. That is awesome. That's a quotable quote, Joe. I love that.

Joe:

Thank you.

Jill:

I love that.

When you're stuck and you need some help, what are you resources, where do you usually go for information, how do you find answers to things that you don't know?

Joe:

You know, there's a couple different things that I've done. I have a big presence on Linkedin, that gives me a wide variety of people that I can talk to. I think that, you could never be afraid to talk to your boss. That's a relationship you need to have 'cause sometimes, the things you're up against have nothing with safety, they have to do with workplace politics or things like that.

Ultimately, if you're the one leading that charge on that battle, you might be the one that's identified as the problem. If you escalate to the proper channels, you a lot of times can have meaningful progress on that. I think that everybody has varying degrees of aggravation in safety.

I don't think there's anybody that can say they haven't been told, no, or they haven't aggravated with the way that somebody's done something or any of that. It's sort of ... you have to turn that into something constructive. You have to kind of learn from when you didn't ...

For me to sit here and say I've never done would be foolish. I think that that's ... you have to learn and better yourself each time and say, "Well, these are the areas that I can improve on next time."

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, your point on not being afraid to reach out to your boss I think is really good advice to anyone listening. I know I've and that mistake a number, I don't know, maybe three, four jobs ago that I can think of.

I really was kind of afraid to talk to the administrator of the place where I was working, sort of felt intimidated, like maybe I didn't have a right to have a voice with that particular person. The manager that I was reporting to at the time carried ... she was the one carrying my message to the ultimate decision maker. That didn't work so well. It's kind of like playing that telephone game with the cups and the yarn, what's the message gonna be on the other end.

I learned very much the hard way that having someone else carry your message doesn't always work.

Joe:

Right, exactly.

Jill:

I made a promise to myself after that job, I'm like, "I will never do that again. I will be uncomfortable but I'm gonna get comfortable being uncomfortable and I will make those relationships and I will find ways to be able to speak directly to the decision makers."

It served me well but gosh it's hard, right?

Joe:

Yeah, absolutely. Like you said, it is intimidating. Your message gets diluted sometimes if you don't do it and sometimes, the only message that they've gotten is hey, you have a sense of urgency, they have no idea why you have that sense of urgency and it sounds like you're yelling, "The sky is falling," when really, you have a very good reason for what you're saying. It's being missed by that person.

I think ... you talk about going ... talking up to people and making sure they get the message but one of the most important things I learned when I was at the refinery in charge of that emergency response team was to also talk down to your folks, make sure those that report to you know what you expect from them.

By example, I would have meetings with my emergency response team every month and I would always say to people the exact same statement over and over again, if we ever get into a situation where there's a fire, there's a spill, there's some sort of incident and you can't find the person that's missing and you can't safely get into that area, then you need to protect yourself and get back out. There's no value of having two groups of people that are lost.

It would almost seem like people would look at me like, "Yeah, right. Nothing's ever gonna happen. That's just complete silly."

Jill:

We're invincible, mm-hmm (affirmative).

Joe:

Yeah, we're invincible, it's never gonna happen. Until, I can remember one specific morning, we had an incident where chemicals were pumped into the wrong tank and there was a hydrogen explosion and basically, those chemicals created a cloud as soon as the tank exploded. The cloud pretty much blocked the entire view of a camera within seconds. It was very difficult to know what was going on.

I wasn't at the plant, I was actually at home and I remember, I was responding to the plant because I heard them dispatch the local fire company and stuff. On my way in, I could hear my team operating but they were doing all the things I told them to do. They were searching for the person and they pulled back out. Well here, we had lost two people in that incident that we couldn't account for but they had ended up going out the back door. If I had sent my team in to try to find them, we would have had more problems.

Then once those people were accounted for, everybody was still in that really hyped up mode that, "We got to go in and we got to solve this problem now." The thing is, your responsibility is to your people and to make sure they're safe. The reality was, there was nobody in there that was at risk. We had a building that was damaged, we had problems but we could just slow down and make sure that when I sent people in, it was safe. We had to shut all the utilities off, we had to shut all the things that were coming through the pipes off. Then we went in and it was safe.

To me, that was the a moment of one of the more meaningful things that I realized, wow, you have to say things over and over and over again til it gets into somebody's head because saying it once doesn't mean anything.

Jill:

Right, so repeating, like you said the message, remembering to carry our message upstream but also downstream as well and being repetitive about it. The airlines do that really well, right?

Joe:

Yeah, absolutely.

Jill:

We're getting that message every time, put on your oxygen mask first before you help someone else. All those messages, which essentially is part of what the message was that day and how proud you must have been of your team.

Joe:

I definitely was. Like I said, to me, that was one of the larger successes with emergency response. Like I said, for me, it was valuable lesson in teaching people and I think I don't know about your career but I never thought I was gonna be a teacher or the educator, that just seemed so foreign to me I was just not gonna do it. I became a CPR instructor and you know, I was the emergency response team, I was doing classes with them.

For me, it was very important at that point to realize that I was no longer the new guy or the young guy anymore, it's important to pass knowledge down. That has been something that I really try to do now.

Jill:

It was a realization that probably come to me in the last, I'd say maybe four to five years where I have less and less mentors and I become the one that people are reaching out to. It's a big responsibility and sometimes its really hard and you think back like, "Did I answer that correctly?"

Someone was asking me questions last week, I was guiding an employer through a workplace fatality they had had. There were some things that I have hung up the phone, I'm like, "Oh, I need to tell them that ... " The onus of being the one with the knowledge is a pretty big responsibility so I ended up picking up the phone, I like, "Okay, and this and this and this and this," and they were like, "Okay, thank you." It feels sometimes like a bigger responsibility to be in that teaching mode, than I was in the learning mode way back when, which seems kind of crazy.

You know our work in safety is preventive. You've worked both on the reaction side in the work that you've done and in the prevention side and you're talking about this chemical release you had in the plant, you really leaned into your prevention work and I think it's one of the hardest things in our profession to try to sell or convince people that prevention is where the rubber meets the road so when things go sideways, you got that to lean into and I think that's such hard concept for us to continue knocking on the door every day and talking about prevention when everybody thinks it can't happen to them.

Joe:

Right and I think that is true, people think that can't happen to them. I think to a certain degree, depending on how you're wired, I think emergency response people are wired this way, response is fun. It really does hype you up and I think anybody that's ever ... had the tones hit or have been dispatched can tell you that there's just an uncanny adrenaline rush that you get from it.

It's not sustainable either. Eventually, you burn out from that. For me, the calls at nine, ten o'clock, midnight, one, two in the morning where you're hearing about all of these incidents, they can wear on you. You have to make sure that you're doing everything you can do to prevent those things.

Jill:

Right, right, fighting fires literally and figuratively, it's good, it's important work. We need it but it also doesn't build anything long term.

Joe:

Sure, absolutely.

Jill:

So we have to find that balance in our careers where we're building things that are sustainable and lasting at the same time.

Joe, you and I have both been talking about different jobs we've had, career changes we've made and I know that sometimes I'm getting questions from other people in our career who are asking like "When do I know it's the right time to move on? How do I make those decisions?" What has that looked like for you?

Joe:

Well, you know actually it doesn't always smack you in the face. Sometimes you put up with a lot before you realize its too much.

I listened to a podcast by you actually and in that podcast there were things that were said and it was like my, "Aha!" moment at this job and the job ... it was basically when you're not being listened to, there's no sign of change and I think you're being sort of rebuffed on all of your ideas, it's time to look elsewhere because your impact is not meaningful.

The other thing I think to be more specific was, I think when you talked about ethics being compromised. I think that in safety, we're asked to be flexible at times. Sometimes we can't always solve every single problem at that exact moment and keep things running because we need our companies to make money but at the same time, we need them to be safe. It's always that delicate balance.

If you can check all three boxes, not being listened to, there's no sign of change and your ethics are being compromised, I think that you have to start to think, "Maybe this isn't the place for me," because the corporate culture there is not conducive to your success.

I remember how impactful that ... those particular ... I actually wrote it down. I kept looking at it and I go, "Is this me? Is this really what's happening to me?" I realized it was. I just decided, you needed to get out. Fortunately, like I said, I had had another opportunity come along and it worked you well for me. That's what I can tell people.

You're gonna encounter, no, a lot as a safety professional and just because you encounter no, that's doesn't mean you leave the job because no is part of the job. Ultimately, if you had your way, you would install the greatest safety system ever and you have no injuries, you might buy all this PPE and...but there's not ... there's a business side to that too.

Jill:

Finding the gray area.

Joe:

Yeah, exactly. It's not when someone says no to you, it's when they're not willing to listen to you at all, they're not willing to listen to the problem. They're in denial that the problem even exists, that becomes when you have to start to think to yourself, well if my purpose is to identify problems and solve problems and now no one's listening to me, no one's willing to solve those problems with me, what am I really here to do?

I think that it impacts you professionally if you stay at a place that bad things happen to people solely because they stayed around. Think about any of these major incidents that involve companies and you start to think, "What about their safety professional? What happened to them after all that?"

I'm sure from a professional standpoint, it's very damaging to your career but remember I said for me, it's always been about confidence. If you felt a certain way and you felt like somebody wasn't agreeing with you, maybe it's as simple as this needs to change or maybe its as extreme as you think there's gonna be a fatality there and you express that and somebody does not respond to you, you're really in a position where that is not doing anybody any good and if what you think's gonna happen, happens and you're not being listened to, you've damaged yourself.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah, beautifully said. No is definitely a part of the job and then what do we do with those no's as we're learning and figuring out how to build business cases to redirect, represent what needs to happen and I think you're right. When we get those hard no's repeatedly, and our ethics are being compromised because of it, yeah it's time to move on.

The great thing about our profession is that there are opportunities. If people have the ability to be flexible, maybe with their geographics and depending on where they're living, there are so many safety positions right now. There's so many people retiring out that started in the way back when OSHA was first being adopted.

I'm contacted pretty often for people who are like, "How do we recruit? How do we ... where do we look? Where do we go to find safety jobs." I think the good news is that there's a place for us and there's opportunities for us to figure out what's our niche and how can we get there. How can we get there.

Joe:

Absolutely. Yeah.

Jill:

Joe, you've done a lot of things. You've done a lot of things to be proud of. What's ... maybe we can close with sharing a story of something that you've accomplished that you're really proud of.

Joe:

Yeah, I think you learn both professionally and personally that there's a right and wrong way to do things, and I think that for me, I've grown as a person as I've gotten older, especially after the loss of my friend. It really had a very negative impact on me.

I would say be kind to people, understand where they're coming from, understand that everybody's fighting a battle and so the approach you need to take professionally as a safety professional is that maybe they're not wearing their safety glasses because they're so flustered that their kid had something happen to them that morning. Or maybe they forgot that valve was open because something else is going on and that doesn't mean you don't follow through with discipline and things like that but sometimes you have to walk a mile in someone else's shoes to really understand that people don't, like I said before, people don't intend to screw up. I don't think anyone has every woken up and said, "I'm gonna screw up today."

I think that that has been probably the most important thing, both personally and professionally I've learned because I have two kids and I think that my wife and I, we constantly are interested in how they're doing in school and all the various activities they do and I think that for us, we know when a mistake happens, it's a learning opportunity. Rather than yelling, screaming all that, sometimes you have to kind of revert to just teaching and teaching's really important.

Jill:

Right, what is this here to teach me?

Joe:

Exactly.

Jill:

Why is this happening, what is the message.

Joe:

Yep.

Jill:

Yeah, sounds like you're very proud of your growth and your own humanity and what a perfect reflection on yourself, I think that's great and meeting people where they are. Meeting people where they are. That's wonderful.

Joe:

I think be humble, because I always say to people when I go from job to job, I've had a number of times where I walk into an office and somebody says, "Is this okay?" And I always say to them, I started on a refinery floor that was 100 degrees, I moved into an office that had a cinder block wall, my next job had windows.

Be appreciative for what you have because every little bit of it is something. It's a mark on how you've progressed. Like you said, always reflect at where you came from because if you don't, it may feel like you've made no difference whatsoever but like I said, there's a lot of people I've learned a lot from in various organizations that are all over. Listening to the ASSE and listening to the National Safety Council and listening to your messagings and you can learn a lot by just approaching any of these webinars or podcasts by simply thinking to yourself, "I'm gonna learn something by being here, even though I think I know everything about this topic, I'm gonna sit and learn."

That was the approach I took when I realized it was time to get out with that job because it was sort of, what does the new safety professional need to know? I remember thinking to myself, "Well I'm not a new safety professional but this sounds like a good podcast, I'm gonna listen to it." I walked out of there with the most important message of my career.

Jill:

That's awesome. That's awesome. Joe, thank you so much for being with us today. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and your knowledge, I know it's going to resonate with people, thank you so much.

Joe:

Cool, yeah I definitely appreciate you guys having me and I'm always available on Linkedin for anybody that wants to connect. I am not somebody that filters. I want to try to have as many connections as I can and I want to try to be as impactful as I can, so thank you.

Jill:

Excellent, thanks Joe.

Thank you all so much for joining in and listening today and thank you for the work you all do to make sure your 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 yourself, please contact me at social@vividlearningsystems.com. Until next time, thanks for listening.