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#4: Teach me.

June 27, 2018 | 52 minutes 50 seconds

To pay his way through school, Jeremiah started working in agriculture. Today, he’s the Director of Occupational Safety & Environmental Risk Management for a prestigious organization in the zoo and aquarium industry.

While studying animal science and planning to attend veterinary school, he began a career in safety to support his young family, eventually moving on to larger leadership roles and never looking back.

Speaking with series host Jill James, Jeremiah shares what he’s learned along the way, his good fortune to work early on in high-performing Safety cultures, what he is most proud of, and the reason why “teach” and “me” are the two most important words he’s ever learned.

Transcript

Jill:

This is the Accidental Safety Pro brought to you by Vivid Systems and the Health and Safety Institute. Episode number four. My name is Jill James, Vivid's chief safety officer and today I'm joined by Jeremiah. Jeremiah is from the zoo and aquarium industry on the west coast, and is a director of occupational safety and environmental risk management. Welcome Jeremiah and thanks for being with us today.

Jeremiah:

Thanks for having me. I'm happy to be here.

Jill:

Great. So Jeremiah, how many years have you been in safety? How long have you been doing this kinda work?

Jeremiah:

So I would say 13 years total, probably 10 years formally in a safety type position.

Jill:

Okay. Great. So when you think to the way back, understanding that not all of us came into safety directly. It wasn't like so many of didn't ... We weren't little kids thinking we were gonna get into this career. What was the backdoor way you came into it? Like what were some of those first jobs that sort of led you and put you on this path?

Jeremiah:

Well it's interesting and I think you're right, the accidental safety manager. Many of us never planned on being in this role. When I grew up, I didn't say I wanted to be a safety manager-

Jill:

Right.

Jeremiah:

When I was a kid. But I started in a production setting after college, I got a job, went to work. But I was responsible for managing a large group of people and the company I was with was very risk focused and tried to control risk. And so the emphasis was on PPE and ergonomics and keeping everybody fit, just like you started your intro. We wanted everybody to go home in the same condition they came to work and I was fortunate that the company I was with really had a strong, developed safety culture and it rubbed off on every supervisor, every manager. And by being able to pick up that skill, it really afforded me opportunities down the road that got me where I am today. So I had to ... It was something I had to embrace as part of our job responsibilities.

Jill:

Yeah. So you had ... You said it was your first job out of college in a production facility. What was your... What did you go to college for? What's your degree?

Jeremiah:

So I went to school for animal science-

Jill:

Okay.

Jeremiah:

Like a lot of folks, like I thought I was gonna be a veterinarian.

Jill:

Oh.

Jeremiah:

But-

Jill:

Wow, interesting.

Jeremiah:

But grad school seemed kind of a lofty goal and I worked a lot through college, so I ... The grades weren't quite where they were supposed to be and it was such a competitive ... to get into vet school.

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

And I get to a point where I just was accumulating debt in college. I needed to get to work and so I looked for the best opportunity I could in that field, and being in animal science, it was naturally in agriculture.

Jill:

Okay.

Jeremiah:

And so I ended up with a large agricultural company that really focused on safety and risk, like I mentioned before.

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

And I was fortunate that I had that opportunity.

Jill:

Yeah. So what part of the country was that first job?

Jeremiah:

So that was in the mid west.

Jill:

Okay.

Jeremiah:

Actually west Texas, up in the Panhandle and-

Jill:

Okay.

Jeremiah:

There's more cows than people and that was the industry I was working in.

Jill:

Right. Well that's cool. So how long were you at that first job about?

Jeremiah:

Let's see. I was a production supervisor for about a year and it was the type of work that was physical, it was demanding, I was on the night shift.

Jill:

Wow.

Jeremiah:

I had a small young family.

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

An opportunity came up in the environmental department, which was something that had ... it had a microbiology component. It was waste water, biogas, things I was really interested in and I was able to apply some of the science background that I had had in school, and always had an interest. But it opened up a whole ‘nother level of risk. Instead of just looking at PPE and ergonomics for folks that were working an hourly shift, just trying to get through a shift. It was really looking at more hazard recognition, like going into confined spaces or H2S and working with large equipment and machine guarding and things like that. So it went from that personal safety factor to ... Now it's recognize big risk and you're working in smaller teams. You gotta be more dynamic, you gotta plan ahead.

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

You need policies and procedures. So it was really a great chance to kinda broaden that experience. I didn't even realize it was happening at the time.

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

I was just doing the job.

Jill:

Right. Was it intimidating? I mean that's a pretty big responsibility for a young person, not necessarily with that background. Was it intimidating or do you remember it being more like exhilarating and you're like digging into the research piece of how does this work?

Jeremiah:

I was fortunate that the company I was with had a really great training program.

Jill:

Okay.

Jeremiah:

And so we spent time in multiple different departments before we landed where we would be working, and it was a department that I had spent a couple weeks with, that I knew I had an interest in. So when the opportunity came, I was really excited about it. There were other benefits, it got me off the night shift, it got me ... So I'd get to see my family more and things like that. So there were motivating factors, but I knew it was the opportunity for me at that facility at that time. So I fully embraced it and it was exciting, it really was.

Jill:

Yeah. So you were there for a while and then what was the next step? What was the next part of your safety journey?

Jeremiah:

So I did the environmental management piece, which was environmental auditing and again, waste water management, and I got to go to different facilities and stuff like that all over North America. And it gave me the opportunity when it came to leap into what we all know as the EH&S role, environmental health and safety. An opportunity came up and it was actually a canning industry-

Jill:

Okay.

Jeremiah:

Where they were lacking some environmental experience. They had some opportunities we'll say with some of their permitting and stuff like that. And I got to work with an individual that was strong on the safety side, not on the environmental side, and so we kinda combined our powers. But that was the first time I had the formal safety title of an EHS manager. So it was the two combined and so at that point, that's where it was, "Hey, you're responsible now for these supervisors, making sure that they're managing appropriately, keeping their staff safe, setting up programs, reducing their ex mod." All those types of things that come along with the safety program.

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

So that was about five years into my career-

Jill:

Sure.

Jeremiah:

Where I actually had that in true safety title. And so it was something I embraced and I was eager to get out there and make a difference and really in this safety role, you have that opportunity, so.

Jill:

Right. You do. So ... And it sounds like maybe that was one of your first opportunities to kinda have a mentor right, in the same work environment too. You said you had partnered with someone who had more of a background in safety.

Jeremiah:

It was. I had a great environmental mentor and I owe a lot to him. He taught me a lot about that side and he was always safety minded, he never wanted to get anybody hurt. But to have someone that was purely focused on risk management and safety from the broad perspective, yeah, it takes a mentor. Safety's a learned behavior.

Jill:

Right.

Jeremiah:

I mean all of these stuff, you've gotta have someone kinda show you the ropes and get you up speed, especially for the industry specific stuff. You know?

Jill:

Yeah. Right.

Jeremiah:

There's the common knowledge in the plant or the group that you work with and that's key to helping you be successful as a safety manager.

Jill:

Yeah. Can you think of anything from back in those days that you ... in the moment you can think, "Wow, I never thought I'd do that." Or "That was a really cool thing I'm really proud of and think about it still to this day." Or "Man, that was such a crazy thing I had to do to build street cred. I can't believe I did that."

Jeremiah:

Well there's plenty of things. I can remember my days in the rendering plants-

Jill:

Oh, sure.

Jeremiah:

Where we had big steam cookers and pressure vessels, different things like that, where maybe there was a spill or a failure of some sort that constantly would go ... Things would go awry during a shift in a rendering facility and having to get in with rubber boots and a shovel with all the guys and start shoveling. You know? And it's ... unique experiences I'll never forget. Coming home and having to leave my clothes, my work clothes on the front porch because my wife wouldn't let them come in the front door.

Jill:

Yes.

Jeremiah:

You know?

Jill:

Yes.

Jeremiah:

But-

Jill:

Yeah, that's dramatic.

Jeremiah:

The stuff that I really enjoyed early on was getting into the confined space piece and the confined space entry and participating in those types of trainings, the hands on stuff. We would do lagoon clean outs or we had H2S filters that we would have to remove the medium out of. And so working side by side with contractors and staff-

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

To put together a rescue plan, to practice that piece and fortunately, we never had incidents. But we always felt like we were prepared for them.

Jill:

Right.

Jeremiah:

Which was great, it gives you a lot of confidence that you're doing the right thing, that you're taking care of your teammates. Everybody's ... It's a much better work environment when you know everybody's got your back and you know the plan, you know what you're gonna do, and to be able to do it with confidence.

Jill:

When you were doing those plans way back then, confined space and probably I'm guessing training people side by side like, "This is how we're gonna do it. This is how we're gonna monitor the area. This is the rescue equipment we're going to use. Here's how we're locking things up." Was it ... The people that you're working with then, the people doing the work, was it a big sell or did they kinda go along and say, "Okay. This makes a lot of sense." Or did you have detractors who were like, "We've been doing it this way for 20 years. Why are we have to listen to you kid?"

Jeremiah:

Haha...You know the fortunate part at that time in my career and in that role, I had the buy in from the upper management, from the corporate level, that safety is gonna be a priority. We're not budging on compliance. So it made that piece easier. It doesn't mean that I haven't run into that-

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

In other areas.

Jill:

Lucky you.

Jeremiah:

So I was lucky in that format, where I was able to get the grounding and develop the skillset, that we had the buy-in in the hierarchy that made it possible. At the stage, if I hadn't had that, I don't think I could've pursued a safety career any further. It would've been too much of a struggle.

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

And I probably would've gone a different way, but at that point in my career, we had the upper management buy in, which I know most safety managers struggle with, that they don't always have that. They're always coaching up and coaching down, but in that situation where I really started getting my feet wet and really started to have influence, I was fortunate to have folks above me that knew the value in the work that I was doing. And the size of the organization and corporation because risk was so important to them, they saw value in it. So there was really a top down approach at that point.

Jill:

Wow. Lucky you, I mean I that's I think unusual for a lot of people in our field, to kinda walk into jobs where that culture and that emphasis already exists. Yeah. You mentioned the rendering plant, which make me think of when I was working with OSHA. I investigated exactly one rendering plant and it's the closest I ever got in my career to vomiting. And so when you're describing what you just described, I totally am transported back to this rendering plant and I was ... it was in July that I was inspecting it in Minnesota when it's hot and humid. And you talked about your wife telling you to leave the clothes on the porch, the leather of my belt-

Jeremiah:

Yes. Yes.

Jill:

Smelled like the rendering plant.

Jeremiah:

Yeah. I don't envy the guys that do that for a living.

Jill:

No. Right?

Jeremiah:

And I ... If we weren't on the podcast, I could tell you a wonderful story about a college intern that came and worked and ended up in the rendering plant, and it had some experience to you. And there was a ... Basically pointed a ... And while we were doing one of these clean ups, this young man was running in and out of the plant to vomit as you said.

Jill:

Oh.

Jeremiah:

And one of the managers goes, "Where are you going?" He's like, "It doesn't matter. We're a rendering plant."

Jill:

Right?

Jeremiah:

You know?

Jill:

Like you don't have to worry about keeping the floor clean.

Jeremiah:

Exactly.

Jill:

Oh, my gosh. That was so funny.

Jeremiah:

So no, if no one's ever experienced it ... I mean that's the best description. I mean once you step into it, it's like ... That's the normal reaction, you know?

Jill:

Yeah, yeah. It was-

Jeremiah:

The biological reaction. Yeah.

Jill:

Right. It wasn't the plant insides that bothered me so badly and I think I have a pretty strong stomach, but it was ... They had a load out bay.

Jeremiah:

Yeah.

Jill:

And so all these trucks ... all these semis would back into this load out bay, kind of down a little bit of an embankment and it was covered over and it was ... it was hot and it was summer. And doing my job, I was walking between all of these semis as I was looking to see if wheels were chocked-

Jeremiah:

Right.

Jill:

Or if dock logs were being used or whatever, and it was between those trucks where it was really bad.

Jeremiah:

Yeah. There's a unique slurry. There's a unique kind of-

Jill:

Yes. Right.

Jeremiah:

And there's ... Yeah, there's nothing like it.

Jill:

Right. So the crazy things right, that we do in this job and then like you said, people that work in these facilities year after year and ... for their livelihood and our role. What is our role? Our role is to make that as safe and as pleasant for them as possible. So you ... In the canning industry, different from where you had been in the agricultural industry, you added some ... I guess probably some more machinery knowledge I'm guessing to your bag of safety tricks of that time, huh?

Jeremiah:

Sure. Sure. The canning industry, it's very unique because you have ... not unlike a lot of other agriculture, you have these short harvest seasons.

Jill:

Oh, sure.

Jeremiah:

Where you have these facilities that run around the clock and you have seasonal folks. So you've got ... everyone's gotta be trained or retrained. But yeah, you've got a lot more conveyor belts, moving equipment, the can seamers, the can fillers. Everything is spinning, turning, it's steam powered. The cookers are steam powered, so it's hot.

Jill:

It's hot. Yeah.

Jeremiah:

But there's automation, but there's a lot more manual process. I mean it's an industry that really hasn't changed a lot from back in the 40s and 50s. Some of the equipment we ran was old ductile iron equipment that was built in the 30s, 40s or 50s, 'cause the technology hasn't changed much.

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

So it was a different ... definitely a different environment, but we still had the material handling, material moving issues, whether it's forklifts, flatbed trucks-

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

Conveyor belts. A lot of different things like that that probably presented the most risk, just because everybody's in a hurry, everybody's in a tight space and you have to keep up. We had facilities that had a 100 trucks a day, another facility that had 300 trucks a day and these are produce coming straight from the field that needs to be in a can in four to six hours.

Jill:

Right.

Jeremiah:

So there's a lot of pressure.

Jill:

Sure.

Jeremiah:

But every individual is a valued individual with a certain skillset. They're not ... You can't just go find another seamer mechanic that can work on a seamer. You gotta keep those guys motivated, healthy and it's tough because those are types of jobs where you ... there are no weekends. These guys work the whole harvest. You know?

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

It may be 90 days, a 120 days and it's important to them because they wanna get as much work as they can during that period, and they follow the harvest. They may go somewhere else and do something in another location three months later.

Jill:

Sure. So pressure's high all the way around from safety to-

Jeremiah:

Right.

Jill:

Yeah, the whole thing is high. So back then, particularly when you're running 24 hour shifts, how did you do the training back then? And I'm guessing you were working some pretty late nights or overnights too. But how did you approach that with all of those people?

Jeremiah:

Well we found over time that the most effective way was to try to get everybody pre-hire from the season and do a four to five hour safety orientation, where we covered your basics. Whether it was emergency action plan, machine guarding, personal protective equipment, heat stress was huge.

Jill:

Yeah, I bet.

Jeremiah:

So we front loaded the season with as much safety messaging as we could. We actually partnered with the union to help them to understand, "Hey, we're here to keep your folks safe." And they bought into it as well. But it did take a lot of oversight during the season. We had ... Every shift had an EMT on it. It was kinda the first responder, but also managed the safety process. We had ... We instituted an inspection program for before and after each break for supervisors and they worked with EMTs. We had cooling stations set up. We used to have to flush our eye washes about every hour, because this was such a warm environment.

Jill:

Oh, wow. The water would get too hot.

Jeremiah:

The water would get warm in-

Jill:

Oh, wow.

Jeremiah:

In the eye washes.

Jill:

Sure.

Jeremiah:

So we had guys that basically around the clock were making rounds and keeping safety at the forefront. We had ... Personal protective equipment was issued by the supervisor. So the inspections were done by the supervisors, but we had somebody in safety to have oversight for each shift. So it was really ... The important part was sharing the responsibilities, making sure that everybody knew their part in keeping their staff members safe. It took me back to being that supervisor on a production floor and understanding how important each one of my team members is. And that experience is what helped me be successful with the folks in the cannery and developing a system that wasn't ... You have to make it easy for a frontline supervisor to manage safety. You have to make the PPE available immediately. You can't have them run halfway across the plant when they're trying to meet a production goal.

Jill:

Right.

Jeremiah:

You have to have it at their fingertips. You have to make it easy for them to do and you have to help them understand why it's important to keep their staff running. And how ... When they don't, how it can really impact them.

Jill:

Right. Right. And what can happen in those times. So you built ... One skill built onto another skill. So what was the next stop in your career after the canning industry?

Jeremiah:

Well I had a short stop in produce. I went lettuce actually, fresh lettuce and that was ... It was very similar to the canning piece and then after that, I segued into zoos and aquariums. I know it sounds like kind of a leap, but with the animal science background-

Jill:

Right.

Jeremiah:

And that point I had gotten pretty astute in reducing ex mods and workers comp claims, which is all part of a safety manager's role, that by developing a process to minimize those injuries, workers comp claims, it was ... When somebody needs that, that's something that translates across all industry and so I was fortunate that I got into the zoo and aquarium industry and was able to take over some of that piece on the worker's compensation, develop a safety program and help turn around, where things had kinda gotten a little bit out of hand.

Jill:

So in your career, I mean this is a really big change. I mean zoo and aquarium industry, so that's a change. But in my head I'm thinking you have more than employees now. You've got volunteers, you've got the public, the people who are enjoying the zoo and aquarium industry. Has that all been added to your safety plate as well?

Jeremiah:

Well it's kinda funny 'cause you talk about being an accidental safety manager.

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

We wear all these different hats, especially these facilities where you that EH&S role. So a part of what I did is I managed security too. I never kind of include that in the repertoire of things that we've done.

Jill:

Okay.

Jeremiah:

But site security for particularly the cannery. We had warehouses in an area where we had to keep things secure. And so having some of that background translating over into now, yeah. We have a public facing guest experience, where folks are coming in and out. How do we keep them safe? How do we keep the staff safe? And then we have a living collection that we're also responsible for. So no, I think it's-

Jill:

That's more than a trifecta.

Jeremiah:

Right. And it boils down to having a savvy eye to identify risk or hazards and ... and then it's just general duty. Falling back on-

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

What's the best thing that we can do to keep people from avoiding this hazard or injuring themselves on this. And as long as you are willing to take the responsibility, share those responsibilities with others, get their buy in, I think a lot of safety management principles translate to every industry.

Jill:

Yeah. Yeah. Wow, that's intense. So you've worked in a couple different parts of the country. You're on the west coast now and you were in the mid west before and I forgot to ask where the canning industry was. How has the way that you approach things changed or did it change with people in just different parts of the country? Is there a different vibe and a different way that you approach the employees that you're working?

Jeremiah:

That's an interesting question and I think probably in your role as you travel from location to location, it's probably pretty obvious to you. But I don't think it's obvious to folks that don't get from region to region, but I would say absolutely yes. Texas has a certain way of doing things. They try to get things done immediately, "Let's address it now and let's get it fixed." And on the west coast, you talk like California casual and things take time. Sometimes you have to be a little bit more diplomatic with your approach, with your messaging. You have to front end load a lot of the reasoning for why we need to do this, to help folks understand, to solicit that buy in. And then still it takes developing a partnership, to work along to get this objective accomplished. I think in every location, you still have the old timer that says, "Hey. We've been doing this for 30 years this way. Nothing's ever happened." But I think there are differences in regions and-

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

I won't necessarily say work ethic, but just the core values are different from region to region and that translates into safety-

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

And responsibility is always different.

Jill:

Yeah. I think so too. When I was in my last job, I was serving a number of different states across the country and so I would take my show on the road more or less. And I remember one time specifically, there was some training I was doing to key groups of managers with them across my ... I think three or four states. And so I started out with my first one in the mid west in Minnesota and then I took it next to Missouri and it like was so hard. It fell like flat. It had been like this really great interaction, we had a great time, people were sharing. It was interactive, the training went well. I did exactly the same thing in Missouri and I just ... it feel flat. And I remember going to our administrative assistant at the time, who had been with the company for like 25 years and I said, "Lynn, I was such a failure here. Like I don't know what I did wrong." And she says, "You've gotta slow down. You've gotta take time. You're in the south, people wanna know who you are. They wanna know that you know their name and you need to build a rapport like in a different way than you apparently do back home." And I'm like, "Okay. Okay."

So the next time I went back and I really spent some time with everybody and in that particular case, I was like practicing everybody's names. You know when you have so many people it's like, "How could I ever remember everybody's names?" But I was like, "I'm gonna learn all these people's names." And so I ... Before we started anything, I'm like, "I'm back. Thanks for being with me again." And then I went around and said out loud all of their names and asked something about them. And they're like, "Hey. You really know who we are."

Jeremiah:

Right. Right.

Jill:

And it completely changed the dynamic and it was just something that I had taken ... Like I didn't know that that was part of the job too, and it was because it was their regional thing. Like they really wanted to build rapport and it was important to them in the way that I did it and that I spoke their name, and who among us wouldn't want that. But it was an awakening for me that different parts of the country are different.

Jeremiah:

Right. And I think there's certain areas, but it's unique that with safety especially with safety management and working with a group, even if you're an outsider. We're lucky that we're able to make that connection between getting back home to your family. You know?

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

And how safety is important. And the better that you know the individuals or the better that they understand ... you had the same goal or you make that connection, sometimes the more receptive they are to your messaging. And I don't know if you're talking about something else in the industry, if you have that same opportunity that you do with safety.

Jill:

Yeah. Right, right. And you mentioned making it relatable to family and bringing it home. How does being a safety professional work for you when you're not at work? Like do you ever get to turn the button off and what do your kids think about your job?

Jeremiah:

Well that's ... It's an interesting question. There's a part of me that tries not to take too much work home. I've got a family that is a young family and we spend a lot of time doing youth sports and fishing and things like that. But it always comes back to something that's safety related. So-

Jill:

Right.

Jeremiah:

If ... My wife and my kids especially, if they see me doing something I'm not supposed to, they're their own little safety manager. They're like, "Hey, aren't you supposed to do this or that a certain way?"

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

But it's interesting because you can't turn off safety. It's something you see on a daily basis and once you start to think that way, it really does transform you. It transforms pretty much everything you do on a daily basis. Now with the risk management piece, it really has changed the way we kinda look or how I look at things more critically from that perspective, that I didn't always do in the past. But there are other things that naturally I self-select that ... I'm not going bungee jumping anytime soon.

Jill:

Right.

Jeremiah:

You know?

Jill:

Exactly, me either because I'm so nervous about like-

Jeremiah:

Right.

Jill:

Who inspected the gear?

Jeremiah:

Right.

Jill:

Was it mode rated? What's it attached to?

Jeremiah:

Yeah. I'm ... Now I'm kinda skeptical at amusement parks. I'm kinda skeptical at hopping on a pair of skis or a snowboard and going down a mountain. Like I just know that accidents happen and especially with kids and family expected to some degree, but a lot of it is preventable. And so maybe we don't have as much adventurous extreme fun as I would if I wasn't a safety manager.

Jill:

Right. I know. I get that from my family and friends too. Driving down the road and I'll see something and I'll be like…you know like, "Oh, my gosh." And they're like, "Could you just turn it off?" Like I'm sorry, my eyes are trained to notice these things.

Jeremiah:

Sure. Sure.

Jill:

Yeah. My son at a very young age, I remember him specifically asking me like, "Mom, what's our safety plan for that?" And I'm like, "Oh, no. Oh, no."

Jeremiah:

Right, right.

Jill:

Here I've done. I've ... For better or ill, it's at home.

Jeremiah:

Right, right.

Jill:

Oh, man.

Jeremiah:

And it's not something that leaves you. So-

Jill:

Yeah. Right.

Jeremiah:

Yeah.

Jill:

Definitely. Definitely. So you've been at this career for a while. How has technology entered into what you do? Like in the evolution of you've had these jobs. What's sort of changed technologically in safety for you?

Jeremiah:

Well I think one of the ... The most apparent is we've gone from old fashioned, a white paper and a tailgate topic and doing a lot of the training in a classroom format, which we still do in certain applications, but that used to be the standard. I mean that used to be how you had to do all your safety training. You had to bring somebody into the safety trailer, the safety classroom and sit down and watch a video, "Okay. Let's talk about it. Show me how to do it." I think with learning management systems, you've got all sorts of technology that folks can have it on their phone, they can have it on a tablet, they can have it on a computer. I think that's really helpful for the safety manager, safety supervisor to get the content out there, but that was something we didn't have ... I didn't have 10 years ago. And then the stuff that we did have wasn't really up to speed or it wasn't something that anybody really wanted to sit through an hour of or-

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

Much less four hours of. So from that perspective, it's changed. But I'd also say the tablet technology, of having a touch screen in a tablet, make things like doing an inspection and keeping that record so much easier, or going on out and taking a picture for an investigation. Used to you'd have like those little disposable cameras-

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

And like a pouch and you'd have like a ... Okay, write out your narrative, everything that happened, take some pictures, then you gotta go get those developed or something like that. Now with the tablet, you can take a picture, you can ... or a telephone, everyone's got a phone.

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

And then you can fill out the inspection report or the incident report all right there and then the records are kept. You put it in a folder, you put it in a file. You've got it right there. So that's a big change. And if you're talking about industry just the technologies with the PLCs and frequency drives and the way so many things are automated now. That's changed the level of risk for the folks that are on the frontline that are out there working ... that are working with equipment machinery-

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

Processes, which it does make their job easier.

Jill:

So Jeremiah when you're stuck, where do you go for help? Like what's ... What are your key places that you go when you're trying to ... I mean 'cause I know at least and I'm guessing you've probably discovered, we're never gonna know it all in safety.

Jeremiah:

Right. Right.

Jill:

And so what are your sources or where do you go or do you have current mentors or how does that work for you?

Jeremiah:

Well you know I've called you several times and shot you an email.

Jill:

Goes both ways.

Jeremiah:

Yeah.

Jill:

So thank you.

Jeremiah:

So no, I mean it's important to have counterparts in other folks that ... network with people that do similar work to what you do, because nothing's really new. Everything's been done before to the large extent. But there are good resources, whether it's on the internet through the Cal OSHA site, whether it's trying to look up letters of interpretation, different things like that. It is tough to sift through a regulation and try to find exactly what you need.

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

So having someone that can either help you kinda leapfrog ahead to get to the right spot or says, "I've seen that before or I remember we did this." So having a network of safety folks that you can reach out to is important.

Jill:

Yeah. So where do you ... Has your network that you've got now, is it just kind of organic from your past ... from your work past, or do you have like ... Since you're in the zoo and aquarium industry, do you have a specific network that you reach out too there as well?

Jeremiah:

Well a little bit of both obviously. There are folks that I've done hands on training with when it comes to confined spaces, there's someone that I know. He's my go to if I've got any question on configuration of a space or rescue or anything like that. I mean he's the guy I go to. But when it comes to industry specific stuff, we have the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. They have ... They do accreditation for zoos and aquariums and they have a safety and risk management portion. So they have a safety committee that you can go to and ask questions or bounce things off of and see what the rest of the industry is doing.

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

But even here, we're fortunate that we have career electricians, career plumbers, people in the crafts and trades. You don't think of that at a zoo or aquarium, but all those jobs are really important.

Jill:

Right.

Jeremiah:

And many of them have 20 plus years of experience and they're a resource too.

Jill:

Exactly.

Jeremiah:

And so sometimes that's the best thing, is to go to the end user really and say, "What do you know about this? What do you understand about this? What are the risks ... What are the contractors and the folks that you work with, what are they telling you?"

Jill:

Yeah. What are you seeing? Yeah.

Jeremiah:

And that gives you a good place to start sometimes.

Jill:

Yeah. I think that's really powerful when you're not specific to those crafts, like how can you get that information. I know I've talked to electricians specifically a number of times, like just trying to understand what arc flash is.

Jeremiah:

Right.

Jill:

And I mean I can read about it, I can digest videos about it, I can look at it. But to like talk to an electrician and say, "Have you ever seen this in your field? Like ... And what were the circumstances at play? And like what happened?" And they can give you so many stories that are real world application things that you would never know because you're not an electrician.

Jeremiah:

Right. No, and that's the perfect example. That's kinda what I was thinking about in the back of mind, is exactly that. Every career electrician, a guy that's been around long enough knows somebody or has witnessed or seen somebody that's been involved with an incident like that, and it's powerful. That story or that understanding is-

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

Much more powerful to a group or to helping folks realize the hazard, they really don't see it.

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

So yeah. That practical, hands on experience resonates a lot, especially when you get to the frontline working group.

Jill:

Yeah. And collecting those stories, I think our discipline is like we understand the regulations, we are looking at the science of it. But then we're collecting stories-

Jeremiah:

Right. Right.

Jill:

Because it's the only way to transfer that information in a believable way. Yes. So it's ... I was curious. You started your career a production manager, working shoulder to shoulder, supervising people and now you're at where you are now. What skills or what do you carry over just about learning about people and like how has that shaped your approach? Especially since you started out the way that you did. How has that shaped your approach to humanity?

Jeremiah:

Well that's a great question. And I fall back on this ... I was really fortunate that a supervisor early on when I worked in agriculture ... I speak some Spanish. I don't speak a lot. I can kinda get the crew to do what I need and I can understand some, but the two most important words that I learned were enseñame, which is teach me. And I would walk up to someone and there's always that awkward, "Well this is my supervisor." And they're an hourly individual and just ask them to teach me what they were doing and that was the best icebreaker. And once they showed me what they were doing and then I clumsily tried to do the same thing that they did 2000 times a shift-

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

With ease, it was an icebreaker. But it was ... It was also that they understood I wanted to understand their job so I could either help them make it easier or help them be more productive, and I always carry that when I ask a manager or a supervisor to do something extra. Safety's not supposed to be something extra, but inevitably it is.

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

They have their own responsibilities, they've got their own deadlines, they've got goals to meet. They're not necessarily safety related and safety's supposed to be part of what they do, but any time you have an additional ask, it's an additional task. And so trying to look at it from their lens and how you can incorporate or weave it into what they do on a daily basis and add value, is probably the approach that's helping me most successful. But it really is teach me-

Jill:

Teach me. Yeah.

Jeremiah:

Help me understand. Come from a position of understanding first versus walking in and saying, "Everybody needs to wear this type of PPE and everybody needs to do this inspection."

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

You know?

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

So like that was years and years ago, but those two words have really been valuable-

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

For me and just ... it just changed my whole perspective, my paradigm on the way people view you as a leader or as someone that's got authority and to try to understand their perspective first-

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

You're gonna be a lot more successful.

Jill:

Right. It removes assumption.

Jeremiah:

Right.

Jill:

And assumption is not always a ... It's never a good place to start.

Jeremiah:

Right.

Jill:

So that's ... Yeah, that's beautiful. What part of the job do you really loathe doing? Like what's the -yucchh-? If I could off load that, what would it be?

Jeremiah:

You know there ... Sometimes somebody cuts a corner, somebody does something for whatever reason whether it's time or a resource, and they don't stop and make the time to do something appropriate. And so they cut a corner or they violate a safety rule or they put someone inadvertently at risk that they really shouldn't. The corrective action piece is never fun. It's an important part if you continue to have issues.

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

But it's not the best part of the job and safety shouldn't be punitive. But when you get into circumstances where somebody doesn't log something out or elevated work or going into a confined space without following a protocol. You really put someone's health and safety at risk and that's serious. And when every supervisor's bought in and every manager's bought in and they understand, that's great. When someone just cuts a corner, when they knew or they claim they didn't know, but they should've known, that's tough to deal with. But it's our role and it's part of our responsibility. You hear that we should be the kind of the moral compass for our organization at times, and that's a tough piece.

Jill:

It is. It's a big responsibility.

Jeremiah:

Right. Right.

Jill:

What keeps you up at night?

Jeremiah:

Oh, man. There's plenty that keeps me up at night. It's ... Sometimes it's ... It's just, "Hey, I didn't communicate well enough how big that hazard is."

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

You know? And you kind of are holding your breath and thinking man-

Jill:

In the rewind.

Jeremiah:

Right. I hope that doesn't get to someone.

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

That kinda piece and then again, when we get new folks that come in that haven't had the opportunity to be fully trained or through the onboarding process, still are young, eager, overzealous. Those are the types of folks that you love to have them, but they put themselves at risk when they shouldn't. So sometimes that keeps me up too.

Jill:

Yeah. Right. Right. So what drives you to keep at this profession or when you're feeling kind of slogging in it as you know ... I mean we're human beings, right? Not everyday is wonderful. What keeps you going at it or is there like some story or something in the background kinda playing in your head that propels you to keep moving?

Jeremiah:

Probably the thing I'm most proud of is being a mentor and being able to develop a couple of other folks into the safety role.

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

There's a young man I worked with in the canning industry. He's become a safety professional. He started as an EMT for me, he became a lead EMT. So he's an accidental safety manager-

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

Just like the rest of us. He was gonna be an EMT on an ambulance and do all kinds of stuff like that and ... I was able to develop him into the role and he fully embraced it, and he's excellent at it and I'm really proud of that. There's a gentleman I work with now that had a different background, a human resources background but has fully embraced the role and the skillset, and developing folks along in that road so that then they can go out do the good that we've done in their own way with their own style but have a solid background. That's ... I'm a coach at heart and that's what I love to do, is coach and that's what I feel like we're lucky in the safety role, that we're able to coach others, develop others.

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

And they say ... I hope this doesn't happen, but a great safety manager will manage themselves out of a job. If you teach enough people-

Jill:

Right.

Jeremiah:

To be safety managers just like you-

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

All of a sudden they're doing all the work.

Jill:

That's right. I used to-

Jeremiah:

It's really hard to get there.

Jill:

It is. Yeah, it is.

Jeremiah:

It never happens.

Jill:

I use fishing analogy, you know?

Jeremiah:

Right.

Jill:

If you teach them to fish, they'll be able to eat forever.

Jeremiah:

Yeah.

Jill:

And it's not a ... This job isn't just our job. It's not just your job, just my job, but a facility. It's really everybody's and the more we can teach them, the better. So Jeremiah, you're mentoring. That's an excellent point that you made and I'm wondering if anybody who's listening, who's maybe kind of new in their career and is wondering like, "How do you find a mentor? Like how do you go about doing it?" What advice would you give people who like, "I don't know who I'd talk to." Like how do you do that?

Jeremiah:

That's a good question and I don't know that there's an easy answer. But I do know that there are a lot of professionals out there just like you and me that wanna share what they know.

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

And so if you can ever get to any forum or networking forum, whether it's at a training, go to those trainings hosted by third parties, where you get folks from different industries. I guarantee if you kinda poke around, you'll find someone that's like minded and you'll find someone ... Maybe they've got a little gray in their hair, but they wanna teach. They're a resource and they wanna share that information.

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

And that's the great thing about safety individuals, is we all know it's a collaborative effort. And so whether it's in your industry or outside of your industry, either join a group or go to a training that gets you away from your regular group, and gets you out into areas with other industries. Like I said, all this stuff translates to multiple industries and to every industry.

Jill:

Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely it does. Yeah. I couldn't agree more. Yeah. And with mentoring, I guess attending conferences and meeting people, I think that's an excellent way for people to make contacts. I know that I've had numbers of people just directly ask me like, "Would you ever consider mentoring?" Or, "Could I call you sometimes and ask you questions?" And I don't believe I've ever said no to anyone and I have a number of people that kinda contact me regularly who are ... gotten into the job just like you accidentally, just like me accidentally. And I just sort of feel it's my responsibility to help where I can.

Jeremiah:

Right, right. And I think every safety manager feels that way. We kinda have that common tie. It's a tie that binds us, that we all wanna do good. We all ... Like you said, we want everyone to get home safe, but we know these hard lessons that have been learned. Some of these regulations are written in blood, a lot of them and we've seen the impact to the families and to the coworkers, and none of wanna see that for anybody. And I think that's part of our kind of badge of honor, is that it's important for us to share and like you said, we accumulate these stories, some of them are first hand, some of them are second, third hand. But we all know that they were real, they happened, there were real people involved and they were victims and they were families. And I think we all take that serious, that we never wanna be the one that has to call a family-

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

And say this happened.

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

And so anything that we can do to prevent that from happening and sharing that knowledge with other folks, it's valuable and most safety managers are more than willing to share it.

Jill:

Yeah. I think so too. So Jeremiah, last question. What do you think is the highest priority for our profession today?

Jeremiah:

Wow.

Jill:

Or where do you see it going right now?

Jeremiah:

I think the highest priority for our profession ... We've got ... Technology is getting so far ahead of itself and with our ... I'm gonna drop the keyword, the millennial generation, is that we're bringing folks into industry that there's not as much of the ... or I don't see as much of the blue collar element in that class and that demographic. Yet, we still have needs in these jobs and these roles. So how do we combine the technology and the training and get those stories out in front, so that we can continue to have people to embrace hard work and doing so with a safety culture in mind, to be productive, be interactive. My biggest concern is that everyone's stuck with their face in their phone or some other piece of technology. We don't have that face to face, one on one interaction. That's the one thing with the online training pieces, is that you're interacting with the computer. I think you've gotta combine that with the tailgate piece-

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

Or some face to face interaction. But there's a big divide between ... You've got your baby boomers and then the folks in between and the younger generation coming up. How do we get the core values-

Jill:

Yeah.

Jeremiah:

That resonate from top to bottom from all those age groups, to help develop a hardworking, yet safe, productive labor force here? Because we have so many great opportunities here in the U.S. whether it's agriculture, textiles, import, exporting. There's so many different industries. We're gonna need able bodied individuals to keep doing these jobs as we see baby boomers retiring out. And there could really be a labor shortage if enough people don't get into these roles. So we've gotta make these jobs dynamic. We've gotta make the technology apply and we've gotta get the workforce educated and really ingrained to wanna do this type of stuff.

Jill:

You know maybe some of it is what you spoke about earlier, which was just so simple, teach me. Right?

Jeremiah:

Right.

Jill:

And so if our new generation coming into the workforce is equipped with the confidence to be able to ask and say, "Teach me."

Jeremiah:

Right.

Jill:

And the people on the other end that are willing to show and teach. So we ... Like you said, we can do training, we can do things online, we can do things virtually and that's wonderful for setting baselines, for getting specific types of information transferred to people. But I think there's a lot of power in that, "Teach me."-

Jeremiah:

Right.

Jill:

"Show me." Once they're in that role, that's where the rubber meets the road with safety. It's what is someone going to do when no one else is watching.

Jeremiah:

Exactly.

Jill:

That you get that ... And that's where that question that you said so perfectly, teach me. That's how it happens. That's how it happens, "Show me how you do this. Teach me how to do it."

Jeremiah:

Right.

Jill:

Yeah. Well Jeremiah, thank you so much for being with me today and being with our audience. I really appreciate it.

Jeremiah:

Well it was my pleasure and I look forward to hearing more of the podcast. I wanna hear about other incidental, accidental safety manager's experiences, and hopefully somebody gets some value from our discussion today.

Jill:

I'm sure they did. I'm sure they did. Thank you so much.

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 everyday. 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.