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#32: Not the safety cop

August 14, 2019 | 1 hour 2 minutes 27 seconds

​Jill James speaks with special guest Abby Ferri about her storied career path, how to avoid being the safety cop by earning the trust of your workers, and utilizing social media as a safety pro.

Links and Show Notes

The Ferri Group

Transcript

Jill:

This is The Accidental Safety Pro brought to you by Vivid Learning Systems and the Health and Safety Institute, this is episode number 32. My name is Jill James, Vivid's Chief Safety Officer, and today I'm joined by Abby Ferri who is a safety professional in the Midwest, based in Minneapolis. Abby is also the president of ASSP's Northwest Chapter and the administrator of the WISE Common Interest group. If you're not familiar with what WISE means, it's Women In Safety Excellence.

Abby, thanks so much for joining today.

Abby:

Thanks for having me here, I'm really excited about this.

Jill:

Yeah. We've been trying to get together for a little while and it seems like it should be easier, but I believe we both got hijacked from a previous recording by a Minnesota blizzard.

Abby:

Oh, I think so. That's right, I don't even want to think about that right now.

Jill:

Right? The day that we're recording, it's like we're in a record heatwave, and so we've gone from blizzard to heat, Abby, and so this feels much better, right?

Abby:

I don't know. Maybe it would be nice to jump into a blizzard real quick today.

Jill:

There's a whole debate going on in the Midwest, for any of you who aren't from the Midwest, what do you prefer, blizzards or epic heat? People are sharply divided on what they prefer. I'm going with the heat and humidity.

Abby:

I'm opposite, I would so much rather have to get warm than to have to cool off.

Jill:

Yeah. See, this is it, right?

Abby:

Yes.

Jill:

Yeah, safety professionals, those of us around the country right now who are dealing with a heatwave are getting out their sling psychrometers, so there's a nerdy word for everybody, right?

Abby:

Nerd alert.

Jill:

Nerd alert, right?

Abby:

The heat index here was 101 the other day, so I know if we have heat like that here, that everyone else is just suffering.

Jill:

Right, right. We have to think about all of our employees. I was listening to a news story today about UPS drivers and how the back of their rigs are getting up to 150 degrees, those rigs aren't air conditioned and when they have to go back into the back of them to retrieve their packages, it's just an oven, literally.

Abby:

Oh, wow. I never thought about that, that it's not air conditioned in the back, good to know.

Jill:

Yeah. Yeah, right? Makes sense. Abby, I'm so interested to hear your story about how you got into safety and maybe, first of all, how long have you been a safety professional?

Abby:

It's been 16 years.

Jill:

Wow. All right, great. Great. Guessing you didn't know since you were a little kid this is what you wanted to do, so what did you think you were going to do and what's your path?

Abby:

Well, when I was in college I went through the Exercise Science Undergraduate Program at UMD up in Duluth, Minnesota, and I thought I was going to be a physical therapist or work in cardiac rehab, so I thought there would be school after my initial undergrad schooling and that it was going to be on that path.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

During that time, I needed a job, so I was working, actually even before college, the summer between high school and college, I worked for Boldt Construction in Cloquet, Minnesota.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

This is going to date me, but I was making copies and scanning things and faxing things and making binders. Another part of my duties was dropping off people's physical paychecks in their office, so placing their paycheck on their desk. When I would do that, there were two people that were never there, yet I would place a paycheck and the paycheck would be gone the next time I looked. I had to ask who are these people and what do they do, because as I worked in the office, I just figured office life isn't really for me, I want to be outside.

Also, during college, I worked on the grounds crew, so I definitely felt more passionate about being in the field, and so I learned that the two people that were not in the office ever were the safety guys, and that's exactly the wording that people used, was safety guys.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

I said, "I want to be a safety guy when I grow up," and so I deliberately found some time that I could meet with these two guys and learn more about what they do and how they got into that career. Coincidentally, both of them had gone through the college that I was currently at, at UMD, and went through the Master of Environmental Health and Safety program.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

They sold that program to me, they said it's a one-year program, and at the end of the program, if you like it, you have a great job in safety, if you don't like it, at least you have a master's degree, so that's what I went with. I took my, whatever it was, the GRE I think is the test you have to take, so I took that. I had to add a couple of prerequisites to my undergrad to be able to be eligible for the program and went from there.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

Got into the program, it's one year, I took as many classes as I could physically take. You're supposed to specialize in either industrial hygiene or, at the time it was called industrial safety, so focusing on manufacturing and construction. I took the OSHA 30-hour construction course as part of my college, so that's the course that really opened my eyes. Now, as an outreach trainer, it's not like that class is the most exciting thing that people ever do, but when I was in college, it just opened my eyes and I thought, "Wow, I want to do construction safety."

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

I expressed that to my professors and to my classmates in the program, and nobody else was interested in construction, so out of a class of maybe 23 to 25 people, nobody was competing with me for mentors or job interviews, mock interviews, any of that. Whenever someone would come to our program trying to recruit for construction, everyone would just point at me, so it was great.

Jill:

Uh-huh (affirmative).

Abby:

I actually ended up lining up my first job really before spring break.

Jill:

Wow.

Abby:

Yeah. The company I interviewed with, they brought me out to Southern California and offered me the job before spring break so that my college spring break was spent going to Southern California with my mother.

Jill:

Nice bonus. Okay.

Abby:

Yeah, it was cool. I was able to look at apartments and figure out what I was going to do when I first moved out there. Literally, the day after graduation, maybe two days after graduation, is when I flew out to California and began my life as a safety professional.

Jill:

Wow, in the construction trades?

Abby:

Yeah. Yep.

Jill:

You and I came from a very similar background. First of all, we both went through the same graduate program, I don't know if you knew that or not, but I did a number of years before you.

Abby:

I didn't know that, that's exciting.

Jill:

Yeah. Also, the same path, I met some safety guys, literally, and they told me about the program and they told me that they were graduates of it, and exactly what they told you, you can get a job in this and you'll have a master's degree. I'm like, "Okay." Also, there was a lot of recruiting at that time for California too, but it was for the semi-conductor industry at that time, and so that was a big deal.

Abby:

Yes, a lot of people in my program were vying for those different semi-conductor positions when I was there, as well, so yeah. I thought, "Well, why compete with all of you when I can do something that I'm way more interested in and not compete?"

Jill:

Right. Southern California, you land your first job.

Abby:

Yeah, pretty sweet.

Jill:

How did that go?

Abby:

It was great. It was weird coming from the Midwest, the little bit of culture shock was mostly, I guess, on the weather and that I was in the San Diego area where the weather is practically perfect, so there were days that I had to just tell myself, "Hey, it might be this nice on the weekend, too, so don't feel bad about being at work, you don't need to try to skip out or have a long lunch because chances are the weather will be nice on the weekend, too, and that'll be great."

Jill:

Perfect and sunny every day, yeah.

Abby:

Yeah, partly cloudy or partly sunny every single day. It was awesome because my boss, Pete Filance, he told me I could just do what I needed to do, that he understood that I would probably need some further education on construction safety. The company was a member of the Associated General Contractors of America and part of the San Diego Chapter, which actually might even be one of the most active and safety-focused and safety training-focused chapters in the country.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

Again, dating myself, any time a fax came through from the AGC of San Diego that had a training class advertised, I would take that fax, put my name on the form and fax it back to their office. I was going to excavation safety, confined space safety classes, full protection for the competent person, all types.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), scaffolding.

Abby:

Yes, scaffolding, all those classes, so I'm really fortunate that my very first boss really felt strongly that I should pursue further education and just supported it. He basically said, "Whatever you want to go to, just go to it, as long as it doesn't interfere with stuff that the job sites need and things that you have to do for your job." He understood the value of that education.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

The second thing that I did, or I guess first, very first day would be going to the job site and just watching, just walking the job, watching what the workers are doing, asking questions, finding out what they're up to, and why do they do what they do? That was eyeopening as well. I was able to put together a lot of pieces from what I learned in college to what I was seeing on the job site, and then, oh, introducing that whole factor of working with people.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, how did that go? I mean, first of all, what a gift to be able to have worked for someone early in your career who saw the value of continuing education. I mean, that was awesome.

Abby:

Yeah, I was lucky.

Jill:

That's awesome.

Abby:

Definitely lucky.

Jill:

You're blending all of this stuff together, you've got your academic knowledge you're continuing to build, you're on a job site and now you throw all the people in the mix, yeah, what was that like? What were some of your early wins or challenges?

Abby:

Yeah, definitely challenges because coming straight out of college, I didn't have that gap year where you go from high school and go to Europe and then go to college, that wasn't a thing.

Jill:

Who does that?

Abby:

Who does that? I definitely didn't.

Jill:

Me either.

Abby:

No. Here I am, coming out of college, and, oh, by the way, I had finished my undergrad a year early, so I literally went to four years of college but had a master's degree.

Jill:

Yeah, pretty young.

Abby:

I was young.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

Yeah, I was 21 talking to these workers that had been in the career longer than I had been alive and were not afraid to tell me that literally every day.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). I know this well. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

Oh, yeah, yeah. I did a lot of question and just the phrasing of my questions had to be specific, right? I couldn't just come out and say, "You're doing that wrong," because maybe I didn't know for sure, but also because it wouldn't be well received, so my go-to phrase was, "Tell me about what you're doing."

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

As long as it wasn't something super gregarious and immediately dangerous to their life or health. There were a couple situations like that actually where I arrived in a building and look up on the concrete shoring and see, 30 feet up, a worker just up there, no fall protection.

Jill:

Standing up there, yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

Standing up there climbing, spider man style, and I had to figure out, okay, how do I get his attention but not freak him out and send him off balance? This is one of my, I guess, favorite stories to tell and look back on because you have to find your own personality. I had heard some safety people say things like, "Would you let your kid do that," when they would talk to workers, and so I thought, "Oh, here's a good time to use this," when I got the worker's attention.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

Hey, would you let your kid be up there like that? I kid you not, his son, who was up there with him, turned around the corner and said, "Hey, Abby." Yeah.

Jill:

Oh, man.

Abby:

I had a talk with both of them.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

Actually, the kid, the son, he ended up being one of my more safety-conscious foremen when he progressed through the trades and through his journeyman level, and he became one of those safety foreman that I lean on a lot for communicating with the workers, so I learned a quick lesson early on that I had to navigate these things with my own style and not use a script of what someone else would say because it just wouldn't come off as authentic and genuine, and often might be the completely wrong thing to say.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, but that whole, "Tell me about," that's a magical sentence.

Abby:

It really is, yeah.

Jill:

It defuses a lot because it's allowing people to, yeah, share what they know.

Abby:

Yeah, it really does.

Jill:

You can take time to gather information, and yeah, mm-hmm (affirmative). Great.

Abby:

Yes. I would use that phrase and just let them talk because being a young woman on the job site, often, the men, they would enjoy talking to me, and so I'd make sure to leverage that to the best that I could, and also use that information for good, because often, they'd be telling me things that they do and they're telling me very unsafe practices that they just do or maybe are expected to do.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

I'd file that away or continue the conversation, depending on what was appropriate, and go from there.

Jill:

Right, right. Yeah, I've done the same thing, and I think you had pointed out something earlier about people who've been doing the job longer than you had been alive, and I think that is a really good tip for anyone starting out who hasn't had a lot of experience, or people who are just working with others who have a lot of tribal knowledge in their craft. We can't come in assuming that we know their craft, and so I've done the same as you, "Tell me about," or, "Explain to me how this works, tell me about your job, can you show me how this process works, and can you just walk me through it step by step so I get what it is that you do?" Most of the time, people are proud of their work.

Abby:

Totally.

Jill:

It allows you to gather and watch and watch for hazards, but also, you get to learn about their work, you get to learn about them, and then you find out, oh, they have this one little weird tool that they've made out of a half of a plunger handle and some duct tape that they have to stick in this one place because the thing always does whatever.

Abby:

Exactly.

Jill:

Then you're like, "Oh, I would not have known that, and now we have a hazard here to talk about."

Abby:

Yep, there's the opportunity, exactly. Or they'd say, "I really should be using these gloves or this face shield, but instead I just do this and I just look away real quick," or whatever the case may be.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

That's where I would be able to step in and be able to be a resource for them, like, "Hey, do you want to try on these different gloves and give me feedback?" That's the kind of stuff that, for some reason, I just naturally interacted with the workers that way. When I later left that company of almost four years later, I learned after talking to people on the other side, after I had left, that they really appreciated that approach. I didn't know that. I didn't identify that, and so it was really cool to get that feedback when I left and be able to take that to future positions.

Jill:

Yeah, right. Four years there, what was your next stop?

Abby:

My next stop was working in insurance. I worked for an insurance carrier in their construction program group, so it was cool because I got to see other types of construction, other than the first company I worked for, they built water and wastewater treatment plants, so you can see a lot on those types of projects, but water, wastewater, it can also get old or stale.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

It was nice to work in insurance, risk control, and be able to see high-rise projects, multi-family residential projects, production-level plumbing types of work.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

Work with steel directors on a more close basis, all different types of trades, and so that was a great position and a really cool introduction to me to the world of insurance also.

Jill:

Yeah, yeah. What did you learn about the insurance industry and risk control for people who are listening who maybe haven't worked in that industry before, what's that like for a safety professional?

Abby:

It really tied together a lot of things that I was trying to do in the field, and what I learned is that if the workers and their supervisors could learn just even a little bit about the business of safety and how a workers' comp claim, even just one, can impact a business, so it was those types of things that I feel like I was getting close to really forming those lessons and communicating it to the workers at my first job, but really getting into insurance and talking to underwriters and learning this whole process, and talking to risk managers at my clients that I learned that this is the total picture, that safety's a lot about prevention, of course, and also the response to these potential claims.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

The insurance part of it and understanding how the experience modification rating and all the intricacies of even figuring out that EMR number, that these are all things that, if you can just digest a little piece of it and share it with the workers, it really starts to open their eyes about, oh, that's why Abby wants me to do it this way.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, you were starting to form how you speak about ROI and safety.

Abby:

Yes.

Jill:

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, those insurance numbers, that data is so powerful, particularly when it's real and not ethereal.

Abby:

Exactly.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Interesting. Were you doing that in Southern California as well, or had you-

Abby:

Yes.

Jill:

Yeah? Okay. Okay.

Abby:

Oh, yeah, Southern California and then that particular company was starting to beef up their operations in the Chicago area, so I would divide my time between Southern California and Chicago, which totally makes sense, right?

Jill:

Right. Sure. Hopefully you went to Chicago in the summer.

Abby:

Yes.

Jill:

What was next on your stop, or what got you to move on to something else and how long were you there?

Abby:

Yeah, so being in Southern California at the time of the Grow the Force initiative with the U.S. Military was very exciting and interesting, and any safety professional with experience in construction could really forge their own path because the Army Crops of Engineers required that there be an SSHO, Site Safety and Health Officer, of varying levels from one to six would be on their job sites full-time, and so that's what brought me back into construction, working for another general contractor on some really interesting and exciting projects on different military bases in Southern California.

Jill:

Wow, fascinating.

Abby:

Yeah. Yeah, that was cool.

Jill:

Yeah. You got to learn some of the gates that you'd pass through, more or less, for on a military perspective, so it added some new dimensions, I'm guessing.

Abby:

Oh, for sure. I just got a picture in my head of the EM385-1-1 manual standards. It is thick, it might be even four inches thick of a safety book. I can't remember another time of actually carrying around regulations with me. I don't think I've ever done that before because OSHA standards and Cal/OSHA standards, you can find it online. They don't change that frequently, you don't need to refer to them that frequently.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

The EM385, every single day, I would have to break out that book and show it to workers or have discussions about it with Army Crops personnel, our own project management personnel and superintendents, but that book, it was tattered and highlighted and pages were falling out. I found these very specific binders that everyone loved me for finding because it could reinforce your-

Jill:

Hold it.

Abby:

Yes, you could hold it. That was my partner, that was my colleague. I walked with that book almost everywhere I went.

Jill:

Uh-huh (affirmative).

Abby:

It's so, not contradictory, but it's almost like everything that safety professionals aren't now, that we don't want to be referring to the standards, so it was a tough mindset to have, but it was very necessary to get along on that project, or all those projects I had back there.

Jill:

Right? I think that's something, educationally, you learned in your grad program, was how to read regulations.

Abby:

Yes.

Jill:

Though what you just said is correct, we don't, necessarily, want to operate out of a standards book because we want to be advising people, standards are the minimum, right, but we do have to know what regulations are and we have to know how to read them, whether they're environmental regulations, because that comes our way, or whether they're the safety regulations, or something out of the NEC or the NFPA, or in your case, this military document. Were you able to easily figure out how to digest and read that because of the background that you had had in grad school, teaching you how to do that?

Abby:

For sure. I have to ask you a blast from the past, did you have Harvy Bursky as a teacher at UMD?

Jill:

I sure did, he was my favorite professor.

Abby:

Right?

Jill:

The person who taught us how to read regulations, folks, which means that you got a paper copy of both CFRs and you were required to bring, I don't know, what was it, six different colors of highlighter markers so that you could learn how to highlight. The highlighting was actually the magic to learning how to read a regulation so you know what went with what, and learning how to break it down.

Abby:

Absolutely. I thought of Harv many days on those projects as I was highlighting and making notes on the EM385.

Jill:

Yeah. Yeah, and you know, I think that's just something that I often help people who haven't had that background in reading regulations, just really how to read them, and it's not difficult once you know how they're organized and put together, but it definitely is something that can help your career when you look at these big bibles of regulations and go, "What?"

Abby:

So true.

Jill:

Where do I start? The same word appears all over the place, now what? Where do I go? How do I figure this out?

Abby:

Yep. There's no shortcut to it, you just have to dig into that book and you have to sit with it, and then you have to be a student of it because, especially on the Army Corps projects, you have to be able to speak in their terms.

Jill:

Yeah, right?

Abby:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jill:

Yeah, like you, I worked in the military for a little bit right out of grad school for the Department of Military Affairs for a while, so I'm hearing what you're saying.

Abby:

Oh, yeah.

Jill:

Yeah, it's interesting. You did that for a while, what was next?

Abby:

Yeah. Next, I got into insurance again. I wanted something that was maybe more stable because I saw the jobs, especially with the military, they were starting to slow down a little bit and not so much SSHO of the higher levels were needed on the projects. It's been a while since I looked, I'd have to look and see if it was either level five or level six that was required to be a CSP with 10 years of experience at similar work.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

You can imagine, back then, construction safety people were not going through CSP certification routes as frequently as people do now, so it was really tough to find someone with the 10 years of applicable experience and that CSP certification.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

The complexity of some of the projects that I was working on, they were wrapping up so there wasn't a lot of work down that path. Getting back into insurance, I worked for Travelers in their construction practice in Southern California, so that was really fun. Another venture into managing a book of clients, about 40 or more clients that needed various levels of risk control service, and a lot of it was OSHA 10, OSHA 30, and some of it was more interesting consulting work where I didn't have to refer to a specific standard or a specific guidance document, but actually got to dig in and work with the insured on what are their goals? What do they want to do?

One of my most favorite experiences was working with a client that wanted to apply for the AGC Construction Safety Excellence awards, and it was that specific safety professional, it was his personal goal, and also, he talked to the CEO, our president, of the company and that person got onboard too, so it was really cool to coach the safety professional through that and be able to see them interact more with the president of the company, too, so that really helped him in his career. They won, I think it was second place out of three places that first year.

Jill:

Yay.

Abby:

Recently, I saw that they won a first-place award, so that's really gratifying to see that they kept on that path.

Jill:

Oh, that's awesome.

Abby:

Yeah.

Jill:

Yeah. Abby, for our listeners who are working in their safety positions and have insurance, like everyone has insurance, when you talked about risk control services and that's what you provide, sometimes people don't know what they can ask their insurance providers or their insurance brokers for. Can you maybe share a little bit just to teach our audience if they haven't reached out and used their insurance carriers as a resource, how they would go about doing that and what they can expect?

Abby:

I'm a huge advocate of telling people to just ask for a bunch of services, and it probably drives some of my risk-control counterparts crazy because I've been behind the scenes on both sides, and I know when you're working for an employer, you often don't have all the time in the world to take on the projects that you either need to do or that you would like to do.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

I like to look at the broker and carrier risk-control professionals as an extension of your safety department.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

When I was a safety department of one, at the first company I worked for, I definitely took that to heart and was lucky to have some really great risk control consultants that took that true consultation approach with their insurance, and same thing on the broker's side, I think it's because I had such great service providers that turned into mentors that, when I went to that side of the business, being a risk control consultant, that I wanted to bring that same approach to my insurers.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

I know that there's people out there like that that can provide that true consultant approach to being a risk control person and so I want that for everybody.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative). Abby, if maybe someone is very new in their position and they're like, "How do I even find out who my risk control person is," so let's back it way up, if they're in their company and they need to get a door open to find out who their insurance company is, I mean, I can answer this question too, but where would you advise them to go within their company first to find out how do I make these connections and who do I ask for? Do they go to their accounting department or who do they go to?

Abby:

Yeah. First, I'd say to go to your boss, whoever that is, because I know that varies with different safety departments and organizations, so you might be reporting to a director of safety or safety manager, or CFO, or maybe reporting to HR, it could be anybody. Likely, most of these people have some kind of connection to insurance, and so they'll at least know maybe who your company's broker is and your broker will likely represent multiple lines of insurance, so that's a good place to start.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

If you get a direct line to your broker, that's awesome. The person you talk to is likely the producer or account executive, and you could just send them a quick email or call them quickly and just ask, "Hey, I'm so and so at this company and I wanted to know if there's risk control consultants available from your firm."

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

They'll tell you yes or no, and then a next question would be what about at our insurance carriers? Does our workers' comp carrier have risk control services?

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

They can put you in touch with those people because that broker representative, they're supposed to be the relationship side of insurance for your company, so they're the quarterback of what goes on with your company's insurance programs. A lot of things should start with them, and they know, they have a huge org chart that will tell you all the different insurance placement programs that you're in and who the right people are at each of those carriers.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative), and whether or not they're into safety or industrial hygiene because you can ask for industrial hygiene services, as well.

Abby:

Definitely. Yeah, there's some carriers that have specialist departments that it's just a matter of asking.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

Then what will happen is that the carrier might say no or they'll say they'll get back to you because they have to look and see if, based on the premiums that your company pays, or based on an existing risk control service plan that exists, if there's service time built in. Sometimes that's the annoying business side of things that gets in the way of my consulting approach, is that we do have to look at, well, how much is this company paying in premiums and what's been used and what's left over? There is a business case.

Jill:

Yep, right, how many hours do you have coming to you?

Abby:

Yeah.

Jill:

That's the thing for people listening, is that these are services that employers are often paying for but are underutilized.

Abby:

Exactly.

Jill:

It doesn't mean you're going to get an invoice for these services, it means that it's already been paid.

Abby:

Yes, and that's a huge-

Jill:

Go ahead and ask for it.

Abby:

Yes, and that's a huge point that I make to people, is that if you're not using the risk control services, likely they're putting that number in there somewhere, so you don't want to leave that on the table.

Jill:

Right, right. Thank you Abby. Thanks for sharing that information for our audience.

Abby:

Yeah.

Jill:

Yeah. Bring us up to speed, what's been happening or what's happened to your journey? Is there many more steps on this road, 15 years in?

Abby:

Yeah, there's a few.

Jill:

Yeah? Uh-huh (affirmative).

Abby:

There's a few that I haven't covered.

Jill:

Okay, yeah, yeah, please, please do, please do.

Abby:

Yeah, because I have been involved in a lot of different aspects of safety, so I feel like my path is representative of all the colors of the rainbow of what a safety pro could do. After working in insurance, I also worked for an association, I worked for the Associated General Contractors of Minnesota and I was their director of safety. Every, or I should say not every, AGC chapter in the country has a dedicated safety professional, so it is something different or special that not so many of these groups actually have.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

My role was to make sure that our membership was happy and provided safety consulting services and also revamped or refreshed the local Minnesota OSHA partnership with the AGC, which is called the Chase Program, which stands for Construction Health and Safety Excellence. When I was hired on with the AGC of Minnesota, that was the big task that the CEO set out in front of me.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

He said, "We've got the revive this program," and so I feel that was successful. The CHASE program is something that companies aspire to be in now, and I go around the city and go around the state at different job sites and I see the banners that people fly proudly, that they've got the CHASE, the different levels, one, two, or three status, so mission accomplished.

Jill:

Not unlike VPP status on the federal level?

Abby:

Correct.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

It might be, it's not as onerous, I might say. It was developed so that construction projects that don't last a year or longer, so those shorter term construction projects that they could receive some kind of safety designation or recognition for what they're doing because they didn't really fall into VPP or the MNSTAR, MNSHARP types of programs. They needed their own thing.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Wonderful.

Abby:

Yeah, so after AGC, I actually started my six-year stint of being an independent safety consultant, so I learned a lot during that time. That's when I basically took all the lessons I learned from my past positions and started learning new things about how to market myself and how to do accounting.

Jill:

How to run a business.

Abby:

How to run a business. Yeah, it started out where I had just one client, and lucky again that they coached me a little bit in what they wanted and what they needed, so they required me to have my own business checking account that they could write me checks to.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

In order to do that, I had to have a tax ID number, and in order to have that, I had to of established an actual business, so that was establishing myself as an LLC and then took that paperwork to the bank along with my tax ID number and started my first business checking account, which I still have. Had I not had that first client really pushing me to do these things and be a legitimate business, I don't know where I would've gone. I may not have been able to keep up the consulting for as long as I did.

Jill:

Sure. Congratulations on being an entrepreneur.

Abby:

Thank you.

Jill:

That's a whole different level of bravery.

Abby:

Yes.

Jill:

Nice job. Six years, too, that's great.

Abby:

Yeah. Coincidentally, my daughter is six and a half and going into first grade this year.

Jill:

Whoa.

Abby:

Yeah.

Jill:

You did all that simultaneously?

Abby:

Yes. It was out of necessity really. I worked for a small employer, AGC was a small employer, and not subject to FMLA and other maternity leave and family leave requirements, so we designed what we thought was a collaborative maternity leave program and it just turned out it wasn't right for me.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

I just took the leap and just kept building my business. First, it started out being things that I could do from home, and that's difficult when you're a safety professional. How do you work from home? You need to be out on a job site, you know?

Jill:

Yeah, especially when your first memory are those two people who are never at their desk, right?

Abby:

Exactly. Exactly. Back then, there was this website called Elance, like freelance but Elance.com, which is now called Upwork.com where I searched on there and found there were people looking for safety consulting where they needed someone to write a program, review a program, write a form, and that's where I learned about instructional design for the first time. That's where I learned about, even, HSI for the first time, so we have some crossover, too.

Jill:

Yeah, mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

I was finding some clients through Elance and Upwork and then started taking what I was learning there and going out and pounding the pavement and calling companies that I knew did this type of work and offering my services to write, just be an instructional designer for them, so that carried me through the first couple of years, my daughter's early newborn time, until I was able to get out and really be more out in the field.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Wow. Wow, that's an interesting path. I hadn't heard about Upwork.com before, so that's another nice resource for listeners who may be also in consulting who are looking for work.

Abby:

Definitely.

Jill:

Or maybe a side hustle.

Abby:

Yeah, yeah, I love that, that concept of a side hustle. There's a lot of work out there that people would never really think of. There's huge monster companies that just want someone to maybe look at one small program, and they're willing to pay you the hourly to do good work.

Jill:

Right, right, great. You got out of consulting, kind of, maybe?

Abby:

Yes.

Jill:

Okay, what was next? Yeah.

Abby:

What was next? That's where I'm at right now, I'm working for an insurance broker and so it's definitely coming full circle. I know there's more bases than in a baseball game, but however many bases there are that you can tag in being a safety professional, I feel like I've tagged all of them and what I've done, and different titles that I've had and different roles and responsibilities that I've had, and so now, being on the broker side of things and being able to be that ultimate person in charge of a company's insurance programs is really exciting. I like bringing my risk control and safety background because a lot of insurance producers don't have that, so I'm able to speak in a different way to clients and prospects.

Jill:

Yeah, right, right. Great. Great. When I introduced you, I mentioned that you're the president of the ASSP Northwest Chapter and the administrator of the WISE Common Interest Group, and I'm interested to hear how that works with your carer, how that's helped you and how you help safety professionals, and then I know you have a very large presence in social media, and LinkedIn specifically, and I'm wondering, do all of those things work together for you, with regard to ASSP and WISE and how that all fits together for you?

Abby:

The short answer is yes and then I'll try to weave this whole story.

Jill:

Yeah. Okay, yeah. Please.

Abby:

Yeah. ASSP, or I guess back then, ASSE, membership has been a part of my career since school. At UMD, we have, and it still exists to this day, a student section of ASSP up at UMD, so I don't remember what role I had with the student section back then, we all just volunteered and wanted it as a resume builder at the time.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

Back then, it was very easy to get people to volunteer with the chapter and the section. Now, not so much, it's tough to get people to volunteer and to really commit to being volunteers with the ASSP and the different groups as part of ASSP and the local chapter.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

I never let my ASSP membership lapse, so I'm going on 16 years of continuous membership, starting from the student chapter level to the professional membership level.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

I've also always been an active volunteer with the ASSP chapters I've been a part of. When I moved to Southern California, I knew I had to continue my ASSE, ASSP membership. I found the Orange County chapter because I was based in San Diego, I lived in northern San Diego, and my job sites were everywhere, so I picked a chapter that was in the middle of everything.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

The Orange County chapter, I still have a special place in my heart for it, even to this day, such a great and active chapter of professionals. It's where I had my first real elected position where I was elected secretary of that chapter and always volunteered on our PDC planning committees and other event planning committees, and I just really feel that if I didn't have those professions pushing me, it's that traditional being voluntold thing, had they not really pushed me, that I don't know where I'd be with membership and involvement right now, so I'm always grateful to them and maintain relationships with a lot of people that I served on different chapter initiatives with back at that time.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

When I moved to Minnesota, I made sure to change my membership and join with the Northwest chapter, which it's a weird chapter name, but we have the full state of Minnesota, the whole state of North Dakota and South Dakota and western Wisconsin, so we're one of the largest geographical area chapters that the ASSP has.

Jill:

Wow.

Abby:

Yeah. I was elected delegate with the chapter almost immediately after I moved to town. Again, another voluntold type of thing.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

I've always just kept in touch and always have been volunteering with the different board members here, and so when the vice president of the chapter, over a year ago, said she was moving, we needed to have an emergency vice president election, and so I chose to throw my name in and nobody else did. You still have to have an election anyway, so people confirmed that I would be the vice president, which in this chapter means you automatically succeed to president-elect and then you automatically succeed to president, so may have had the shortest ever vice president term and then became president-elect almost right away. Now I'm starting, or I started, my president term July 1st.

Jill:

Congratulations.

Abby:

Thank you. There's definitely some things that I see as opportunities with this chapter, as far as leveraging technology and using social media, and there's things I'm learning every day. For example, there's other ASSP chapters in the country that use Facebook Live to stream their meetings, and so that's something that I want to try with my chapter.

Jill:

Nice. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

It turns out, you do not need to be a Facebook user to be able to access that recording.

Jill:

Okay.

Abby:

Yeah.

Jill:

Good to know.

Abby:

I know with other safety professionals, I know they're often keeping that separation of work and Facebook, especially Facebook, because just permeates everything, right? Facebook is your life, so I understand why people hesitate to use Facebook for business purposes, and I was one of those people. Facebook is the last, well second to the last, social media presence that I established as the business side, so it was Safety 2018 with ASSP that I was speaking on social media and how to leverage social media as a safety professional. I thought, "I can't talk about this if I don't have a Facebook profile for business,' so I started a Facebook profile for business.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

I hover around just over 100 people that like the page, and that's fine with me because, as I started using Facebook for business, I've found that there's a lot of really cool features that help me with other social media platforms. My favorite thing about using Facebook for business is that I really enjoy this scheduled post feature, so sometimes, and if anyone follows me on LinkedIn, you know this, I might post four or five times a day, and sometimes I like to be mindful of that and spread out the information, or I think of something that would be good in a week.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

I'll go to Facebook first, I'll schedule a post about that topic to be posted in a day, in three days, in a week, whatever makes sense, and then what happens is that I schedule that post and when Facebook posts the post, I get a notification. When I see that notification, that's when it reminds me, oh, I'm going to post this on LinkedIn now in realtime.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

I know it's frowned on to schedule posts or to use one of these aggregator sites that you post for multiple social media accounts form the same platform, but I like to use Facebook as that first place that a post appears and then copy, paste, and change things a little bit as I post them on other platforms

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Thank you for that explanation, I appreciate that as someone who, just this week, did a profile for Facebook for business, so yes, you guys will be able to find me on Facebook.

Abby:

Awesome.

Jill:

On a business site. I guess the question is, what is your intention with the posts? Is it to help fellow safety professionals or what is it that you normally post about, Abby, and yeah, school us on why you do what you do.

Abby:

Yeah. I think the main reason that I do what I do is because I want other safety professionals to look good and I want them to know what's going on. I know from being on this risk control side of things and when I worked for AGC that sometimes people just need a whisperer, someone to just send a quick email to them and say, "Hey, did you know about this new regulation?" Or this new product, or whatever it is, so I like to consider myself a social media safety messenger where I'm giving people just these little nuggets of things that, whether it's just something that's good for them to know as an individual safety pro or something that they can take back to their workplace, or a specific resource that they could take back to their workplace and use right away or use the next time they have a big safety day or whatever they have going on.

Jill:

Sure, sure. Sure, so helping support the profession?

Abby:

Yes.

Jill:

Yeah, wonderful. Wonderful. Well, yeah, thank you for that explanation. The platforms that you use are Facebook and LinkedIn, and are you on Instagram as well?

Abby:

Yeah, also Twitter.

Jill:

Okay, I forgot about that one.

Abby:

Oh, yeah. That's a good one. That used to be my favorite. I mean, it still has a special place, but it used to be a lot more active for me personally, and I feel like other people are now catching up and using it. I always joke when I go to a large safety conference, there's people that I don't Tweet with unless we're at a conference, so that's when people seem to really value that quick, brief communication. LinkedIn is a huge one that I've been leveraging more and more the past few years. Back way up to safety consulting, when you're by yourself and you're not associated with a company, that you can say, "Hey, I'm Abby and I work for so and so," instead it was, "Hey, I'm Abby and I work for the Ferri Group, you've never heard of it, you have no clue what we even do."

Did I say we? I meant me. It's just me. I had to figure out how can I make it not make it seem like I have more going on, but how can I amplify what I'm doing and get my message out to as many people as possible?

I had a website, or I still have a website, the theferrigroup.co because the ferrigroup.com I think is an auto dealership or something, so I couldn't get that site. I still maintain that website as a safety blog, so I post information there, and what I found years ago is that I would get some hits on my website, and that's great and that feels good, but then LinkedIn started to show us our analytics and I would see that on some posts, I would get 100 views. Back then, I thought, "Wow. That's amazing," because I wouldn't get 100 views sometimes even in month on my website, but I still might feel good about the metrics I was looking at on my website.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

LinkedIn analytics really opened my eyes. I also, around the same time, I started listening to this podcast, they're named Gary Vaynerchuk. I don't know if you've heard of him

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes, yes, I have, mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

He advocates for things, or he articulated things, that are things that I was operating on and things I was doing, so the lessons that I take from Gary Vaynerchuk are document, don't create. For social media, he advocates that you should just document what you're doing, so you'll see on my LinkedIn today, or maybe you saw it, I took a selfie because I have this crazy microphone thing on my ears, and posted, and I think I tagged you.

Jill:

You did, I saw it. Uh-huh (affirmative).

Abby:

Yeah, and just this is what I'm doing.

Jill:

Uh-huh (affirmative).

Abby:

I'll be able to post about it again when the podcast is posted. I'm a big fan of the document, don't create. Also, using LinkedIn to create value and to post information that people can use, so those two big lessons I learned from Gary Vaynerchuk are things that I was already doing on my own.

Jill:

Sure, validated it.

Abby:

That's exciting.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

Yeah, totally validated it, yeah.

Jill:

Yeah. For people, you're helping inform the safety profession, thank you for that, there are many of us when we change jobs or we're looking to change jobs in the 21st century, we can leverage some of these social media platforms where people are posting about work, can you maybe share with the audience if maybe someone is at that place in their career where they're looking for their next thing, how might they use some of these platforms in their search or in their networking?

Abby:

LinkedIn is huge. There's companies, they use LinkedIn in their recruiting and verification when they hear about you.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

If you're not on LinkedIn, you almost may not even exist, or they're looking at LinkedIn, they're looking at your resume or your timeline as it's listed on LinkedIn and comparing it to your resume. I've heard of people saying that they maybe didn't get a call back or an interview because their resume didn't match their LinkedIn.

Jill:

Okay, so that's a tip, make sure those two things align.

Abby:

Yeah, make sure you have a professional looking photo as your LinkedIn profile picture. It's a lot of guys that I see that you can tell that the picture was cropped, that their date from the last wedding they were at is cropped out because that was the last time they were really dressed up.

Jill:

That's the last time they were wearing a suit.

Abby:

Those pictures are fine, but people have an iPhone, find a friend with an iPhone 10 or iPhone X, or whatever it is, and have them take a picture of you with a professional background, or some nice architectural wall of some sort, and use that as your profile picture. Make sure that your timeline is correct, that the companies you've worked for are correct, add some bullet points about what you did. Often, if I have to update my resume, I look at my LinkedIn, that's my cloud-based record of what the heck I've been doing in my career.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

Strongly suggest making sure your profile has a refresh and looks good. As far as content and interaction, and this is something Gary V. talks about too, is look at the people that are posting a lot that are in your industry or maybe at companies that you want to work for, and post on their posts. Engage in conversation, as long as you have something relevant or professional to say.

Jill:

Right. Right. Makes sense. There are many LinkedIn groups that are related to our industry, lots of them, ASSP among many, and some of those groups also host job posting areas. Can you maybe talk about that?

Abby:

Yeah. The LinkedIn groups, for a couple years, they got buried and people couldn't find them and it wasn't very intuitive, so really, in the past maybe six months to a year, LinkedIn groups are more intuitively found when you're looking at the LinkedIn platform on your desktop computer, your laptop, or on your phone. I'm seeing activity pick up a little bit more in those groups, but honestly, the place where I see the most engaged activity is still on Facebook groups.

Jill:

Okay. Facebook groups for safety?

Abby:

Yeah, there is a safety consultant group, there's BCSP, if you have a certification, or I guess even if you didn't you could still join the group. Our WISE Common Interest Group has a Facebook group that's been around for eight years.

Jill:

Okay, wonderful.

Abby:

Yeah, so those are very engaging, interactive, you can find a lot of people in there to talk to in the areas that you might want to work in a job.

Jill:

Right, right. Abby, let's not forget about that WISE Common Interest Group, the Women In Safety Excellence. Talk about what that group is about and how safety professionals might get involved or be part of that as women in our industry.

Abby:

Yeah. The WISE Common Interest Group, from what I've noticed, we're the most active common interest group or community within ASSP.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

I don't know what it is, people just gravitate to it, they like what we're doing. One of our main mission points is that we are about the advancement of women in the profession because there's not a lot of women at those upper executive leadership levels in safety, so that's one of our identified focus areas. We also are working a lot on PPE Fit and making sure that there's a range of sizes available in PPE and work apparel that's available for workers, and whether it's safety professionals or the people that we serve in the trades, or at different manufacturing facilities. The third thing that we're focusing on a lot lately is workplace violence because what we learned, and we were shocked by, is that homicide is one of, if not, the leading cause of death for women for occupational exposures.

Jill:

At work, mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

Yeah. We want to focus on those three things. There's a lot to talk about with women and safety, but we narrowed down those three specific focus areas for our group.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative). For women who are listening in our profession, as they're listening to this podcast, how might they connect with WISE? Do you need to first be a member of ASSP?

Abby:

Yes. I was going to say that first. You've got to be an ASSP member, which I think the lowest membership level, if you don't pay for anything extra, I think is $150 and then the WISE common Interest Group is an extra 20 or 25, gosh, I should know this.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

Very small fee, because WISE hosts webinars throughout the year, and often a webinar from ASSP is going to cost a certain dollar amount, and it's over $20, as a matter of fact, and so even if you just attend one webinar put on by WISE, that would be an immediate return on your investment. I try to put that out there for people. We're starting to figure out ways that we can get CEUs offered for our webinar content, and we've got people that are lined up out our door to speak on webinars to our WISE group, so that's exciting.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative),

Abby:

There's so much more to WISE membership. We're unique within the different communities of ASSP because we've identified that we need to have a presence at all the local chapters, or as many local chapters as possible, so we have a program that's called Chapter WISE where there's group leaders that take the WISE initiatives and communication to the chapter level, so that's probably the main reason WISE is as effective and engaged as it is.

Jill:

Wonderful. Wonderful. Thank you for that share, I appreciate that, I appreciate that. You said that you can also follow WISE on Facebook, as well.,

Abby:

Yeah, and actually, the WISE Facebook group, we do not gate keep that membership to people that are ASSP and/or WISE members. Anyone that is involved in safety-health environment, you're welcome to join that group.

Jill:

Yeah, wonderful. Well, Abby, as we wind up our time together today, I'm wondering if there's any best practice pieces that you'd like to share as some closing thoughts with our audience? You said that you're really into helping our profession, I appreciate that. Are there wise words, lessons learned, things that you'd like to share?

Abby:

Oh, my gosh, wise words, that would be something.

Jill:

I think you've shared a number today, but yes, please.

Abby:

Sure. My biggest thing is that I think people just still need to be engaged all the time, so whether you're an ASSP member or a volunteer for something that's related to safety and health at your organization or as part of an industry group, it's just important to stay active and keep out there. Whether you're someone that consumes content or consumes training or that you're actually putting out content or training, whether it's social media at your own company on your internal social media, or doing worker training, it's just important to keep yourself out there so that your skills can be fresh for communication for different types of people.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

As safety professionals, we speak with workers, we speak with executives. Now you're going to be speaking with different risk control people and people in insurance, so make sure that you're just always honing those communication skills, and so I think communication skills are not only the things that you do in person, but also on social media platforms. I really encourage people to just go out there. I mean, if you use Instagram, make an Instagram account that's just for safety stuff. I should've added this earlier, that when I did that social media presentation for ASSP a couple years ago, there were two young ladies that, I didn't write down their names, didn't get a card or anything, so if you're listening, hit me up. They came up to me after the session and they said, "What's your Instagram?"

I said, "I don't have one," and it was just awful because I had just done this session on social media and here come these two younger people and they're like, "Well, what about this?" At their request, I started an Instagram profile for safety, I just call it Safety Abby. I thought, "What am I going to post on here? This is stupid."

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby:

You'll see, I've posted, and a job site can lend itself to some very Instagramable images, so there's a lot that you can post and there's a lot of safety. In my industry of construction, there's a lot of construction companies on Instagram, and so there's a lot of things that happen in the comments or in the direct messages, and it's fun. It's just a fun way to expand your network and you just never know where you're going to find that connection that gives you that gem for training or that next job. I got some cool T-shirts from Turner Construction because I commented that I thought their safety week shirts were awesome, and so they sent me some. You just never know.

Jill:

Helping people with hazard recognition skills as you do it.

Abby:

For sure.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative) mm-hmm (affirmative) mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, Abby, thank you so much. Thanks in particular for the tips on safety consulting for anyone who's maybe thinking about doing that with their career, really appreciate that part. Thank you for elevating the safety profession by being, as you called it, the social media safety messenger.

Abby:

Yes.

Jill:

I like that.

Abby:

Thank you.

Jill:

Of course, for the work that you're doing with WISE, really appreciate that, too, and thanks for being a guest today.

Abby:

You know what, Jill? I want to thank you because I have become a recent consumer of podcasts and there were a lot of male voices, and I was purposely seeking out podcasts that were led by women, so I'm really excited that you're doing this and that it's in our field, so thank you.

Jill:

You're welcome. It's my pleasure, and I really love doing this. Thank you all so much for joining in today and listening, and thank you for the work that all of you 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 or subscribe in the podcast player of your choosing. You can find us on YouTube, and guess what, just starting now, you can also find the Accidental Safety Pro on Facebook.

If you have a suggestion for a guest, including if it's yourself, please give me a call or rather send me an email at social@vividlearningsystems.com. Until next time, thanks for listening.